How to Retrieve Your Wallet From a Pickpocket on a Barcelona Metro

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.

How to Retrieve Your Wallet From a Pickpocket on a Barcelona Metro - Piran Cafe
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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



  1. Hello Pirano!
    Friends (family with 3 children) have been to Spain this spring and have seen thieves break into their parked car, taking some backpacks and other stuff from the car. They made the mistake of parking in a rather deserted street. They only noticed afterwards the glass scattered around from numerous previous break-ins.

  2. @Martina
    You gave a very important approach. Its really tricky to observe surroundings when you are at new place. Either you are travelling by public transport, or parking your vehicle, or interacting with locals etc…

  3. The searching dumpsters and litter bins is a good tip. Many many decades ago my wallet was stolen while I was in a bank, of all places, in London. This was in the days before security cameras.
    I was young and naive and not at all careful enough. Anyway my boyfriend, now husband, insisted on checking out the litter bins in the park across the road. In the last bin, the wallet was sitting on top. The cash was gone but everything else including credit cards and an expensive ‘Open to View’ ticket was still there.

  4. That’s why on our last road trip through Spain and France, on the way back to Ireland, we gave Barcelona a miss. Our car was loaded with stuff and I was afraid to chance entering such a den of thieves. It would have been nice to stop off there for lunch but wasn’t worth the risk. We used to live in Spain and even in Madrid, I felt much safer on the metro. In the coastal town we lived in, the pick-pockets from Barcelona and Madrid use to vacation there in the summer, when the pickings were good and I lost count how many times they tried to rob me, thinking I was a tourist, (I don’t look a bit Spanish). But they never got away with it, they even made me laugh at times. One elderly man I know, in his eighties at the time, assaulted a thief who tried to rob his wife’s handbag and the guy ran off wailing. It got into the papers and he was hailed as a local hero, although he could have been hurt in the process, but it was nice to see someone get the better of a ‘bandido’

    1. It is a shame. Barcelona certainly has the worst reputation of any place in Spain. It was amazing to me how many stories of robberies I heard that week. I was back once since for about 4-5 days and it wasn’t nearly as bad. The stories I mean.

  5. Dear Bob Ramsak,
    Thank you for looking at my blog.
    I have traveled in western Europe several times and always keep my wallet in my front pocket. My dad never carries a wallet but uses a money clip. In my case I am aware of thieves and not to be careless with my money and or valuables from my parents and traveling with them. How are you supposed to know though if you are a first time traveler? Sometimes things like keeping your money safe can be counterintuitive.
    I hope you are having safe travels since then and currently.
    Sam Sutlive.

  6. Dear Bob Ramsak,
    I apologize for the repeat comment post. My original comment post did not show up on your blog on my computer until after I posted the second comment post.
    Sam Sutlive.

      1. Dear Bob Ramsak,
        I have had comments that were not even being moderated disappear on me before. So when something like this happens I am never sure if it is being moderated or disappeared.
        I enjoyed looking at your photos and hope to be spending more time viewing and reading your blog.
        Regards and Best,
        Sam Sutlive.

        1. Yup, blips in the system aren’t that out of the ordinary. I think it’s all sorted now. Many thanks for stopping by. Please don’t be a stranger.

  7. Great post. In St Lucia, I had leaned on a car to get the weight of my gear readjusted. A man approached on the street and rather menacingly asked me for money. I refused. He proceeded to rip the mirror off the car I was using, and shake it in my face, ask for money again, threatening to smash the windshield with it. “Not my car! Not my Car!” I shouted, and walked quickly across the street and away. This has stayed with me for years.

  8. Hello Bob, thanks for your comment re. my intro on WP. Of course you overdid it completely with ” awsome…” Unless, you had seen my AV -Video “PIZZA.” That borders on brilliant, if one appreciates the ideas and working time.
    I hardlly know how to handle webpages, that’s why I take part in the 101 blogging. I subscribed to your Piran Cafe, also checked a few music items and some of your travel images, very interesting. Will do more searching if I have some MB left over at month-end. I am in the sticks with only a limited mobile package.
    We have done a little bit of travelling and sound recording / video, and the occasional local event, small bands. All in private / amateur mode.
    All the best, Thomas

  9. Apparently one of the world’s largest associations of people: “I know someone whose pocket was picked in Barcelona.” I’m a member. Thanks for the reminder to be vigilant. And not just in Barcelona.

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