Monday, January 18, 2010

Charity, Act of Kindness or Insult?

Several days ago I returned from the playground with Beli and remembered we needed a few things from the market. I crossed the street and made my way to the grocery store.

On my way in, I saw him, a thin frail man in his 70s. He collects bottles from garbage cans in exchange for money. I don't really know if he is homeless but one thing I do know for certain is that everyday he's in front of our building rummaging through the garbage; I see him as part of the neighborhood. I even worry if it's raining out and find him outside with no umbrella. But today when I saw him, I wanted to do something nice.

As I made my purchases, I wondered what he'd like to eat. Some bread? Cheese? Bananas? So I made two separate bags, one for him and the rest were my groceries.

I walked outside and he was talking with another man and in my best Croatian I tried saying, "For you, please accept it" as I handed him the bag. The other man spoke on his behalf, "No, No," He said. But I insisted, I said "please?" Then I realized he could translate for me, he spoke English. "Please tell him I see him around here because I live in this building", I said as I pointed to the building to the side of us. "Here?" The man questioned. "Yes," then I went on to explain, "I wanted to do something nice for him...please just a little something."

The translator went on, "No,no it's fine he doesn't need anything, he wants you to take it with you and give it your daughter". But no matter how many times I insisted, he denied my help.

I walked away feeling embarrassed. Did I offend him? Did he misinterpret my intent of kindness for charity? I only wanted to offer some of what I had. Was this selfish of me? Or was he simply holding on to his dignity? Have you ever offered help only to be told, "No?"

How did you respond?


  1. Hi elisa. thanks for dropping by and you are welcome any time! i love your blog, it must be so exciting to live in croatia... must be different from the lifestyle in the US.

    abt this post, i'd like to assure you I will be embarassed too if this had happened still u need to know, that you did what you did and he did what he needed to. no it doesnt mean you shouldn't do a random act of kindness but whatever you do do without any expectations, it may or may not be accepted thats not in your hands. there\s nothing personal in this, its how life is. what would i have done, same thng as u, write a post and forget abt it :)

  2. Thanks Rajani. I like your positive attitude. You are right, One should do kinds act without any expectations. And I won't let this stop me from continuing to do "nice" things.

    About your question about living in Crotia, it is a totally different way of living. I feel like a millionaire! My life is good.

  3. Hmmm, that's a difficult situation. I'm not familiar with the Croatian culture so maybe it's a cultural thing? There is a man who rummages through our garbage every week and I saw him getting in his car down the street with all his "treasures" later in the day lol. So maybe he is making enough by rummaging? I don't know. It was very kind of you to try and help him. Even though he didn't accept it, I'm sure he will remember your act of kindness.


  4. Kimmie,
    I later told my husband about the situation and he said maybe he just needed the money. I think before when Croatia was part of Yugloslavia and a socialist country you never saw people on the streets or "homeless" everyone was taken care of. But now with the situation changed you see more people on the streets rummaging through garbage cans.But I won't stop caring or looking out for him (from my window).LOL. thanks for commenting and for your kind words.

  5. hey,
    im a first generation croatian and i go there about every summer cuz my grandmother lives there. you didnt insult him, its just how they are. anything you offer a croatian you practically have to shove down their throat, because its more or less custom that if you do them a service they need to pay you back somehow otherwise its somewhat disgraceful. he didnt want to take it because he didnt want to be in a sort of moral debt. but dont worry about it he probably greatly appreciated the gesture. at least thats how it works in the dalmatian region like zadar or pag.

  6. thanks for stopping by!
    Most people I have encountered are so polite and you are probably right, he didn't want to feel like he owed me something in return if he accepted what I gave him. At the moment I just wanted to do something nice for him.


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