Chatswood Mall is the spruiker capital of the world.

Alright, that’s probably not true. The international spruiker convention probably has more spruikers per capita than Chatswood Mall, but only just. And I’m not even talking about the guys out the front of soon-to-close-down jewellery shops telling us all about how passionately they believe in the never-to-be-repeated bargains on offer here this morning shoppers. I’m talking about these spruikers:

“Do you have a moment to talk about human rights in China?”

“Have you heard about the humanitarian disaster in Pakistan?”

“Can I chat with you for a minute about heart disease?”

“If you don’t stop and talk with me about the environment, my associates will come and throw acid and stink bombs all over your car.”

“Yep, that’s right dude, keep walking you selfish, consumerist wanker. Children are starving and it’s all your fault!”

They’re all (with the exception of Greenpeace) great causes. I really wish I could support them all. I’m a bit of a sucker for the street charities, and quite often I’ll stop and chat with them if they’re friendly and not too confrontational. Or really good looking. And being a moderately affluent young professional, over the last 18 months or so I’ve ended up supporting a few of them. My favourite moments are when I’m talking with one of these guys and they’re just a little too keen to move in for the kill, so they neglect to ask the really important questions first:

Spruiker: Do you have a few minutes to talk about human rights violations in China?
Garry: (Glances at wrist. He doesn’t wear a watch anymore) Sure, why not?
Spruiker: Basically, China has an authoritarian control on freedom of expression. All the newspapers are governments censored and journalists who criticise the government can be arrested.
Garry: That’s terrible.
Spruiker: Amnesty is currently petitioning the United Nations to publicly condemn the policies as a violation of human rights, and advocating support for persecuted journalists.
Garry: That’s fantastic.
Spruiker: Do you think that’s a cause worth supporting?
Garry: Yep, certainly.
Spruiker: Would you be prepared to give a small amount, just one cup of coffee (why is it always coffee?) a week to support Amnesty International?
Garry: I already do.
Spruiker: So you… what?
Garry: I already support Amnesty International.
Spruiker: Why didn’t you tell me that at the start?
Garry: You didn’t ask. You just asked me if I wanted to chat about human rights in China. And we have. It was most informative, thankyou.
Spruiker: Well… yeah. Good on you.
Garry: You too mate. Have a nice day.

The ones I really don’t like are the ones who are out to guilt you. That ask you how much you spend on food in a day, or what your disposable budget for a week is, and then point out that you could feed half of Africa for a decade with the pocket change of the average Sydneysider if only we took a leaf out of the socially aware spruiker’s book and weren’t all so damned selfish.

I met a really rude one today. We had a great chat about the plight of political refugees in Sudan. We came to the inevitable awkward moment of asking for money. I smiled and told him I couldn’t take on any new charities as I was about to leave my job to travel and would probably have to drop the ones I was already supporting.

Spruiker: Oh you’re travelling, are you? Where are you travelling to?
Garry: Spain.
Spruiker: Spain. Yeah, that’s nice. So I’m guessing that would cost around two or three thousand dollars at least.
Garry: … yeah…
Spruiker: So tell me, compared with that, what is twenty five dollars a month? It’s just a cup of coffee a week.
Garry: I don’t drink coffee.
Spruiker: Okay, what about chocolate? A block of chocolate a week then.
Garry: Guess again mate. I only buy fair trade chocolate (flagrantly not true, but this guy got me really angry). You couldn’t buy one of them a week for twenty five dollars a month, mate. I was just on my way to pick some up. And frankly, if you’re out here pontificating to me about respecting human rights in Africa while you’re eating chocolate produced with the blood, sweat and tears of juvenile slaves, you need to have a good hard look at yourself. Shame on you.
Oxfam Girl: (appearing from her shop to see what all the commotion is about) What? You mean this guy eats free trade chocolate? I don’t believe this!
Spruiker: What? I…
Oxfam Girl: I’m going to have to open up a can of woopass on you now.

And she proceeded to do exactly that. That guy messed with the wrong moderately affluent young professional.

So obviously everything after “I don’t drink coffee” didn’t actually happen, I just extrapolated the conversation and included it for a cheap laugh. Actually, I just stopped listening after he mentioned coffee, thanked him for his time and moved on.

The Sudanese refugees do it really tough, and I wish I could save them all, I really do. But nothing in my religion or any others that I know anything about gives any human the right to use guilt on another human being who has done nothing wrong. Or who, at the very least, has done no more wrong than the one doing the guilting (and stone throwing, if you see where I’m going). Being born in Australia is not a crime; it’s a blessing. Travelling to Europe is not a selfish indulgence, it’s an adventure and a chance to broaden my horizons and make myself a more informed, educated, well rounded person. And if I didn’t give so much to charity each month I would probably have been there about six months ago.

At least I can say I acted out of mercy and compassion by walking away, instead of punching him in the head.

Now that’s charity.

Far from home


Garry with 2 Rs

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