When I was at school, the textbook we used in French lessons was called Tricolore. Two cartoon strips provided a bit of light relief at regular intervals: one was called Claude le Clochard (about a vagrant named Claude) and the other was Fifi la Folle (a madwoman). With hindsight I think it is a little odd that the French nation was represented by these two characters.* But having said that, there are plenty of Claude’s and Fifi’s in to be seen in the streets of Paris.
The difference between the homeless people I see in England and France is this: in England Claude is typically a cheeky chappy with the gift of the gab selling The Big Issue outside Marks & Spencer. In France, Claude is more likely to be found horizontal, sleeping/comatose on the pavement adjacent to a warm air vent, or in the metro with his belongings in a plastic laundry bag by his side, and a few empty screw top wine bottles. If you are unlucky he might be conscious and verbally abusive. One whom I see regularly in the metro calls all the ladies who walk past dirty whores. Verbal abuse I can deal with, but one of my greatest fears, particularly on public transport, is of being thrown up on by a drunk. It hasn’t happened yet, but give it time.
There are also ‘career’ beggars who spend the whole day riding the metro and giving their potted history over and over again. It must be soul-destroying stuff and so I am refraining from poking fun at them. But I am quite amused by the fact that when the euro became legal tender, their spiel changed overnight from asking for “un franc ou deux” to “un euro ou deux”. Nearly seven times more.
I wish my employers had applied the same logic.
*In my German book, Deutsch Heute, the cartoon strip was about a talking pig called Fränzi.