Shopping in Annecy the other day, a child no older than twelve approached me and pushed a clipboard towards me. On the clipboard was a piece of paper to donate to a deafness foundation, complete with the symbol of the foundation in one corner and some signatures from people who had donated up to €20. A couple of things seemed odd to me. Firstly, this wasn’t like a read-a-thon where he was gaining sponsorship for challenging himself to something: this was out-and-out hassling people for money, as you see paid university students do with big bibs or t-shirts on to identify them as charity workers. Secondly, he had no bib or t-shirt (and was dressed in a dodgy tracksuit). Thirdly, he wasn’t old enough to work. Fourthly, he was in a rather posh kitchen and homewares shop where the staff are frosty at the best of times: I’m guessing they wouldn’t let someone into their shop to hassle people for money under most circumstances. And finally, the paper didn’t look all that authentic, as the signatures from that day were in different colours, but he had just one pen in his hand.
So, I asked him for some identification. He pointed to his ears to and moved his fingers as if he were signing, and perhaps he was, but wouldn’t he be able to lip read by that age? I repeated myself, motioned in different ways to suggest an ID card, and eventually showed him my own, but he just shook his head and shrugged.
I said sorry and shook my head back, then walked away. I felt guilty and annoyed in equal parts: guilty for not giving money to someone who seemed to be collecting money for a charity, but annoyed that he expected me to believe him. Would a deafness foundation really send kids out to collect money for the charity they benefit from on a schoolday? But then, I’m basing this on the values I grew up with in Australia and my experience as an adult seeing people scam others. Maybe things are different in France, and I find those cultural unknowns hard to learn and adjust to. Was I in the wrong? Was he bonafide? Should I have donated?