Zip it.

Everything you ever heard about pickpockets is true: They’re fast. They’re smooth. They have excellent timing, quick reflexes and good judgment. In their down time, they might be soccer goalies or Uber drivers. But I guess that doesn’t pay the bills.

It’s hard to be a victim of a pickpocket and still manage to be smug, but I’m going to try. Because unlike most people who don’t realize what happened until much later, I knew right away.

I was on a crowded train en route from the airport in Paris when a group of people got into the car and hovered by the doors. As a New Yorker, this didn’t phase me at all. For whatever reason, people always love to stand directly in the way of those trying to enter or leave the train. My stop was next, so I mumbled my best “Excuse moi,” and then used my suitcase like a small battering ram on my way to the door. I thought nothing of it until I raised my arm to carry my bag across the platform gap and felt someone reach into my pocket and take my phone.

OK, fine. The last part isn’t true. I didn’t actually feel it. I just happened to be listening to music at the time and the thief had the courtesy to remove my headphone jack while he was rooting around in my pocket. But when my song cut out, I realized what happened and I turned around just in time to see the group that had previously been so reluctant to budge splitting in two – half to the left and the other to the right.

In what I will later remember as one of my finer moments on this trip, I quickly stepped back on the train, spun around in a circle and asked, “Who just stole my phone?” I wasn’t expecting anyone to return it, so much as I just wanted them to know that I knew it was gone.

“WHO HAS IT?” a woman repeated, with a little more force. Then a second chimed in, this time in French. Apparently these two ladies had nothing better to do during their commute and together the three of us began shaking down the entire car for an iPhone 6.

“Did you steal my phone?” I asked one of the men I recognized as part of the earlier group.

He shrugged.

“I’ll pay for it!” I said to him and two others at the far end of the car. “I know you know who has it. If you get it, I’ll pay you 100.”

They shrugged.

“Two hundred!” I yelled.

They all traded a look, then shrugged again. I could have gone on bidding against myself all day, but I stopped. Given the circumstances, it didn’t seem like a good idea to advertise the fact I was also carrying a large amount of cash. Besides, even if I was willing to pay them more than they could sell it for, giving it back to me probably wasn’t worth the risk of admitting that they took it in the first place. I take comfort in the fact that maybe, just maybe, I look more like an undercover French policewoman than a pathetic, little tourist from New York.

In the grand scheme of things, a lost phone is nothing to get worked up about. Replacing it is expensive and inconvenient, sure, but it’s not something I’m going to remember later with any real emotion. And I know that for sure because eight years ago someone stole my first iPhone out of a gym locker just a few weeks after I bought it. I haven’t thought of that day until the day it happened again.

But the first time was different. I got embarrassingly upset and complained about it endlessly. In retelling the story, a lot to people interrupted to ask if I had used a lock at the gym. Of course I had! Someone pried it off while I was swimming laps in the pool and left it dangling on the door. Did I lock it? Please. I might have been the idiot who was crying over a lost phone, but at least I understood the concept of a locker.

 

My friend’s mom has a saying: “There are some problems that go away when you throw money at them; that’s what a checkbook is for.”

I feel fortunate that in my year of travel, the worst hand I’ve been dealt is a stolen phone… and that I had the means to walk into a store and buy a new one. Hell, I feel fortunate to be in Paris in the first place. So I don’t write this post to complain about what happened or solicit sympathy for something so trivial. In fact, I thought of not posting this at all because the last thing I want to do is add to the swirl of controversy about the rise of petty crime in Europe.

But I decided to share this story anyway because I really felt like an idiot when it happened. I consider myself a seasoned traveler and a pretty savvy person in general. Surely, I know better than to put my phone in my coat pocket on a crowded train while hauling luggage that advertises the fact I’m from 118th St in New York City. I’m smarter than that. We all are. And when stupid things like this happen, we get really mad at ourselves for allowing them to.

But here’s the thing: Most of the time we go through life without incident not because we’re doing everything right but because no one around us is doing anything wrong. I point to the previous 364 problem-free days of travel as proof not that I’m street smart, but that the vast, vast majority of people aren’t trying to take advantage of me.

So I write this to say that if something like this happens to you, don’t kick yourself too hard over it. Sometimes these things just happen. And they happen to the best of us.

Unless you’re the person who didn’t lock your gym locker. Then you’re on your own.

 

6 Comments
  1. I’ve only been targeted by a pickpocket once, and he didn’t meet your criteria. He wasn’t slick, and he wasn’t smart enough to realise my pocket was zipped closed. I felt him trying to stick his hand in my pocket and hit his arm away and glared at him. Then I felt bad for hitting him and apologised. He disappeared pretty quickly, so I guess he didn’t want to make an issue of it.

    • Well he must have been in training :) Glad you got out unscathed. You’re a better person than I… I wouldn’t have apologized. :) Thanks for reading. xx

  2. Good for you Nova! Let nothing bring you down. I can tell you that having the money to throw at the problem is a blessing. I was locked out of my apartment at 10:00 at night after the airline lost our luggage my first night in Germany. My cash and backpack were in the apartment, but I had my smart phone (and thus, the internet) and my credit card. So my husband and I walked 2 miles to the nearest hotel that would take us the night before Oktoberfest opened. It was a great adventure. We never did get our luggage, but had some fun shopping for underwear in another country.

    • It’s true what they say: Terrible trips make great stories. But seriously… I love that you and your husband made the best of it. That’s the way to do it. As always, thanks for reading.

  3. Remember the gypsy kids in Rome? :)

    I guess it wasn’t really pick pocketing if as they claimed I “dropped” it and the deviants were returning it out of the kindness of their heart for a suggested reward.

    I didn’t lose anything thankfully, but I look back at it as having gotten one over on pickpocketers in training!

    • OMG – that’s what Mona said too! I do remember (of course). We were so lucky that they brought the passport you so carelessly dropped… from your coat pocket into their hands… back. :)
      Now. Do you remember the trip to Pompeii? I’d like a do over on that one now that I’m exponentially more calm.

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