I will start by saying that this is probably some sort of controversial topic. I will not apologize for my opinion. I do not mean to offend anyone or give incomplete facts; what I write is the small portion of the story that I have.
In most of the big cities that I have visited (I have visited two) there are common factors; tall buildings made of rock, public transportation, and beggars. The former two are not living things and therefore I shall not concern myself with them in this post.
I currently reside in the tourist center of Madrid, which is right outside of the airport. Of course, this means that a lot of the Spanish people here speak English as well, to help accomodate the tourists and get them to spend more money. Prices in restaurants are also higher than they would be in other parts of the city. And of course, there are beggars.
I have found, walking through the streets of Madrid, that there seem to be several kinds of beggars. There are the ones who sit forlornly on the corners and edges of the streets, holding out their cups for money, calling out to passersby and holding cardboard signs telling of their plight. There are the mobile ones, who wander around in the same clothing day after day, asking for spare change. These are the ones that make me feel the most uncomfortable, because they will come up to you while you are eating at a restaurant and involved in conversation, pleading for your money. I always want to give them what they ask for, but I am not in charge of the finances right now. Also, giving money would help that one person, but it wouldn’t solve the problem. And you can’t solve the problem by giving every beggar something.
There are also the beggars who try to give you something visually stimulating. In less than a week, I have seen multiple living statues of soldiers, janitors, Greek gods, washwomen, and strange fictional creatures. There have been several who use what I shall call “goat cloaks”. This is a bright covering of the person’s body, with a wooden goat head at the front. These will then move their jaws up and down, clackity clacketing their plea for money.
And then there are the musicians. It feels really evil and cruel and heartless to say that these are my favorite ones to give money to. Most of the time you can’t tell if they actually are begging or are simply playing for a hobby/entertainment. If, in fact, they are begging, then I think they are doing a better job of it than the other ones. Here a service is being offered, which is more likely to garner coins than simple pity or empathy. The music gives you something else to focus on other than the plight of the person in front of you.
One noteworthy street musician so far has been a muscular man playing the harp. The man was from some sort of South American country, from what I understood. He was very amiable and chatted with my mother for quite a while. The songs he played were foreign to me but well known to my mother and another bystander. The longer we stood there watching his fingers pluck over the strings, the more people gathered. As soon as we left, the flock dispersed. Herd behavior, I guss.
Another pair of street musicians worth noting were two young boys, probably about high school age, playing violins. They were most probably not beggars, as their clothes were clean and their faces happy. I didn’t get to watch these two for too long, but they were good. I’m guessing that they were simple high school students, playing on the weekends for practice and extra pocket money. There was this kind of “this is for fun” aura around them. Of course, it helped that they were young, healthy, and good at socializing. These two quickly had a crowd listening.