The Panhandle


As everyone in New York (and, um, the rest of the world???) knows, if approached by a panhandler you simply avoid eye contact, ignore the request and keep moving.


Hell, it doesn’t even need to be someone asking for money…directions? Help? The time? Endangered child? Escaped tiger? It’s all the same:

1. Avoid eye contact
2. Ignore
3. Keep moving

Manhattan school children learn the mantra right along with stop, drop and roll. It’s just second nature.

Which is why your first few encounters with panhandlers (and there will be many) in San Francisco may be incredibly unsettling. Panhandlers in San Francisco are accustomed to (a) people being nice and (b) having the right to do whatever they want – including asking you for money.

So the normal tactics don’t work here because panhandlers simply think you didn’t hear them. They’ll raise their voice, follow you down the street and even (shudder) touch you! Yes, panhandlers here will actually touch you to get your attention if you ignore them. And unlike Giuliani/Bloomberg’s New York where homeless people are put to death for even blocking the path of the gainfully employed / showered citizen, it’s evidently not against the law for panhandlers in San Francisco to gently touch you.

But don’t fear, after many months I have devised an innovative and foolproof (albeit counterintuitive) method for avoiding the harassment of panhandlers in San Francisco. When asked for money, pause, look the assailant in the eye and say “sorry dude.”
I know it sounds crazy, but it works:

1. Pause
2. Eye contact
3. “Sorry dude”

The panhandler will shrug and walk on. It’s seriously like magic and it will blow your mind.

Good luck.


About adamahata

On February 5, 2008, after 15 amazing years in New York City, I got married, changed careers, and moved out to San Francisco. All within a three-week period, and with very little preparation. This blog is for those of you who follow me out to San Francisco (or have been here for a while and are still trying to figure this place out). You're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.
This entry was posted in Background Information and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Panhandle

  1. I once witnessed a man TICKLE another man who wouldn’t make eye contact with him on public transit there. I was so taken aback by the bold nature of the homeless in SF when I made the move from NY. My approach was similar and works flawless as well:
    1. Big Smile
    2. Eye Contact
    3. No Thank you
    They are left speechless every time.

  2. Pingback: I’m back… | San Francisco is Weird

  3. Nicky says:

    I learned very early on that you must dress in layers when dressing for San Francisco weather. That way, you can just strip down as the afternoon becomes warmer.

    Actually, I believe it’s the same sort of thing in New York.. I always bring a sweater, even during the summer, because of the freaking a/c blasting in every place you go to. This includes my office that feels like a refrigerator all day long.

  4. Nicky says:

    This is funny.. I live in New York, (I’m a native San Franciscan) and I am in the habit of saying sorry to panhandlers that ask me for change. I feel bad for doing it here, because the native NYer’s I’m usually with are like, just keep walking!! Don’t look at them!!

    hahahah!! There really is a lot of contempt for the homeless out here. I feel bad that they have to be homeless during the crappy ass winters here.. how can you complain about fog with the winters the way they are here?

    • adamahata says:

      You are of course right that does not get as severely cold here as it does in New York. But in New York, you generally get a sense for what the day will bear and then dress accordingly. Here, you’ll walk out in the morning bundled up, then around 1pm the fog will burn off and it’s warm, and then later in the afternoon the fog will roll in and the temperature will drop 20-degrees in five-minutes. It’s just weird.

  5. Saskia says:

    ha! down here in LA we just shuffle our homeless to a 3 block stretch known as skid row. how’s THAT for handling the issue?

  6. Pat Kitano says:

    As a former NYCer, I can confirm that what you say is TRUE!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s