Of course we have them and visitors notice them. To my surprise though, they most often ask: “How come those begging are so behaved?” My guests often tell me that in other countries beggars are much more aggresive and persistent: pulling their sleeves, walking with them for miles, talking to them or just repeating some phrases.
Beggars in Prague are often seen kneeling down with their upper body and face towards the ground, clutching a cap or a bowl with a few coins in them. Sometimes they have a dog, often a puppy as their company. If they do speak to you (like for example a begger outside the church of Our Lady Victorious does), they rather mutter something in a whimpy voice, something like “Oh, Mrs, for Lord’s sake, please…”
I don’t know why they use this strategy. I’ve never asked them so I just guess. And I guess it’s because we Czechs have never been very brave. It seems we have always rather complained and tried to get what we wanted by making others feel pity for us or guilty. Not a very nice interpretation, huh? But the beggars’ posture seems to be giving the same signal: I’m wretched, I’m so poor that I cannot even look at you…
However, there is one trick they try, which annoys me a lot. They come to you, often looking like anybody else, and they ask you some ridiculous question like “Do you know of a church in Prague?” or “Where’s the nearest underground” while facing the sign. It’s always something to which it is impossible to answer “I don’t know” and walk off. Once you speak to them, they’ve got you, they’ve struck up a conversation and two sentences later, usually after some bits of a “heartbreaking” story, they will ask you for money.
This has no class. I would prefer them asking directly than fooling me. They probably don’t do this to foreigners, though. See, our beggars are cowards. They actively beg only from their fellow countrymen. And if we don’t give them anything, they often tell us to go to hell. The only protection is, I discovered, to pretend you are ignorant and have never heard of a church in Prague or telling them “I’m not giving you anything” straight away.