I had seven journeys left on my ticket but a tiny fold on the card caused it to be jammed inside the machine and the whole thing just shut down. So I pushed an *English* help button found on a nearby ticket machine but they said that they couldn’t speak any English. Perfect. Spanglish it is then. But sadly I was completely ignored; counted off as just another tourist ruining their city. It’s 2am on Sunday morning. I’m drunk, tired and want to go home, and Barcelona metro owes me at least 7€.
So I thought I would go and stuff my face with food in an attempt to mollify the situation. But as I was leaving the metro station I bumped into a good-looking girl on the stairs, and we began chatting. Only a few seconds went by before we were joined by two of her (male) friends. I explained all about my troubles with the metro…we talked about Scotland…they seemed really cool, and rather sympathetic about my situation. I felt a lot better after talking to someone about it. We walked up the stairs, out of the station and onto the tourist boulevard of Las Ramblas, and as we were going different directions, we shook hands and said adiós.
Time for munchie. I checked my pockets for money but to my surprise…my phone was gone. I turned around squinting my eyes to reveal the same three, now shifty looking individuals that had been chatting to me on the stairs, staring back at me in the distance. Suddenly, they all ran.
What the fuck.
I ran after them.
The girl and one guy disappeared quickly down a side street. Gone. But the other guy just ran straight down Las Ramblas, so I followed him. It became immediately apparent that I was going to have to work pretty hard to catch the guy. I was wearing jeans and crappy shoes. And it didn’t help that I was rather wasted. He carelessly ran across the road to the right, in front of the moving traffic to try and shun me. “RUN RUN RUN!” some bald guy shouted at me in encouragement. The adrenaline was helping but turning was still difficult. I sped around the corner smacking off some bins on the pavement and almost fell. It was a full on sprint into Raval…the streets became tighter and narrower, and he was way ahead. Some prostitutes still touted for business, despite me being noticeably preoccupied. When I turned the next corner, he could have went a number of different ways…I chose one, still running, but he wasn’t there. I went back but it was too late. I’d lost him. Around the next corner was another world; a homeless man pushing a suitcase, some kids smoking in a doorway, a mob drinking on the public benches.
I began a slow jog around the neighborhood for the next half an hour, but it was useless. I was tired and lost. And he was gone. And so was my phone. I shook my head and looked at my watch.
But my watch wasn’t there.
Cue the one time in my life where I became simultaneously filled with rage and thoroughly impressed. Angrily impressed? Try making that face…except you have no phone, watch, sobriety, dignity, or any idea where you are. And you smell now.
Well that’s just bloody great isn’t it. Hola Barcelona. Luckily I bumped into my friend on the street half an hour later, who managed to calm me down and get me home.
In hindsight, I figured that the girl on the stairs was the spotter for the two guys. She had realized I was a tourist, probably from the Scottish vilifications I was chanting at the ticket machine. She watched what pocket I put my phone in. The guy that shook my hand took my watch. How? – is inexplicable. I had that watch for over 9 years, and always struggled to get it on and off. Which led me to the conclusion that despite my drunkenness, they were professionals.
Yes, it’s Barcelona, there are some kids blatantly unzipping your bag and stealing whatever you have of value; but there are professionals here too. They don’t just come and pick your pockets: they do this for a living. They are going to distract you; dramatically fall over; ask you awkward questions; or in my case, take advantage of gullibility. This, by the way, is the most annoying thing about this city. Not being able to trust a stranger – sorry, not being able to trust talking to a stranger – is a major deterrent to a happy, functioning society, which Barcelona would otherwise be. The destruction the pickpockets create here runs deep into the culture, at least in the city centre. You can’t take your eyes off of any personal belonging even for a second, or you risk it disappearing.
Believe me when I say this is no exaggeration. It’s a genuine nuisance here. It even influences what kind of bags the locals buy to minimize the risks. People stand and even walk with their bags visibly in front of them, sometimes with their hands over the buckles. Of course, as a tourist you are more likely to be targeted.
Think the police are going to help? Think again… you might even end up in jail.
By the way, my watch cost about £50, had a leather strap and looked pretty worthless. My phone was a 4 year old, second hand HTC. If you have an expensive phone or watch I’d be extra careful, especially if you’re alone.