When I told people I was going to be spending a week in Rome, everybody said two things: “Oh! How nice!” followed immediately by “Watch out for pickpockets!”
Eventually I just started rolling my eyes.
I mean, I have travelled extensively to many cities and countries all over the world (including Rome before), and have never fallen victim to a pickpocket. Not to say I’m not careful though, when I travel I carry a money belt with my passport, extra credit card, and some cash under my clothes.
Sidebar: I have started a new game called “Spot the stupid money belt wearer”. Why do people insist on going to all the trouble of investing in and filling a money belt, only to wear it over their clothes where it is just as easy to steal as a purse? I also enjoy playing spot the hidden money belt, where people have crammed so much crap into their money belt that it looks like they are trying to smuggle a bag of lego under their clothes!
When I’m travelling I also tend to keep a much closer eye on my bag, both when walking and on public transit, than I otherwise would. Sometimes, I get irritated with myself for falling victim to the fear that people in other countries/cities are more likely to be criminals than my own. Why should people who live elsewhere be anything other than lovely people just like Canadians? Hmm? And more importantly, there are lots of criminals in Canada too! I therefore get annoyed that I am engaging in ‘othering’, making others fundamentally different in some way in my mind, something that as an anthropologist I dislike on principle.
I therefore tell myself that I look after my belongings more carefully when I’m travelling because if something were to happen, I have fewer resources and less support network to help sort things out.
I was therefore very alert to people’s behaviours when I got to Rome. Most interesting to me was the way people sat and stood while on public transit. Everybody who got on seemed to have a *very* tight hold on their bags. Women carrying purses brought them around to the front of their bodies, sometimes ostensibly to make room for other people crowding onto the car, but more often simply because they were standing still in a crowd. People sitting down had their bags on their laps with the arms over them, and I never saw a bag sitting to the side of a person.
This hyper vigilance is not something I’ve really noticed anywhere else, and so that brings to mind the question. Does Rome really have more pickpockets than elsewhere? Are people more vigilant in Rome? Or are people vigilant everywhere and I only noticed it in Rome because I had been warned and was looking for it?
A quick google search pops up the 10 worst cities for pickpockets, and interestingly highlights the fact that most pickpocketing happens around large tourists attractions, where there are crowds of distracted people. Does this mean that large tourist attractions attract pickpockets, who then go on to continue plying their trade on local populations? Or are the locals taking the metro with me just careful about their stuff because the crime is so rife everywhere else?
As a somewhat related side note, I saw this sign while waiting for the vaporeto in Venice:
An attempt to combat the prevailing belief that pickpockets are seedy looking young men perhaps?