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The Culture of Street Donation in U.S

Announcer: This is an All Ears English podcast Episode 1014: “The Culture of Street

Donations in the U.S. and What to Say.”


Announcer: Welcome to the All Ears English Podcast, downloaded more than 50 million times. We believe in Connection NOT Perfection ™, with your American hosts Lindsay McMahon, the ‘English Adventurer’, and Michelle Kaplan, the ‘New York Radio Girl,’ coming to you from Boston and New York City, U.S.A.


Announcer: And to get your transcripts delivered by email every week, go to AllEarsEnglish.com/subscribe.


Announcer: In the U.S. it’s very common to be asked for money on the street for a political cause or even institutions that support animals or other community issues. What can you say when someone asks you for money? Find out today.


Michelle: Hey (hi) Lindsay, how’s it going?

Lindsay: Michelle, it’s going great. How are you?

Michelle: I’m good, I’m good. I have a question, though. So, in Boston, are there a lot of people who ask for donations to certain organizations on the street?

Lindsay: Ohh yeah (yes), for sure, for sure. Outside of the Whole Foods that I go to there’s always, there’s someone selling, actually selling Spare Change News. So, it’s not exactly a donation, but it’s a low-cost newspaper that’s made, I think, by city organizations, community organizations. Kind of a donation, also buying a newspaper. So yeah (yes), you get that sometimes.

Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes). I always think of, like, the Salvation Army in New York around Christmas.

Lindsay: Ohh yes. With the bell? Yeah (yes).

Michelle: Yeah (yes), the bells and the buckets. Yeah (yes), I think of that, like, for asking for donations, like, the first thing I hear. So now I’m thinking Christmas time, but we’re not there yet. But Lindsay, I wanted to bring this up because we have a really good listener question about this topic, about asking for donations. So, could you read us the question?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), this is from Roberto. So, Roberto says, “Hello, I’ve been learning from you for almost two years. You three beautiful girls are like family.”

Michelle: Aww.

Lindsay: That’s awesome. “I’m from Cuba and I now live in the U.S. Okay, I have a question for you. It’s about donation. This came to my mind when you talk about tips. I had made a donation many times and I would like to do in the future, but sometimes in a single day they ask for money in different places. Sometimes about the same cause. Maybe I don’t have cash or can’t do it. I know it’s a nuisance problem…”

Michelle: Nuance, I think, nuanced.

Lindsay: Ohh, sorry. “It’s a nuanced problem and you’ll love to talk about it. We learn a lot about the U.S. culture with this kind of topic. I don’t want to be rude if I have to say no. I hope you can show us the best way. Thanks in advance because I know you’re going to take my question and you love specific questions.” Yes, we do love a specific question. This is from Roberto __. Good question, Roberto.

Michelle: Yes, we do. I really like this question; it is a very specific, good topic to talk about culture, all these different things. Right?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

Michelle: So yeah (yes), great question, Roberto. I agree there’s a lot that goes into this, including connection. Right?

Lindsay: Yes.

Michelle: So, here I think, you know, I mean, I’m just speaking about New York, I mean, many places may ask for money for organizations. Right? Maybe not always a donation specifically, but maybe it’s even something like the Girl Scouts, like, or for donations, like, kids raising money for their sports team or something like that. Right?

Lindsay: Mhh hmm. Yeah (yes).

Michelle: So, maybe it’s for something more formal like the Girl Scouts or just even, you know, I definitely see, like, kids, you know, on the street asking for things like that for sports or whatever. So, you’re right. So, sometimes what happens is you give money to one and then somebody else comes or you passed more, and you feel a little uncomfortable. Right, Lindsay?

Lindsay: Ohh yeah (yes), ohh for sure, for sure. Depends on who’s asking for money and how they’re asking for it, but yeah (yes), that can definitely be awkward.

Michelle: Yeah (yes). I mean, it also makes me think of, like, people trying to get you

to sign up for a service on the street. Like, there are, like, meal plans, like, where meal delivery services, and once I did, like, a free trial, and, like, then you always see them on the street and they’re still asking, and you’re, like, “Well, I already did it. Leave me alone.”

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I know, I know. It’s really tough. Or sometimes you have people with clipboards and it’s often, like, different causes, or political issues. Like abortion, like pro-choice, things like that, and they want you sign up. It is just they kind of like, they see you on the street, they see you coming…

Michelle: They always start off with, like, “You look like someone who cares about children.” [laughter]

Lindsay: Yeah (yes). [laughter]

Michelle: And then you’re, like, “I do, but I’m running to work.” So, that’s a little bit different than, like, asking for necessarily specific donations. Those people may want to talk for a longer, get you to sign a petition, something like that. So, today, we’re going to focus on the donation. Or, like, at the grocery store, even when you’re in the checkout line, you know, sometimes they say, “Do you want to add on any money to donate for this?” And so sometimes if you go to the grocery store multiple times, like, you do it one time and then you already did it. So, I don’t know, I wonder if this is cultural, Lindsay. Do you have any thoughts on this or have you seen this when you traveled?

Lindsay: I don’t know, that’s a really good question. I would like our listeners, guys, come back to AllEarsEnglish.com/episodes and type 1014 in the search bar. Let us know. Does this happen in your culture, the culture of asking for money on the street for different causes? Do people typically give money, or is that not something that happens? I want to know. Yeah (yes).

Michelle: I want to, too, yeah (yes). It’s a really interesting topic. But what can you

do? What can you do in this situation if either, you know, our listener asked, you know, you can’t donate, you already donated money or you just don’t even have money with you? Right? You don’t have your wallet,you don’t have cash. Right? So, what can you do? So, what’s the first thing you could do, Lindsay? It has to do with not even speaking.

Yeah (yes), you can physically say no. So, how would you do that, Michelle? What would that look like physically?

Michelle: I think, like, waving someone off. Like, kind of, like, smiling and, like, giving

a little wave. Like, not, like, unfriendly, like, “get away from me”, but just, like, a little bit friendly. Like, I think people are used to that. Especially if they’re asking for donations. Like, it might feel rude to you, but they see hundreds, or thousands even, of people a day and they’re not going to remember if you waved them off. And like I said, it shouldn’t be done in a rude way, but just a little wave. Maybe even, like, mouth with your lips that you already donated or something like that, or you don’t have the money. Just give a little motion. Right?


Announcer: If you want to get more from All Ears English four days a week, check out the app at AllEarsEnglish.com/bonuses, where you’ll find one- to two- minute quick and fun videos from the three of us in our cities – Portland, Boston and New York City – showing you what is cool and teaching you real English. AllEarsEnglish.com/bonuses.


Lindsay: Yeah (yes). I mean, this also makes me think of homeless people on the street. Right? So, we have, in Boston, we have a lot of… I mean, people don’t even know this or realize this about the U.S., but we have a lot of homeless people asking for money on the street, and it happens a lot, and it’s really nice to be able to give some coins once in a while. But what I try to do when I don’t have cash or I can’t, I try to just make eye contact with them, you know what I mean, and just say, “Sorry, not today, but have a good day.” I think often they just want, like, that eye contact and that, like, connection.

Michelle: Yes.

Lindsay: You know?

Michelle: Yeah (yes).

Lindsay: And then they’ll also say, “Thank you.” Sometimes they’ll say, certain homeless people are always in the same place down in Central Square in Cambridge, and they’ll appreciate just the eye contact and a smile. Like, just, they’ll say “thank you” just for that. And they say, like, “Have a good day.” You know what I mean?

Michelle: Rather than just totally ignoring someone.

Lindsay: It’s a totally different topic.

Michelle: Yeah (yes), that is a different topic, but a really interesting one.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

Michelle: So, that’s the physical part, but if you want to actually say something, maybe someone’s a little bit closer to you, and you know, they already started talking to you maybe. So, if you already donated, we have two phrases for something you could say. So, what’s the first one, Lindsay?

Lindsay: So, you can say, “I actually already donated, but good luck.”

Michelle: Right. So, I think that this shows that you support their cause, you wish them luck, but you don’t need to give more if you already donated.

Right? If you don’t want to. Maybe you want. Right?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I think that works. Yeah (yes).

Michelle: Or you could say, “I gave you a donation earlier, hope it’s going well.” So, that’s kind of, those are two phrases that you could use. So, like, just, for example, I could say, if I’m asking for donations, Lindsay, I could say, “HeyMiss, would you like to donate to the Humane Society?”

Lindsay: “Well, I actually already donated, but good luck.”

Michelle: “Okay, thanks.” Okay.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

So, that’s if you already donated, but what if you don’t have money? Right? You don’t have your money on you.

Which, I think, at least for me, is becoming more and more common, because I now tend not to use much cash. For some reason that’s changed over the last five years. Like, I’ve shifted more to just using a card, because I can keep track of my spending better that way. You know?

Michelle: I also do that. I know that about you, Lindsay, because I remember when you were in New York for the Urban Adventure.

Lindsay: I never had cash.

Michelle: Yeah (yes), you never had cash and you were, like, “Ohh no, I can’t get this.”

Lindsay: [laughter] It’s so true. Maybe it’s a personal thing, too. I don’t know. But yeah (yes), more and more people are using cards, it’s just easier.

Michelle: I agree.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), especially… Yeah (yes). So, alright, so, we could say something like, “I’m so sorry, but I actually don’t have any cash with me.”

Michelle: Right. So, I mean, it’s honest; it’s friendly, but to the point. I mean, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. What do you think, Lindsay?

Lindsay: No, I think that’s honest. I mean, if you don’t have cash, you don’t have cash.

Michelle: Yeah (yes).

Lindsay: And again, I think following that up with kind of, you know, whether it’s, you know, people on the street, homeless people asking for money, or whether it’s, like, an actual cause, then yeah (yes), I mean, making eye contact with the person, they’re still a human being. You know?

Michelle: Right.

Lindsay: Making eye contact and just acknowledging that they’ve asked you is

good. You know? But yeah (yes).

Right, right. Or you could say something like, “So sorry, I don’t have my wallet with me, but is there a website where I can donate?” So, this is taking it a step further, right? It shows that you really, really do want to give, but you can’t at the moment. So, maybe it’s the Humane Society or whatever and you’re interested in donating, but maybe you want to use a card or something like that.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes). And hopefully they would have that readily available. Right?

Michelle: Right, right. Yeah (yes), so, it might look something like this.

Lindsay: So, here we go. “Hey Miss, would you like to donate to the Salvation


Michelle: “So sorry, I don’t have my wallet with me, but is there a website where I can donate?”

Lindsay: “Yes, it’s right here on this card.”

Michelle: “Ohh, thank you so much.”

Lindsay: Okay, good.

Michelle: And then the last scenario is if you don’t have time or can’t for another reason. So, it’s not specifically about the money. You didn’t donate already but you just can’t. Okay? And that happens.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

Michelle: What’s one thing you can say, Lindsay?

Lindsay: So, you could say, “Sorry, I can’t give right now. I support your cause, though.” Right? So, letting them know that you do support it, but you just… Yeah (yes), “I can’t give right now”.

Michelle: Yeah (yes), you appreciate what they do, but you know, it’s, like, “Thanks, but sorry, not right this moment.” Right?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), exactly.

Or you could say, “I’m sorry. I got to run, but thank you for what you’re doing.”

Yeah (yes). If the person is supporting a cause that you really believe in.

Michelle: Yes.

Lindsay: That’s important. Yeah (yes).

Michelle: I’ve definitely said this before where I, like, I’m in a rush, but I don’t want them to think that, like… I want them to realize that I care. You know? That I like their cause, I appreciate what they do, but yeah (yes), not a good time. Right?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

Michelle: So yeah (yes), so, and this might look like this, “Hi Miss, we’re asking for donations for the book club at our school.”

Lindsay: “Ohh, I’m sorry, I got to run, but thank you for doing what you’re doing.

That’s great.”

Michelle: “Thanks.” So yeah (yes), you could say I thank you for what you’re doing” or “Thank you for doing what you’re doing”, either one is good.

Lindsay: Both are okay. Yeah (yes), I like that idea. You’re acknowledging that you support the cause but you’re not going to necessarily take out cash right now. Maybe you’ll come back later. Right?

Michelle: Right, right.

Lindsay: I love that.

Michelle: Exactly. So, guys, today, we’ve covered three separate situations of a

reason why you might need to say that you can’t give to some organization or whoever is asking for money or donations. So, we talked about, you know, maybe just you can’t, for whatever reason. We talked about that you don’t have money with you, right? Maybe you’re Lindsay and you’re walking around with your credit card. No, I’m just joking. That’s what I do, too. And the third one is if you already gave and a different person is asking you. So, all of these situations, I mean, all of these can happen. Right, Lindsay?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), and I think this episode is really interesting, potentially for our listeners who have moved to the U.S. from other places where maybe this doesn’t happen in your culture. I’m not sure. I’m really curious to know, guys, if you could come back to our blog, type 1014 in the search bar, and let us know is this a part of your culture, is this culture of asking for money on the street for causes, causes like animal rights, abortion, or political issues like abortion for example, or women’s rights, or you know, the Salvation Army, institutions that support homelessness, that kind of thing. Is that a common thing to ask for money? And then if you guys are living in the U.S. for the first time, and this is a thing here, this is going to be really helpful for you to know what to say. Because maybe up until now you have had no idea what to do.

Michelle: Right.

Lindsay: What to say.

Michelle: Right, exactly. So, I mean, I guess the takeaway is, you know, it’s okay if you can’t donate for any reason, whatever it is. Right? Like, we all have our reasons. It’s nice to do, but don’t worry if you have to tell someone no because they ask so many people. So, you don’t have to feel, you don’t have to worry or feel bad because, honestly, once they get past you they’re moving on to the next person. But you know, still use every opportunity as a chance to connect and try not to be rude about it and try to use some of these techniques.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), it’s so true. Could you imagine someone who, for example,

represents, I don’t know, the Humane Society, the animal shelter, and they stand in Union Square for three hours, how many people passed them? Could you imagine? It must be 10,000. A lot of people. Yeah (yes). So, there’s always someone else that they can talk to, but just do your best here, guys. And, you know, respect the person who’s asking for money, I guess would be the takeaway. So, guys, to grab the transcripts for today, because we gave you kind of some long phrases that are somewhatdetailed, you want to get the transcripts and review. So, go to AllEarsEnglish.com/subscribe to get the transcripts, upcoming, to subscribe. Get them every Monday, or to get today’s episode. Go to AllEarsEnglish.com/transcripts to get previous episodes. Alright?

Michelle: Okay, thank you for that question. That was a good one. And yeah (yes), good luck out there and have a good day, Lindsay. Have a good day, everyone.

Lindsay: Alright, Michelle, have a good one.

Michelle: Bye.

Lindsay: Bye.


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