Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Trend in the Helsinki Metro

You don't have to be an expert in geography or world affaires to know that Helsinki is the capital city of Finland. Well, now that you know, there's a new trend in the Helsinki metro - there're beggars on board! Recently, I've been taking the subway a lot from the Mellunmäki area to Kamppi. Each time I boarded the metro last week, I had to deal with people soliciting alms. I'm aware of the fact that this is no news in some parts of the world, including countries like France, Italy, etc., but I must tell you - in Finland, this is a new trend.

One morning, I boarded the metro and the moment I secured my seat, a sorry-looking fellow approached me. He had something written (in Finnish) on a piece of paper, which for obvious reasons I could not understand. But there was one word I recognized - Moldova. Could the beggars on board the Helsinki metro be from Moldova?

I was shocked by the sight of a beggar in a metro in Helsinki, so much so that I could not immediately react when he stretched his hand towards me - expecting a donation. The gentleman didn't seem to have time to waste because the moment I hesitated, he moved on to the next person. But one thing was clear, everyone was surprised and no one was giving him any money.

When it became evident to him that Monday was not his lucky day, he approached me again and said something in Spanish. Like Finnish, I don't understand Spanish, but I heard him mention "20 cents" (about 0.27 USD). I could see desperation in his eyes so I reached for my wallet and gave him 2 EUR (approximately 2.7 USD). This is what he said - "thank you very much, brother." Now, I didn't give him a million EUR, but it warmed my heart to hear those words.

As the metro pulled to a stop, I wondered why he approached me twice and what the future holds for him, as a beggar, in a land where people barely greet each other - thoughtless of giving money to a stranger.

Why did no one, but me give him money? I'm confident that if it was somewhere in Africa, he'd leave the metro with a reasonable amount of alms, despite the fact that people don't have much to offer. Are struggling folks more generous or do they simply relate to other struggling folks? Why did all the seemingly affluent folks in the metro not chip in some alms for the beggar?

Luckily, I didn't hastily conclude. I waited another day - the very next day, I met the same gentleman on the metro, doing what he does best - soliciting alms. This time, he didn't walk up to me twice, neither did he look me in the face. I suspect he recognized me as the previous day's "good Samaritan" and did not want to bother me any further.

Now that you know what he does for a living, I think it's human for you to be irritated if some stranger expects you to give him money everyday, at the same time. This is probably why the metro beggar didn't receive any alms from the people on board the metro the previous day - they were sick and tired of donating to the same stranger.

What's my point? Don't judge any one's reaction to a situation at hand before you fully understand why they reacted the way they did. I'm glad I didn't conclude that Finns are not generous. Perhaps, Finns won't be donating to metro beggars anytime soon - until they come to terms with the new trend. No doubt, I was surprised to see beggars on board the metro in Helsinki, but a Finn would be embarrassed and culturally shocked!

It's true that making donations to the the poor is honorable, but it's also true that you won't wholeheartedly donate alms, every day to a physically fit full grown man who could as well get a job and make a decent living.

Permit me to mention that this blog post is coming to you, from on board a WiFi-enabled train from Lund to Stockholm, Sweden - on the morning after my Masters thesis defence. What would the world be like without technology? I wonder...

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