In all my trips, I’ve spent almost 2 years in Brazil. In all that time I’ve been approached maybe
6 times 7 times (it happened again) on the streets from people asking for change or food. While that’s not really interesting in itself, it becomes so when I mention that five six of those times were in the last two weeks here in the Northeast. Breaking it down further invites even more curiosity. Four of those six times were by street people yet the other two were by seemingly normal people out and about.
In one of those two latter instances, a normally-dressed middle-aged woman at a bus stop started talking to me and my friend and halfway into the conversation she asked for bus fare because she lived on the other side of town. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is it not an internationally accepted notion that one leaves their home with solid means to return? Given, she could have lost her wallet or been robbed but everything about her (and she herself) told me nothing of the sort happened. In instance number two, a normally dressed middle-aged man was out with his friends at an informal bar and at one point he got up and came over to me and my friend and started asking us about oursevles, then went into a long story about him being robbed (according to my friend, as I couldn’t understand his accent) once at some point in the past. After 10 minutes of him blabbing and of me drinking the rest of my beer quickly, he asked for R$2. Just like that. “Can I have R$2?” We both said no and got up to leave.
I’m not sure yet what to make of my experiences here in the NE but I’ve lived all over Rio and for a considerable amount of time and never (…ok, except once) had these experiences. That being said, I find “normal” people asking for money from other “normal” people rather odd (by the way, in Brazil I don’t call attention to myself and I always speak in Portuguese. Also, ninety-five percent of the time, Brazilians even tell me I could pass for being Brazilian, appearance-wise).
I can easily accept, and am not really bothered by, people asking for change since I lived most of my life near San Francisco, one of the cities with the highest numbers of homeless people. Homeless people in the States are almost always sedentary and in San Francisco, I’d say half I regularly saw are actually homeless while the other half are just stoner hippies (the young kind, usually with a dog, and a sign saying, “fuck change, give me weed”). When specifically asked for money, I almost always say no because there’s no telling how that money is used. If it’s just spare change, though, I’m more likely to fork it over to real homeless people.
For a year or so in the US, with a straight face, I used to ask people in retail if I could have a sizable discount off whatever I was buying. I half-jokingly figured if I did it enough, someone would give in but that never happened. I was, in effect, trolling these retail people and they probably called me an idiot after I left. I almost feel like the two “normal” people asking me for money in the Northeast were trolling me, but I know that’s likely not true.