I was determined not to get ripped off in Europe last summer, but as it turns out, the biggest risk of loss for me wasn’t robbery… it was by flat out handing over cash to a scam artist. Apparently, the thieves are getting better at tricking people every year, but here’s what they were up to in the summer of 2013.
“Excuse me, sir, but will you sign this petition for the handicapped?”
While trying to set up our tripod right in front of the Eifel Tower, I glanced over and saw a young woman trying to get me to take hold of her clipboard. Attached to it was the fakest looking petition I’ve ever seen: it had been photocopied beyond the point of recognition, there were no other signatures on it, and – the kicker – it was in English. I brushed her away with a ‘no thank you,’ more so because she was bothering me while I was trying to do something and less so because I smelled a scam.
“Just sign it! What’s wrong with you!”
That was a bigger clue. I checked my pockets to make sure I still had my wallet, and then forcefully told her to scram. She left, muttering. There were plenty of other guys to con who didn’t want to appear cold-hearted in front of their girlfriends, or worse, a throng of strangers. As it turns out, the petitioners were more than willing to solicit “donations” on the spot.
Generally, if someone tries to give you something without mentioning the fact that it will cost money, get out of there. They will try to charge up to ten times more than you’d ever pay for it.
From the Spanish Steps in Rome to Montmartre in Paris, there were groups of men trying to wrap friendship bracelets around my wrist without asking if I even wanted one. I’ve read that they demand twenty euro if you let them finish tying the string, but they never got that far with me. A strong, “Don’t touch me” sufficed when I was by myself, but when they wouldn’t leave Sarah alone and one man actually followed her, apparently trying very hard to be her friend, I had to put myself in front of him and yell. There were some heated words exchanged, but the bracelet guy’s friends pulled him away before it got too ugly.
Bonus hero points.
Aggressive Prostitutes & Drug Dealers
I was hounded by a shouting prostitute all the way down La Rambla. It didn’t cause too many stares, though, so I suppose that along Barcelona’s gritty center street it is nothing out of the ordinary. This was shortly after being approached by several old men several different times in Lisbon. They exposed handfuls of drugs around their crotch areas and plainly offered, “Hashish?”
Lesson learned – don’t look at anybody who is just standing around.
You have to be careful everywhere, I guess.
I’d grown accustomed to the tiny cañas of beer at restaurants and bars in Spain. Just 200 ml of liquid, they allowed me the opportunity to taste a number of the local suds on tap at one place but to keep costs down at the same time.
I was very hungry one night, but I had to make budget. Up and down La Rambla I searched (do you sense a pattern, here?), reading the menus outside of the restaurants and looking for anything under ten Euro. Finally, I found a joint that would give me a plate of bolognaise pasta for eight. Prepared to spend my extra 2 Euro on a beer, I added a cerveza at the last second.
The drink came out first – and it was bigger than my head! I was expecting una caña, I explained (exclaimed…), and the waiter patiently said that, “In Barcelona, the grande is the standard!”
Well, I drank it just to show him, and it cost one Euro more than the food, putting my bill just under twenty Euro for the night. From that point forward, I was as specific as I could be in my limited menu skills.
If you’re having a good time reading about how I deftly maneuvered past these scams and saved my money in the process, I implore you, do not read this article I wrote about the cup and ball games on Westminster Bridge in London. The title sums it up: You Cannot Win a Shell Game
In the end…
Not everyone who approaches you is a criminal, but plenty of them are. It’s up to you whether you give them your money or not. Be aware and read up on the popular common scams before you head someplace, and with a bit of luck, you’ll only spend your money on the memories that you really want to have.
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