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Bowley Kenpo Karate » Personal Stories » Pickpockets in Rome

Pickpockets in Rome

Ever have one of those situations which could have been a whole lot worse? Yeah, me too. Here’s one of mine.

Before we traveled to Romerecently, we did a very tourist-y thing and bought a travel guide for highlights of the sites to see. One of the things of note, the book’s suggestion to be very careful in Rome because there are a number of pickpockets. We were also warned of this by our friends who had traveled to Rome. So we made everyone in our travel group very aware. We only carried essentials, did not keep all the money in the same place, and the women carried small, zipped purses on the front of their body.

The Coliseum in Rome

The Coliseum in Rome

As we visited the Coliseum, our tour guide also highlighted the pickpocket phenomenon. He said, while trying not to be racist, most pickpockets are young women, with dark skin, who don’t look very Italian. He gave other tips to protect ourselves, but said to stay in groups and be aware of what’s going on around you when at the tourist sites. At all the major tourist locations we visited, we never had any incidents. It was always a fantastic experience.

The day before we left Rome to go to Sicily, we wanted to visit a typical Italian grocery store. We got directions from our hotel and began the walk in the afternoon sunshine. It was only going to be a six or seven block walk. Not very far at all. As we walked down a major street, we were window shopping. My wife and daughters were in front of me, my mother was next to me, and my aunt and uncle were behind me. We were all engaged in conversations.

Suddenly three girls walked around my wife and daughters and approached me asking for directions using broken English. The one speaking held out a folded map towards me and said please help. The other two began putting themselves between me and my mom. These were young women with long hair, and maybe a darker complexion. Instantly, I took a large step back, raised my hands up, and shouted “No! No!” In Kenpo terms, think Parting Wings. The girl with the map hissed “No” back at me, and their group moved around us walking up the street as we headed down the street. I put everyone in front of me while we continued to walk to the grocery store. Every few steps I would turn and look behind us to see where those girls were. We made it to the grocery store with no other incidents.

As we exited the grocery store, those same girls were sitting on the steps down from the grocery store smoking. They paid no attention to us whatsoever. The girl who tried to ask me for directions was still holding the map. You could see the map had frayed worn edges, so this must have been a common scheme. We traveled back to the hotel and had no further incident similar to this for the rest of vacation.

Thankfully no one lost any money, wallet, or anything valuable. Also thankfully the incident did not escalate, no one was hurt, or had to use any kind of force. I find it hard to believe that women who were probably pickpockets did not have a weapon on them in case a situation got ugly. Looking back, I credit the martial arts training for instinctively having me step back (creating distance) from the thieves, put my hands in guard position, and notice them trying to separate me from our group. But I also wish I had been more observant as we were walking down the street. Because we weren’t near any of the attractions I let my guard down. Perhaps the whole thing could have been avoided. The situation could have been a whole lot worse though. It turned out fine, was something to learn from, and didn’t cloud an otherwise awesome vacation.

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Sam Bowley
McKinney, TX

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