"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Russian Journals, Part Six: Caution: Baggy Sweatshirts are the Mark of a Mark

(Reminder: Click on photo to enlarge it to full screen.)

Listen up. Your pockets are not your own. There are many pickpockets out there, and they are exceedingly talented and exceedingly sly. Those gypsies you see are not the ones that sing and dance. They steal from you. So beware. Your pockets are not your own, especially in the subway where you are in close contact with other passengers.

Such were the admonitions given by our tour guides in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the pre-trip literature and advice I’d read, severe cautions were given, including the recommendation to try to blend in with the populace, to avoid looking like a tourist. In Russia, read once piece of advice, don’t wear baggy sweatshirts. No one over the age of 14 wears baggy sweatshirts in Russia. To do so would mark you as a tourist—and thus a mark for pickpockets.

This is as close to Red Square as we would get. It was blocked off to the common folk as it was set up for a big-to in celebration of Moscow's 850th anniversary. In the background is St. Basil's cathedral with its famous onion domes.

So there we were, first day in Moscow, gaping at St. Basil’s Cathedral across a wide expanse of traffic. Nearby a number of tour coaches were parked.

Missy with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background. I think this is Missy. It could be her identical sister Katy, too, and wouldn't you know they were wearing similar raincoats?

Our group of forty-some were clustered around Natasha and Valeria, each of whom was holding a white Vantage sign. The signs were for us to follow.

Nathasha with the white Vantage sign. That's the GUM department store on her right.

Each of us was wearing a blue ribbon around our necks, with a Vantage name tag hanging at the bottom. Spelled out were our names and the state where we lived. And, each of us also was wearing earphones with a wire that led to a receiver. The receiver could be attached to us in several ways: from a cord around the neck, by a clip to a pocket, or carried in a handbag.

The guides no longer had to scream to be heard. Earphones and receivers solved that problem, and I could wander far away and still hear the guide. If I started getting static, I knew I had some catching up to do.

So as not to be marked as tourists and thereby become marks, none of us was wearing a baggy sweatshirt, as near as I could determine. So I ask you, do these people look like tourists?

Not going to identify the building right now because I don't want to spoil a surprise.

But wait. See that dude in the red shirt with the maroon vest? That’s Norman. He had his wallet stolen from the deepest pocket of his cargo shorts—the pocket that’s at knee level—while on public transportation in a city in Spain. Next to him is his wife Katy. Her wallet was stolen the same time as Norman’s, but hers was in her backpack, deep within its zippered depths. Passports, cash, IDs, ATM cards, credit cards—all gone.

What did they do? In their luggage at the hotel, they had copies of their passports. The hotel took pity and let them stay. They immediately canceled their credit cards without difficulty, because they had carefully recorded all the numbers and relevant phone numbers, and kept the list with the copies of their passports.

Then, as they still had a day or so before they flew home, and needed food in the interim, Katy approached an American couple and explained their plight. She asked them to loan her $200, and said she would understand if they chose not to, because how likely was it that both of them would have been pickpocketed on the same day?

Katy gave the couple her room number, again telling them they would understand. Five minutes later the couple showed up with $200 in cash. As soon as Norman and Katy reached home, they returned the borrowed money.

So, it is best to blend in with the populace, to avoid the appearance of being a tourist, to carefully guard your wallets, credit cards, IDs, and passports.

With all that in mind, I ask again: Does this person look like a tourist?


  1. Does she look like a tourist?

    Not unless you take note of the Vantage name tag on the wide blue ribbon around her neck, the ear phones and receiver, camera and overwhelmed look on her face.

    She's not wearing a baggy sweatshirt so it's not as totally blatant as it could be!

  2. I've heard some pickpockets are highly skilled. That sure is a cautionary tale.

  3. Whew on the pick-pockets. Amazing : hers was in her backpack, deep within its zippered depths. Passports, cash, IDs, ATM cards, credit cards—all gone. No fun. Italy is very bad as well. Cap and Patti