Pickpockets of Barcelona


When sitting in the Mossos station of Cituat Vella for three hours, you’re given a great deal of time to reflect on things. For those not prone to probing the inner depths of their minds, they provide a TV on the wall playing all the latest music videos. Of course, the allure of watching a video featuring will.i.am collaborating with Justin Beiber will probably wear down even the most stalwart of TV viewers and you are left looking about at the light green walls in this waiting area that seems to be one of the only public structures in Barcelona to not have been remodeled in the last 30 years.

My reason for being in this police station was not that I had bludgeoned some annoying beach tourist to death, but that after six years of taking trains around Catalonia, I have finally joined the ranks of those who have had their pockets picked. I was of the opinion it wouldn’t happen to me being that I’m large at 1.93m and always carry my wallet in my front pocket. And, up until the prior week I had indeed held on to my pocketed items. But, this particular Monday, several things were against me.

For starters, it’s Summer and outside of the Worldwide Mobile Congress, this is the busiest time for pickpockets, thieves, and other general shit criminals in Barcelona who general operate with impudence as they’re rarely arrested, hardly charged, and never deported (petty thieves in Barcelona are either Moroccans or gypsies.) Secondly, I was on an airport train coming from the airport which is a favorite target of these pocket fondling turds as tourists arriving are often jetlagged and out of it. But, I wasn’t arriving. I was picking up my mother and her friend who are staying for a couple of weeks. So, there we were, talking in English on the train and standing out as blatant foreigners.

The final problematic point was that I was helping my mom and her friend by carrying their luggage off the train. Thus, my hands were full making me a most delightful target who fell prey to one of the oldest picking scams on the trains.

Essentially, as we were getting off the train at Passeig de Gràcia, this guy who looked like the jackass in the middle of the photo above (which is from here) stood in the door, looking around, acting as if he was looking for someone or checking to see if it was the right station. As he blocked the door, I pushed past time with a suitcase in each hand telling him to move. It was at this moment that either he reached in my pocket or an accomplice behind me did.

While the second scenario is the more common, it doesn’t matter as I quickly felt something was wrong, tossed the suitcases down on the platform and looked around. I saw the door blocker casually walking down the platform and knew that he was at least part of the scam. I grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around, demanding my wallet. He looked at me with this practiced bewildered face that naturally threw me off. I let him go as I realized that he either did take my wallet and had already tossed it or his partner in the crime had taken it and punching this particular thief in the face would ultimately get me arrested.

And that was that, my wallet with its credit cards, cash, and various ID cards was gone. Once depositing my mother at my home, I needed to go file a police report. This is interesting as while they’ve made the process more fluid, they’ve only done so for people who are purely tourists. If you walk in there, speak in Catalan, and tell them your NIE, they’ll happily give you a number which will then see you sitting in the drab waiting area for hours upon hours. If you happen to be a tourist who walks in with a dumb look on their face and speaks neither Catalan nor Castilian, they give you forms to fill out quickly and you’re on your way in 30 minutes.

After a note to myself to play the dumb American should this ever happen in the future and after sitting there watching a refresher on all of Lady Gaga’s albums, I went up and emphasized that I’d been there for several hours and really needed to get home for dinner. Thankfully, this angle was understood and I finally talked to an officer, filled out the report and went home.

The bigger issue wasn’t canceling all my credit cards and losing the 30€ I had in my wallet, but more the issue of replacing everything. The American banks were quite fast and even airmailed new credit cards to me in Barcelona. The Spanish banks, well, were less than stellar and I’m still waiting for a replacement bank card. The most annoying items are the ID cards. The Spanish foreigner ID requires going to the office and getting a new one. My US passport card requires going to the consulate to get one and even then I’m not fully sure how that works. My driver’s license is the worst of all given that I need to go to California, go to the DMV and request a new one in person. This of course after the complete disaster with my previous renewal. Why you just can’t have a new one sent to your California address is beyond me.

Of course, there is one last shred of hope in this in that the thieves have no interest in the wallet other than the cash and they usually toss the wallet right after snatching it. There is a small hope that someone finds it and takes it to the city lost and found or Oficina de Troballes. The only wrinkle in this is that it was lost on a train platform within the Renfe system and so it might go to their lost and found office. Naturally, it’s upon me to chase all of this down despite the fact it’s a failure on the part of Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain to stop the rampant thieving in the train stations.

Now of course it’s a just a matter of waiting, hoping it will show up and slowly replacing the annoying to replace items as I can. That and remembering to keep my hands in my pockets while on the trains.