I didn’t have a very good experience on my arrival in my first time in Paris. Quite literally I was robbed on my first day, aggravated by the fact that I was robbed . . . of a box of pizza.
My friend Stephanie and I were walking along Cité Universitaire at one in the morning. I had just arrived from a twenty-hour flight from Hong Kong to Charles de Gaulle Airport. I was grumpy, but seeing my friend and the sight of the pizza was the best thing I’d seen that day. Seconds later, my elation was crushed right before my eyes when a shadow of a young man took off with our precious pizza, yelling at the top of his lungs:
BIENVENUE EN PARIS!!!!!!!
That wasn’t my only thief experience in Europe. Maybe I was just paranoid, but I definitely had a number of near misses. Toward the last leg of my trip, in Barcelona, I looked behind me and caught a gypsy’s hand (literally red-handed) inside my shoulder bag. I involuntarily slapped the hand and elbowed her face; then a wave of panic enveloped me as I feared about the possibility of getting sued by the thief for assaulting her, but only to dissolve any guilt as I comforted myself that I was in Europe and not in the United States.
Why have I become such an appealing target to European thieves?
I need to get to the bottom of this.
“Do I reek of tourist?” I asked Stephanie. I feel like a thief magnet in Europe. Back in the Philippines, this doesn’t happen. My five-seven height is very formidable in my home country whose average height for women is five-one. I didn’t understand why suddenly every thief, scammer, and pickpocket wanted a piece of me.
She laughed. “Of course not, you can pass off as a local¾that is, if you stop sporting that dumb beret.”
She explained to me that Europe is teeming with tourist scams and rip-offs. “Especially for Asians. They think Asians are loaded!”
Apparently in this part of the world, it is the Asians who purchase designer labels in droves. They buy so much that they have to let Asian customers wait in queues and only allow them to buy a limited number of items.
“Otherwise, they’d buy the whole Chanel store in Cambon!” my friend explained
That was a funny thought for me. At least back in third world nations in Southeast Asia, white men are usually the ones regarded to be loaded with their dollars. It is the white men who have the cash¾not the other way around.
So I had this false sense of ego for the next few weeks with the thought They must think I’m loaded! as I walked in Europe’s cobbled streets with my nose turned up and my head held high.
It wasn’t until my German friend Nico deflated my ego when he called me out on how I looked so gullible.
“Stop looking like everyone is your friend. The real world has no such thing as spontaneous synchronized dancing like in films,” he reminded me. “Stop making eye contact¾that’s an open invitation for you to get robbed.”
I realized that was more likely the reason why I was thief bait, instead of me looking like one of those characters in Crazy Rich Asians. I don’t even own a Louis Vuitton¾not even an AAA knockoff from Luohu in Shenzhen.
Apparently, the Filipino nature in me is “too friendly” for my own good¾it’s like every time we come out in public, we are ready to burst out into a song, help a wounded creature, and poop rainbows.
And so as a citizen of the world, I tried to learn to adapt to the ways accordingly. The rules of the islands do not apply to the rules of the “hood.” What’s nice in the island may be considered rude in the city, and being “rude” in the island may be considered “considerate” in the city.