How to Get Pickpocketed in Barcelona
La Rambla is a long, perennially crowded mall in downtown Barcelona with all of the usual mall accoutrements: artists, kiosks, tourists. By day, it is largely carpeted with illegal pop-up stalls in the form of rugs upon which cheap counterfeit goods are laid out, the proprietors holding ropes connected to each corner for a quick getaway should the policia walk in their direction. By night, the black market is replaced with similarly illegal alcohol vendors, revellers and prostitutes. The latter become more and more aggressive as the night goes on until, when the sky is lightening again; they roam the streets in aggressive gangs and boldly declare that, “You are my boyfriend”, almost insisting that they suck you off for the admittedly competitive price of 10 euros (I know guys who would have to pay their girlfriends more).
“We can do it right here,” they will say, pointing to an arbitrary and unremarkable segment of shop front that offers no privacy whatsoever.
I have no doubt that some of these “ladies of the early morning” also dabble in the world’s second-oldest profession: theft.
“Everyone gets pickpocketed in Barcelona,” more than one newfound local friend had warned me; and with typical casual arrogance I’d already decided that I would be the exception. I always kept my wallet deep in my front pocket and got into the habit of walking down the mall with my thumb hitched on my belt, a cowboy in Havaianas. I was confident that I’d stay ahead of the game regarding thieves of every type. The hookers would get nowhere near my valuables even while they blatantly squeezed my family jewels in the middle of the street.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you, wise reader, that I was eventually humbled by having my wallet lifted. I say “eventually” because it sounds less amateur than “within days of landing in Spain” – but there is no sugar-coating the downright schoolboy error that led to my empty pockets.
We had started as a group 10 strong, but just a fraction remained on the other side of our trip to BLVD, a dark, generic club that could have been in any city in the universe but happened to be located on the infamous Rambla. I was talking with a charming woman called Bee. She claimed to be German, but nothing about her looked or sounded German. I hadn’t quite believed her until I had attempted to dance with her, and she had apologetically explained that she doesn’t like to dance with people, then taken me outside to kiss on the street, which struck me as very efficient (and not in a bad way). Bee’s housemate and a Spanish guy who was trying to have sex with her appeared, and as it was nearing Shameless Prostitute o’clock, we began to walk toward the girls’ place.
As you would probably assume, Bee is a fast, highly efficient walker and we soon outpaced the other couple by a block or so. Being the romantic I am, I took the opportunity to press Bee against a nearby rubbish bin, and kissed her in the French style.
“Excuse me.” I hadn’t noticed the chico’s approach, and he was already standing right next to us, which would have been my first yellow flag, had I not been in such a loved-stoned state.
“What’s up?” I said. In retrospect, perhaps a swift right hook to his jaw would have been a more appropriate response. In broken English filtered through a heavy Czech accent, he apologised for his intrusion and seemed to be asking for directions.
“Do you know where is the party with people dance with the belts?” I was confused.
“You know, club where you dance and you grab the belts!”
When my confusion continued, he illustrated his point by grabbing his belt and grinding on an imaginary partner. Then he grabbed my belt and started grinding with me.
“Belts! Yeah, the belts!” Learn from my rookie naivete, dear reader: belt parties are not a thing! (Side note: if I am wrong and you have in fact ever attended a belt party in Barcelona, please leave a comment: they seem like they would be a good time if they are real). If a man grinds on you in a dark alley, he wants at least one of two things that you don’t want to give him.
I gave him directions to BLVD, figuring he could probably find someone there with a nice belt to grind up on. As we continued on our merry way, another man ran after me and, to my surprise, handed me my wallet. “It was just over there,” he explained, pointing to the love bin. I can only guess that Belt Party Man lifted and emptied the wallet of cash, then his accomplice “found” it and returned it. Thieves’ honour? Muggers will often be nice and return the wallet itself, sin dinero, if they like you and you made their crime easy. I gave the Samaritan the benefit of the doubt, thanked him profusely for his kindness, declared my undying love for him, and gave him a hug.
The lesson was cheaper than it could have been for me, and fairly clear: you will get caught off guard at some point, even if you are generally cautious. Maybe you’ll be a little tired, or find yourself suddenly and profoundly drunk at the worst possible time and place, or be distracted by a slim, beautiful frauline. These guys are very good at what they do, so even if you’re not as off your game as I was that night, you’re not necessarily immune to crime. Your best bet is to be defensive. Don’t be arrogant: it only takes one occasion on which the pickpockets are smarter than you. Do you need to bring your whole wallet tonight, or just a few euros? Leave your cards at home. And if a random dude starts grinding on you, put your fucking hands in your pockets.
Cover by Perahia