Better Beggars

Turkey is not the richest country in Europe, as we hear repeatedly as part of the debate about whether it should be offered entry into ...
by | April 20, 2006

Shine Turkey is not the richest country in Europe, as we hear repeatedly as part of the debate about whether it should be offered entry into the European Union. Poverty is quite visible in parts of the country, where you may see farmers beating the ground with some futility in hopes it will suddenly produce riches. Istanbul, the great in-country magnet for Turks seeking a better life, also has its impoverished quarters.

When I visited a few years ago, however, I was struck by the fact that we never encountered any beggars. Certainly, there were people who hoped you would give them money -- and not just the ubiquitous carpet salesmen who sought to entice tourists into their shops with offers of free tea.

Out on the street, people put up for offer all manners of goods and services. Some wanted to sell you a cucumber. Some carried scales in case you had a sudden urge to determine your weight. And, of course, many hoped you wanted your shoes shined, at a modest price.

I've been thinking about this because all of a sudden, here in DC, we seem to have a number of shoeshine men setting up shop along downtown thoroughfares.

There have always been places you could get your shoes shined, and always a few fellows who would sit along the sidewalk and offer you a shine (while looking at your shoes, forcing you to look down yourself and, perhaps, admit they were looking a little ragged).

But more and more I've noticed improvised little operations springing up, nothing more than a chair, a box, and a little tin of Kiwi shoe polish.

Have you noticed this in other cities -- panhandlers taking up a trade of some sorts?