When in a foreign country, people–especially young women such as myself–are always told to be vigilant with their wallets, their backpacks, and their purses. It is common to be extra careful with your personal belongings when you are in any unfamiliar city or place. However, sometimes we forget to be alert and lower our guards. And this is when we become a target for thieves and pickpockets.
I’ve heard the horror stories and I was always determined to never let that happen to me. Whenever I’m in Manhattan, I make sure to have a firm hand on my purse at all times. I’ve pretty much done the same since I’ve been in Madrid. But tonight my carelessness cost me dearly.
The night started out fun enough. I went out to eat with some friends at Burger Bar, this semi famous burger place in Madrid near the Chueca metro stop, not too far from Gran Via. I tried “la Navidena” burger (aka the Christmas special) which consisted of turkey and caramelized potatoes with lots and lots of fries! Yum! Not too many people were there when we first got there by 9 but the place had filled up when we left an hour later. It was just really nice to have some typically American greasy unhealthy food. A good burger (well mine wasn’t really a burger but you know what I mean) never hurts once in awhile.
Afterwards we decided to continue being American and went to Starbucks. To be fair, I have not been to Starbucks since I’ve been in Madrid and I’ve been here for 3 months now. I got my usual Chai tea latte and then we went downstairs to sit at a table and enjoy our beverages.
And this is where I got robbed. I didn’t even see it happen. It’s my own fault and I am so mad at myself but I’ve definitely learned an important lesson. I left my purse on the floor right next to my chair. It’s kind of big and I didn’t want it on my lap because I wanted to be comfortable and enjoy myself. Well, that was a big mistake. I looked down a few times to check on it and then I noticed it was missing when I tried to grab it to look for some tissues.
There is no doubt in my mind the normal looking couple and their friend seated next to us took it. And there’s no way it was an accident. According to my friend, they had been watching us closely. However, the thing with Spaniards is it’s hard to tell if they are just being super creepy or if they are just doing the normal Spanish stare where they just like to stare at people.
The Starbucks employee directed us to the nearest police station which then directed us to another one further down Gran Via. I reported it missing and described what was in it, what color the bag was, what color/make/model my phone was, what color was my pocketbook and what was in that… Yet I know there’s a very slim chance of me getting my bag back. Reporting it missing is more of a formality than anything else. Even if I were to get my bag back, I highly doubt my wallet will be in it.
Now that the initial shock has worn off, I feel violated. I was specifically targeted and I know I made myself an easy target. However, it makes me uneasy that some people were closely watching me and debating when would be the right moment to snatch my bag. At this point it’s not really the money that matters. My whole life was in that bag–along with my credit and debit cards, both my American and Spanish cell phone, my camera (which was a gift from my sister), my map of Madrid, my license, my health insurance card, my student ID cards, various membership cards to stores in the US and some gift cards, my French national ID card, my house keys…
Also this pretty blue shell I picked up in North Carolina back in May when my girlfriends and I spent a week at the beach. I’ve carried around that shell ever since that week and it may sound stupid, but I’m really upset it’s gone. Every time I pulled it out of my purse, it reminded me of that fun last week I spent with my college friends before we all went in our separate directions post college.
The scariest part is none of my other friends noticed my bag get snatched either. It literally happened in the blink of an eye. We had been warned by NYU during orientation to be super careful on Gran Via and in all the major tourist areas, especially fast food places like McDonalds and Starbucks, places tourists tend to congregate too. I don’t necessarily consider myself a tourist, but I’m no local either. And we were speaking in English so of course the thieves probably thought we were rich Americans who carry around hundreds of euros. Luckily I only had about fifty euros worth in my wallet.
The silver lining to all this is I still have my passports. I rarely carry them around and avoid it if I can, unless I need to show ID at a bank or a museum. However I will need to get a new French ID card and get that replaced so it looks like a trip to the French Embassy/Consulate is in order.
In the meantime, I can only wait for my parents to get my new debit and credit card and have them forward them to me in Madrid. I don’t really understand why the bank needs to send them to my home address, I explicitly told them to send my new card debit card (it was supposed to expire in December) to my school address in Madrid but it looks like they didn’t listen to me. I did open a Spanish bank account here so I’ll probably get a new Spanish debit card before I get my American cards. But the situation just sucks in general.
Spain has a nasty reputation when it comes to pickpockets in general but honestly, it can happen anywhere, anytime. I’m simply another victim and definitely not the last person this will happen to. At the police station, there were about four or five other people in the same predicament as me. So it made me feel slightly better that I wasn’t the only one having a less than stellar night.
However it really is an awful feeling to realize everything you hold dear is suddenly gone. Once I replace all my valuables and start hitting the streets with a purse (and this will be one that goes over the shoulder across my body), you can bet I will never let that thing out of my sight.
I guess I’m lucky I wasn’t mugged. And I did my best not to panic. I have to say my friends were awesome and came to the police station with me, waited with me, and let me mooch off a metro ride to get home. Without them, I probably would have been in hysterics. As it was, I was just really, really, really frustrated and pissed off at myself.
Until next time,