In addition to locals and tourists, there are roughly four kinds of people who hang out in the streets of Nantes: homeless people, street artists, beggars from Eastern Europe and “guys with dogs.”
Homelessness is an issue in Nantes, like in many sizeable cities around the world. Typical homeless folks sit alone or with one companion wherever it’s safe and wherever there is street traffic. They leave a hat or a piece of clothing on the pavement, sometimes with a sign (“Please help,” “For food,” etc.) and thank anyone who spare some change or bring them food.
Street artists can usually be found close to restaurants and bars. They play music or offer some kind of circus performance, like fire breathing, devil sticks or juggling. Afterwards, they collect change and move on to the next bar or terrace.
Beggars from Eastern Europe are often a group of five or more women with kids who panhandle aggressively. They have a bad reputation because they often stand by ATM machines or follow people in busy markets and can occasionally double as pickpockets.
And then there are what folks in Nantes (and maybe in other cities in France) call “les punks à chien” (“gutter punks”), young guys who look like they are coming from a rave party (or the nearest drug dealer) and have one or two large dogs with them. They hang out in groups, especially around supermarkets and train stations. They request change politely or aggressively, depending on their blood alcohol level.
I avoid them. It bothers me to admit it because I usually try to sympathize with pretty much everyone and every situation. Homelessness is a serious issue and I try to help out if I can. I respect street artists and even if I wouldn’t leave my handbag to a beggar from Eastern Europe, I tend to feel sorry for these women who are exploited by large networks who brought them to Western Europe in the first place.
But I have little sympathy for gutter punks. First, I’m scared of their dogs who are often unleashed and fight with the gang’s other dogs. Second, I hate being called names because I don’t want to give them change or because I ignore them. Third—and this is going to sound extremely conservative—I don’t understand their lifestyle and I don’t see why I should support it. As far as I know, they hop from one music festival to another, they get drunk, hang out and start again in another city. They claim they dislike the way society work but they have no ideals—and even true punks and anarchists have ideals and offer something to the world.
Getting drunk, shouting and fighting with the police doesn’t make you a true rebel, I’m sorry.