We get asked a lot about safety and whether any areas in our cities should be avoided. We generally give one of two standard answers (there’s a short one and a long one), both of which try to make one important point – that there is not the same degree or level of malicious, violent crime in Europe as in other parts of the world.
The main crime to look out for is getting robbed, which happens not at gunpoint or knifepoint, but by pickpockets who roam around and look for people they can catch unaware (which is relatively easy when you’re staring up at a famous, historic monument). This is more of a nuisance than a danger – in that, personally, you won’t be threatened. But if you get targeted, and they get you – it can ruin your day, your whole trip, or maybe more.
The two defenses against this crime are:
1. Don’t carry around anything valuable. Or at least, don’t have it anywhere accessible.
2. Know what the thieves look like, and avoid them. If necessary, even shoo or give them a shove. Often they are children (sad, but easy to defend yourself against).
The following picture was taken in Rome, near the central train station Termini. When I first came to Rome, I was used to seeing many ethnic groups in large cities, and I was surprised at how the Romans considered anyone who was not Italian, or a tourist, to be a thief. Very racist, and hopefully that viewpoint has changed over the years. But what was more odd was that they could tell, by looking at someone, that they weren’t Italian. Now, after more than a decade, I too can see it immediately, but for the tourist, this will be a hard distinction to make. I don’t believe that anyone foreign and not a tourist is a thief, but recognizing who “doesn’t belong” is part of recognizing who is up to no good.
For example, look at this picture. What do you see?
Two women standing on the sidewalk, right?
Look again. See the cardboard? That’s the thief’s prop of choice. They use it to distract their partner’s hands that are going in your pocket.
Check out the look on backup girl’s face.
She’s scanning, searching, for a target. If you know what to look for, you can see it a block away.
And these dudes? You think they’re just standing around, letting the belly get some fresh air?
Actually, yeah. No idea what’s up with that. Probably best to stay away from them too.
Below is an amazing video by Bob Arno, a pickpocket expert who goes undercover to the pickpocket capital of the world – Naples – getting footage of how these thieves operate.