Yelling obscenities at the top your lungs may help. No guarantees, but it worked for me.

The scene: Espanya stop, L3 line, direction Trinitat Nova, this past Friday, around 11 pm. The platform was packed, sweaty bodies lined up shoulder-to-shoulder. I was at the front, near the edge of the tracks with my small –and heavy– bag on wheels in tow. I just walked down from the Olympic Stadium on Montjuïc, was tired and annoyed and still had at least two hours of work to do.

I noticed one guy, facing me to my right, eying me as the train approached. Suspicion immediately set in. He exchanged a few words with another, who then forced his way through the throngs and shuffled around me, positioning himself to my left. Seconds before the train came to a complete stop, honcho to the right grabbed the handle on my bag; I was holding its fold-out pull handle. His hold wasn’t aggressive, but it was firm. I asked him to let go, a request which went ignored. Meanwhile, the momentum from the sea of people behind us gradually pushed us through the doors.

Momentarily settled on the train, I again tugged at my bag. “Let go!”

He just kept staring and mumbling something in Catalan, a language I no longer particularly care for. Pushing, and then some shoving followed before he finally released his grip. I immediately reached for my wallet which was no longer in my zippered back pocket. The first thing that came to mind was to start yelling like a maniac.

“Who’s got my fucking wallet?” came first. Then I articulated further and even louder: “Who the fuck took my wallet?” That was apparently enough to scare a young woman, standing just in front of the door, who had it. She froze, a scared shitless look in her eyes. I grabbed her left arm. My wallet fell from her right.

Nothing was missing. That kind of luck won’t come twice.

I travel extensively for work and haven’t been robbed on the road since August 1992. (That doesn’t really count since I saw it coming.) I rarely keep my wallet in a back pocket in crowded situations. This little episode reminded me why.

Pickpockets and small time thieves apparently run rampant in Barcelona, making the situation much worse than in many other popular destinations. An officer at the La Rambla police precinct station told me that they receive nearly 100 theft reports a day there, probably, he said, about one-third to one-fifth of the robberies that actually occur. Apparently there’s an “I was robbed in Barcelona” group on Facebook. I heard first hand from four colleagues also in town this week to cover the European Track & Field Championships who’ve been robbed of either their wallets or backpacks.

A friend here on holiday this week fell victim to what is apparently a common scam that targets cars with foreign plates. It goes something like this:

  1. Nails are thrown under the tires.
  2. Owner steps out to investigate the flat.
  3. Thieving bastards loot whatever they can from the car in less than 20 seconds.

When she filed her report, police suggested she search local dumpsters and garbage cans. Sometimes victims get lucky, they said.

She found dozens of discarded purses, bags and backpacks. None belonged to her.

Photo – Barcelona 004, Passatge de la Pau (Paz/Peace), 31-Jul-2010