Karie on Apr 18th 2008 10:07 am
So our good friends Adam & Nicki from CA came to visit us here in the pickpocket capital of the world. They both studied in Germany for a while and have done their fair share of traveling, so they already knew the basics. For example…
- Men, keep your wallet in your front pocket.
- Women, if you must carry a purse, make sure it has a zipper (and preferably a flap over the zipper), and a long strap so you can wrap it around your neck/shoulder.
- Don’t carry your passports on you unless you’re actually traveling
Note: most places in Spain will accept a photo copy of your passport or your U.S. drivers license as ID, so hide the passports somewhere safe and leave them in your hotel. (I don’t know if this is true in other countries, but it flies in Spain)
- Be extra alert when on crowded public transit
- When seated, make sure your purse/backpack is in your lap or somewhere that you can see and feel it (don’t just put it under your chair).
- Get one of those cheap carabiner things to hook the two zippers on your backpack together. It’s not a lock, but it’s hard enough to open that it will annoy you when you need to get into your own bag.
Scott is actually working on a resource for safety tips, so more to come on that later. To sum it up for now, there are plenty of targets out there, so do whatever you can to make yourself a difficult one, to encourage the thieves to move on to someone else. We are certainly not experts, but we see people making themselves easy targets all the time, and if we can see it, the thieves can see it.
Even the most seasoned of travelers (or locals) can fall prey in a moment of distraction, but for the most part, I can see how making a living as a pickpocket really isn’t that difficult. I don’t know how many times we’ve seen pickpockets scouting for their next victim, or seen some desperate victim running/yelling/crying when it was already too late. At least once a week we find ourselves telling someone, “hey, you might want to zip up that bag…”, or “watch out behind you, that guy has been eying your purse…”
That’s right, we’re concerned citizens. But now, ladies and gentleman, with the arrival of Magnum P.I. Adam and Nicki, we have gone beyond the simple proactive suggestions and moved into the action packed realm of crime stopping. We tested two new methods within just a few days time, both of which we found to be effective. I expect the local police department to call us in soon to provide crime fighting consultations.
Ways to stop a pickpocket in action #1: Kick him in the shin
Adam & Nicki had just arrived, and it was our first day to explore the city with them. We hopped on the Metro, which wasn’t too crowded, but enough so to where some people were standing. Adam notices a suspicious character looking down at the shopping back that Nicki was carrying, so it caught his attention. A minute later, he sees the suspicious character draping his coat over his forearm, mostly covering his hand. He then uses his concealed hand to unzip the backpack of a girl standing nearby, who is chatting away with her friend and not paying an ounce of attention. Adam actually sees him unzip her purse, and that’s when he sprung into action, kicking him.
The suspicious character spins around, and Magnum, I mean Adam, gives him the ultimate sign of intimidation: index finger pointed up to the temple of his own head, then turning and pointing directly at the suspicious character. “I saw you.”
The would-be thief is dumbfounded, pretending to have no clue what Adam is talking about. The little punk even smirked in a “yeah, but you can’t prove it” sort of way.
Meanwhile, Nicki gets the victim’s attention and points to her bag, which is open, but thankfully nothing was missing. We got off at the next stop, while our suspicious character stayed behind trying to defend himself to the victim, who was still not convinced that he hadn’t taken anything.
Ways to stop a pickpocket in action #2: Give them the spread-fingered whap on top of the head, as if you’re dribbling a basketball
A few days later we were on the infamous Bus 24 to Park Güell. This is the same bus from our Christmas Eve adventure, in which my dad had a completely different approach for stopping a pickpocket (which probably only works if you’re at least a foot taller than your opponent).
This time is was Scott’s turn to test a new method. Bus 24 is the only form of public transportation that goes directly to Park Güell, so it’s always filled with tourists. On our last bus 24 adventure, the driver told me that there are probably 30 incidents a day on that line. Thanks to Scott, on this day there were only 29.
Upon spotting another stupid tourist with some gigantic bag gaping wide open, Scott & Adam were on alert. Scott actually tried to get her attention through the crowd to advise her to hang onto her purse, to which she replied, “Huh?” Ugh. Inevitably, here comes our picker. He wasn’t within kicking range, so Scott reached up over the crowed and thumped him on top of the head (one of those heavy open-hand thumps where all 5 fingers hit at slightly different times).
The thief turns around, completely shocked by what has just happened. In fact, he is so offended by someone interrupting him while he’s at work, that he actually wanted to fight Scott. Throwing his hands up in the air, with the International gesture for “C’mon, Bring It On Biznacho”… while safely moving closer to the door. He got off at the next stop, continuing with his gestures on the sidewalk. The stupid girl with the big open bag never even knew what happened.
Good job team.
We will continue to keep you apprised of any other methods that we prove to be effective. Scott & Adam actually considered spending an entire day riding public transportation just to see how many they could catch.
Disclaimer: In all seriousness, I am not suggesting that you take it upon yourself to stop pickpockets. Some of them do carry knives, and they usually travel in groups, so sometimes it’s better to watch your stuff go than to try to fight – especially if you’re by yourself or in a less populated area.
Now, for all my family and friends who are wondering why I moved to the hood, don’t worry, I didn’t. Barcelona actually has very little violent crime; it just happens to have a lot of petty theft. Yes, I think the local authorities could/should do a better job at implementing some systems to crack down on this. (I know you hear me New York City!) Until that happens, just take caution and make yourself a really difficult target. I suppose if someone really wanted my purse he’d get it no matter what, but I’ll do what I can to reduce that chance.
The good news is, I’ve never felt unsafe or in fear of a serious attack in Barcelona (with the exception of New Years Eve on Las Ramblas with a frightening number of drunks scaling walls & monuments). So, given a choice, and assuming “no crime” is not an option, I’d take the petty theft over the violent crime. Plus, when you do get the opportunity to thwart one of their attempts, it’s even more rewarding than finding a geocache.