I’ve often wondered how people begging on the streets fare. I’ve wondered about the percentage of people who give, those who give grudgingly and the motives of all. What I didn’t expect this week was giving stuff away was, prima facie, as difficult as asking people for help.
The context? In London this weekend, visiting with some of the children, I set myself the challenge of giving away at least six of my greeting cards.
It wasn’t an unsuccessful exercise, and if the measure we’re using is that no-one tasered me in the streets, it was wildly successful.
My script was to politely approach someone, explain I didn’t want anything from them, but that I was a photographer who had produced a line of greeting cards, one of which I would like to give to them free of charge.
A couple, possibly married. She, albeit taking a step back, seemed pleased and thanked me. However, her male companion rushed down the street possibly in fear of being mugged by a 5’ nothing woman armed with greeting cards.
A young woman sitting in the same hotel coffee lounge where the children and I were having afternoon tea and, yes, minding her own business. Impulsively, I reached into my bag and offered her a greeting card with the same script. She graciously accepted the gift, whilst my children slid down into their seats, putting distance between me, them and their dignity.
A domestic in the bathroom of the same hotel, who was moved by the gift proclaiming “No-one ever gives me anything.” The simple sincerity of her words was moving.
A florist, who was “chuffed to bits” as she hadn’t done much in the way of trade that rainy afternoon. My card received pride of place on her stand, to be sold for an amount unknown to me.
A woman on the Holborn tube escalators, possibly my age (okay, middle-aged). She really could not believe she was being given something for nothing and, at first, would not accept the gift as she “didn’t have any change.” Eventually understanding the genuineness of my offer, she accepted the gift but looked at me in wonder for a long time. I later spied her on the train platform looking down at her greeting card several times in more wonder. Although curious, I was not about to approach her again to ascertain what she was thinking lest what she was thinking was throwing herself onto the train tracks to get away from Woman with Greeting Card.
A station ticket collector. (Yes, even with my rail troubles of last week.) She was perhaps the most enthusiastic and “bowled over that someone would do that” and “didn’t it make a change in this world?” She went on to ask me about the provenance of my cards and from where I hailed. A nice conversation, which culminated in her assertion that she’d never use the card and would keep it forever. It was hard not to be flattered – and it felt churlish to ask her not to hide it away, but to send it on to whomever. You know, for the free publicity.
Which is the point, as this wasn’t pure altruism but marketing.
I wanted the publicity and the thrill of not knowing how far or how wide my work would go. Even in the case of the last person, I knew perhaps my work wasn’t going further than her bedside table, but her re-telling of the encounter was already being spread even as I left her at the ticket station that afternoon.
An interesting time, where this gift horse learnt halfway through the day to keep her mouth open wide for a thorough examination.