When we were getting off the subway at the Sagrada Famalia a man in a business suit ran by my sister (seemingly in a rush to catch the approaching train) and clearly tried to grab her purse. We all saw it and she felt him but what could we do? He was gone. These pickpocketers had skills.
TripAdvisor recently named Barcelona the worst city in the world for pickpockets. More shockingly, the locals seems to treat pickpocketing as a mainstream profession. Anyone who has lived in the city for a week’s time will point out the money thieves as casually as they give directions to the nearest supermarket. We heard from locals that when snatchers ARE caught they often just receive a 40 euro fine — a small percentage of their winnings most days. The laxity of this punishment is so absurd, wannabe thieves are actually moving to Barcelona from all over the country just to take advantage of tourist naivety.
Two girls in our hostel room also had all their money taken. They walked into our room one afternoon and a man — around 25 years old — was stretched out on our friend Julie’s bed. He chatted with the girls and said he had just arrived from Southern Spain and was going to take a nap (a very standard convo for this hostel). The girls left and returned to find the man gone, along with 230 euros of their money.
These two incidences left me intrigued. I looked up pickpocket training. There isn’t a whole lot of information on the subject but I did find an interesting pickpocket school, based in South America’s Columbia, called School of the Seven Bells. There, students train and, in order to gradate, must pass an exam.
In the test, the teacher poses as a mark, his body booby-trapped with seven small bells, each strategically placed. The students must slip valuables from each of seven pockets without ringing any of the attached bells.
The training doesn’t take long. Most of what the pickpocketer learn will be on the street. So be careful, especially on Las Ramblas and on the Metros around tourist stops, like Placa Cataluyna. And even in the hostels, keep your stuff locked up at all times! Andy had his phone stolen one night while he was sleeping. But, Barcelona is an amazing city. Enjoy it!