Monday, 27 October 2008

Choosy beggars

As winter is fast approaching, temperatures drop, new relationships flourish and homeless people flock to the cities, in search of wealth and warmth. My beloved home town of Utrecht is no exception. The crazies are multiplying daily and as I watch their numbers increase, I find my "no thank you"s becoming more abrupt. I'm not trying to be a complete cold hearted bitch about this, but being homeless in the Netherlands is pretty much a choice.

The Dutch government has become increasingly xenophobic in their immigration policy in recent years, and have no problem locking underaged asylum seekers in prison. But when our own citizens are concerned they're very forgiving, and for the less fortunate there are many safety nets in place. The Dutch vagabond is therefore a special breed. They are either radical anarchists who find the concept of housing a petty-bourgeois expression of decadence, or incurable heroin addicts, but the vast majority consists of mental patients who refuse to be medicated. This makes for some pretty entertaining hobo encounters. There was the guy who smashed a hole in his mini keg and threatened to spray everyone at the bus stop with beer. I came to the aid of a rather immobile old lady sitting there, and ended up being chased for five blocks. And for as long as I can remember there has been one very loud tramp in the Eindhoven city centre, holding up signs with erratic slogans and screaming at the top of his lungs "Men lie, because women believe lies!".

Just a few weeks ago I was walking to my local supermarket, when I was cornered by a very creepy looking toothless creature, who demanded to know why I dared to walk there dressed like that (I live in the Utrecht red light district, which is just a tiny old street with prostitutes behind the windows on both sides). I was slightly offended by that question, since I did not find my skirt and boots particularly whorish looking, but I answered him with a "Why wouldn't I?" and a disgruntled stare, when his face suddenly cleared up and he belted "Wow, you must really have a sense of self-esteem, good for you!".

But my most formative Dutch hobo encounter happened almost nine years ago. I was fresh out of high school when I arrived early that morning at the Tilburg train station. Not being very punctual, I had missed breakfast and bought a nice cheese baguette before hopping on the bus. On my way there however, I spotted a homeless man eating out of a garbage bin. Bright eyed and overflowing with good intentions I walked up to him, offering him my sandwich. He looked in the bag, grunted, and handed it back to me, saying "I don't like cheese". After which he proceeded to stuff his face with cold mouldy fries from the bin.

"When dealing with the insane, the best method is to pretend to be sane."
Hermann Hesse (1877 - 1962)


Misssy M said...

It's the same in Scotland- there's no need to be homeless unless you want to be. Countless council flats are empty and boarded up because no one is there to take them in my home town of Aberdeen, yet on a Saturday you'll still see the odd (usually quite young) guy with his dog asking for money.

Since coming back from India where poor really does mean poor, I have nothing but contempt for these guys. We have the welfare state in our country and a dole system which will hand out money to thise who need it (and some that don't). They don't know they are born, these guys.

Pants said...

I know what you mean. There is a real difference between being genuinely destitute (and I have seen a lot of people like that in Africa and Asia) and these guys, but a lot of them are truly insane. My main beef with them is that they keep stealing my bike...