Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wandering Stockholm with a Bad Conscience

Today as I wandered about Södermalm I decided that I might be a bad person. And it happened after having run into no less than four people asking me for money. And I refused them all. Lied to them even.

It seems that today was prime time for the charities to come out and save the world. By asking for money. Now, for the most part, I am a sucker for a good cause. But I just don’t like being pressured into a good cause. Because pressure is just no fun when wandering around Stockholm on a sunny day.

And in my wanderings today I felt a lot of pressure. As I walked between Slussen and Medborgarplatsen I was approached by both Save the Children and some sort of brain saving place. All youngish people, probably my age, probably very idealistic and hoping to save the world one donation at a time. A noble thought.

And I lied to them. Because they start talking to me in Swedish. So I put on a blank face and tell them that, in fact, I do not speak Swedish. Now I know how the game goes, even if I don’t speak Swedish I might have a Swedish bank account. And if I have a Swedish bank account I can donate money.

So when the brain girl I ran into asked me if I had a Swedish bank account, after having established that I didn’t speak Swedish, I looked her dead in the eye and said “no.” It was only as I walked away that it may have seemed strange that I did not ask why she wanted to know if I had a Swedish bank account. For the most part, that’s not a common question to be asked by a stranger on the streets.

So I made a mental note and continued on. This time Save the Children came up to me. Nice guy really. Again, blank face, “sorry, I don’t speak Swedish,” but he let me go and told me to enjoy my time in Stockholm.

After having had to lie to two people I was getting a guilty conscience. So I decided to walk down the middle of the street. Since the foot traffic was relatively heavy in the street and the clipboards were hanging out on the sidewalk I was able to avoid them. It worked like a charm.

Until I got to Medborgarplatsen. They are sneaky there. One guy established my English and told me to enjoy my vacation. But following this friendly fellow I was approached by a young girl. Maybe 16. She seemed desperate for my help. Again, I played the foreigner. But that didn’t stop her; she kept going, with longing in her eyes. The kind of longing that says, damn it mister there are starving children in Africa and I need your money. The kind of longing that judges you just a little bit. The kind of longing that says this wasn’t exactly what she signed up for when she decided to save the world. She really wanted my money. So much pressure. But I have a cold heart. And ice in my veins. So I continued on with my English speaking charade and moved along.

With just a few feet to go before I hit my station I ran into one more person. And once my feigned lack of Swedish was established it turned out this fellow was also persistent. Minus the longing in his eyes. He asked me if I had a Swedish bank account. I said no, and remembering my mental note asked him why. Which he answered by explaining Save the Children to me. And he suggested I look into their organization in the US. And so, without further ado, and in a blatant attempt to clear my conscience, here is a link to Save the Children in the United States and in Sweden.

No pressure. I promise.

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  1. I'm like you. I like contributing to a good cause, but when pressured I run for the hills, or lie. I usually just say that I am broke at the time (if you're a student, like I am, they'll understand) or just say that I gave money to the person before them. A very effective way to walk away with a almost clear conscience. ;) Wish that I could play the foreigner card though.. It would make so many things easier.

  2. yeah I've used the student one a lot too. but I suppose every year that goes by that one becomes less and less believable. luckily students seem to be a bit older here in sweden so I can still use that excuse for a while.

  3. Im laughing at this post for 2 reasons.
    1. It's funny
    2. I used to work as a "medlemsvärvare" myself.

    You don't know how hard it is to stand for hours a day (sometimes without getting paid if it's voluntarily) trying to get people to realize that they can actually help. And then hearing lies after lies about their lack of time, will, or money is really sad.
    The "poor student excuse" is the most common I think. But then again what student does not have 50 kr a months to give for a good cause? that 50 kr a months is the last beer on the pub that you don't need anyway, or the unhealthy hamburger at mcdonalds on he way home. Sometimes so little can help so much.
    Im 18, have no real income except my sudiebidrag (1050 kr), and still I give 200 kr a month to diffrent organizations (SAK, IM and UNICEF).
    Im just telling you how it is from our point of view.

    I hope you will get over the feeling of pressure one day and realize that your help can make a difference.

  4. @freja - I dont doubt that that is a very difficult job. especially when you know people are lying so often. like I did.

    and one of these days I probably will sign up with someone on the street. but until then, I prefer to choose when I want to donate money. may I suggest:

  5. That´s cold of you.
    You don´t even donate 100 Swedish kronor to help some poor people in africa out.
    That´s is not humane

  6. This is perfect timing, with the DNC downtown and my walk to work and school each morning I have been hit up for money by homeless and charities alike for two weeks now. However I found in my daily commute that if you are just flat out rude and brutally honest to them they stop asking for money. (Sorry to the person who said they used to do this) I know this seems like crappy behavior but I walk the same way to work every day and am usually asked to donate about a total of $60 on my way to and from work each day. I only make about $120 a day before taxes so I am not giving more than half my money to charities each day. Maybe I should drive these coming weeks, but the whole reason I was walking in the first place was to save money and to help curb the demand for gas. I guess I just wish they had a flyer or a business card with a website or phone number that would allow me to donate at my own leisure instead of going for the pity donation.

  7. Hmmm from the beginning, you truthfully admitted that you lied 4 times in one day!!!interesting!! lol.. I really enjoyed your post's funny!

  8. @xenolyse - I told you. I'm a bad person.

    @mo (or moe depending on how complicated you feel) - yeah it can become a bit overwhelming. which is too bad because I like to help people. but like I said. I want to do it without any pressure.

    @angel - turns out I lied there too, because I think I ended up lying to five different people on the walk. the lesson as always. never listen to me.

  9. Shame that there is still abject begging on the streets after everyone's paycheck has been taxed 50%...

  10. jd made me think that I'd gladly pay part of my taxes to poor countries instead of Sweden. I get so little back from Sweden in return I think...

  11. @jd - an interesting point. and something I never even thougt about. but come on now, it takes 50% just to keep Sweden afloat, whats a few more percent to the rest of the world right? no need to actually be working for yourself.

    @smek - just allow everyone to choose where they want their taxes to go? could be interesting to see how that would work out. wonder who would end up underfunded?

  12. JD - First of all, no everyone's paycheck is definetly not taxed 50%. The average is about a third of your income here in Sweden. Secondly, it wasn't beggars who was "begging on the streets" it was employees at Save the children, doy ou get the difference? I live in Göteborg (Gothenburg), a city of roughly half a million people and I can't remember actually seeing a beggar.

    The hairy Swede - what are you talking about? Seriously?

  13. @robban - you're right, income-wise 50% is high. but overall tax burden ir at 47%. so it just depends on what youre looking at. but technically, jd, robban is right. average is right around one third.

    and no... not really serious. I was just taking the idea that Smek brought up and ran with it. Im pretty sure that would be a mess if everyone was allowed to choose where money would go. but it would be interesting to see what people chose.

  14. It would definitely be interesting... Not sure if it would be benificial for the society, though, or the people.

  15. yeah itd probably just end up with a lot more campaigning as people tried to convince you that their cause was the best cause.

  16. It does always help to answer difficult questions with a question.

    And I have a policy: I donate time, not money. And I have a right to keep that policy private. So I smile gratefully (they are working hard to make a beneficial difference) and thank them for what they are doing, while telling them that I've already made my donation.

    It's honest. And even if you've only helped an elderly person cross the street recently, you've donated your time/energy in a way that matters.

  17. I think you've got the best answer so far.