Just begging to look like a dickhead

What you looking at dickhead?
What you looking at dickhead?

Visitors to Paris may be struck by the visible numbers of homeless – or SDF as they are known – on the streets.

At last count there were 28,800 homeless in Paris, a number that’s increased 84% in 10 years.

It’s not uncommon to be solicited for coins several times a day. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t think I’m alone in trying to ignore the majority of these requests, usually with one of the following strategies:

  1. Saying I don’t have any money/cigarettes on me (and let’s be honest, if bankcards were accepted, I still probably wouldn’t make direct payments)
  2. Ignoring them, justifying that I already contribute to the advanced social safety net through hefty tax, thanks to which I’m only marginally better off than the homeless person (and cheers to glib irrationality here)
  3. Running away, feigning obliviousness

    It was this third strategy I used two Saturdays ago when walking between bars across the Place de Republique, Paris’ grandiose monument to solidarity (one of those lofty values France aspires to at least – if not exclusively – in writing.)

    “Monsieur, monsieur…” Ah yes, heard this one before. Best to pretend I can’t hear it.

    From the corner of my eye I saw a figure, about 4 metres to my left, sitting by the road. 
    He seemed to be calling for my attention in particular.

    A dab hand at being a dick, I continued my course of ignoring him. 
    Only when several other onlookers started calling out “Monsieur, monsieur!” (their exclamation marks, not mine), did I start to start to hesitate.

    I caved, and stopped. Turning around I saw about five women looking at my disapprovingly. Come off it, why me?

    Following their stares, I realised that while the guy calling out for my help might well in other circumstances have asked me for money, his more pressing need at the moment was for assistance having his wheelchair onto the bus.

    Ah! But of course I can help, sorry, didn’t realise you needed my assistance there, what with only five other pedestrians trying to get my attention for you.

    Embarrassing yes, but not my most shameful experience related to helping (or not helping) a homeless person on a bus. No, that title goes to the Madagascar 8 years ago.

    I was settling in to my seat on a local bus waiting to depart for a long ride from south to north, when a homeless man came to the door asking for change.

    I figured it was just as well I give him the money in my pocket that would otherwise soon tumble onto the floor or roll into the seat crack.

    Triumphantly I removed a handful of coins, about 15 of varying sizes I’d say, and went to hand them over.

    I say “hand”, because I soon realised the man didn’t have any. Instead he offered me two palms with entirely zero fingers.

    A little taken aback, I did what I thought was the only logical action, neatly stacking the $1.05 of coins in a pyramid, largest to smallest.

    No need to say what happened next, but there’s a particular sound of flesh scraping to collect coins from bitumen that will stay with me a while longer yet.

    As for what everyone else did? They chose a wiser path: depositing their contributions in the man’s open bumbag, apparently worn for that express purpose.


Generating buzz for new hostel piss-up

Photo: Generator Paris

It was a ground zero for dickheads. The opening night for a chic new hostel at the base of Buttes Chaumont. A backpackers for the almost-made-its, where the journey to success could now be that little bit more comfortable – as long as success meant a weekend in Paris in the recently remembered deep 10th.

Generator is its name, a 900-bed behemoth, with everything from 10-bed dorms to two-bed rooms, roof terrace, Moroccan stylings; the ultimate filing cabinet approach to bed space, perfect for former backpacker-types whose expectations of success perhaps exceeded their salaries (but watch this space!).

It was one day before its doors would open, and the PR list had been carefully cultivated: designer, geek, techie, trendy, or owner of horn-rimmed glasses and a five-panel cap. If any of these applied, you were as assured of an invite as of receiving this year’s census.

But a glitch in the system had allowed +1s (read: zeroes) to tag along. Thus my trusty Billy (effectively a +1’s+1, or shall we say, a 2?), and I found our way in.

Billy was already three sheets to the wind by this stage, and I get the feeling many more had he found the linen closet.

It was fancy, I won’t lie. Fun in fact: terribly so. Not just free champagne, but free bottles of champagne. Great music, an enormous sprawling dance floor in the basement, and rooms offered to those who couldn’t face leaving the 10th   – and I know that feeling.

At 3am I managed to escape – both the clutches of Billy and the hotel –  and wandered home, conveniently down the road.

(I say convenient because it has happened that when friends have visited for the weekend they have been left locked out and in need of emergency cheap local digs.)

The next morning, a message from Billy, on Facebook.

“Have you seen my phone?”

“No. Why not return to the hotel and see if they have it?”

It was well into the afternoon when I heard from Billy, again over Facebook.

“No phone then?”

“Oh man. I’m so embarrassed”

Relax, I told him, forgetting shit when you’re drunk, it happens.

“It’s not the phone that’s the problem,” he replied. “But when I asked the bouncer about the lost phone, he said I should be more concerned about forgetting the fact I’d peed all over the lobby before leaving.”

The lesson: when it comes to piss-ups for chic hostel openings, it pays not to invite degenerates.