I’ve heard horror stories about tourists and even experienced travelers getting scammed in Europe, but to this point, the scams I’ve experienced have been identifiable and therefore harmless. But Rome is an exception.
On the train ride from our Contiki campsite to the Colosseum, two of my friends caught pickpocketers attempting to get into their purses and pockets. They were incredibly fortunate that they caught the bandits (who quickly bolted off) before they could do any real harm, but the theft attempts were still highly unnerving.
Along with seeing pickpocketers, I have never seen so many beggars on the streets before. They constantly approach people, begging for money, muttering words that are incomprehensible in even their native languages. And the street venders are ruthless. To every person who passes by, they say they have “a special deal for you” and force you to tell them what item of their selection you like the most. Then they tell you how much money you have to give them for it and persist until they make a sale. Ruthless.
I needed a pair of sunglasses one day and figured I’d get them from a street vendor because prices on the street are generally much cheaper than those in stores. I began looking over the selection a man had laid out and he asked me what pair I wanted. I said I was just browsing, and he immediately picked up a pair of sunglasses and said “these.” I tried them on, didn’t like them, and asked to look at another pair. Of course this excited the man, who though this was his chance to make a double sale. He just start ether handing me sunglasses after sunglasses until finally I found a pair that I liked and I skied how much they cost. “45 euros,” he said.
I laughed out loud of course. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I couldn’t help but find humor in that this man though he could actually sell a pair of $3 sunglasses for €45. I said no thanks, and went to walk away, but then he motioned to me to stay. He said, “Okay, how about two pairs for 60.” I told him I had no more than 5 euros and didn’t intend on spending any more than that.
“How about €25?” I laughed again. “No thanks,” I repeated. This time I was really trying to walk away but he poked my arm from behind and said “Okay, okay, okay, 15.” I asked him not to touch me and pulled away. But I was waiting for my friends to be done at the next stand over, so I could not go far away from where I was standing.
But again he poked me, this time also grabbing my arm. Clinging to me, he said, “Fine! I sell to you for five!” Fortunately, my friend Sasha oversaw this and screamed at him to let me go. He hesitantly released me and I scurried away, making sure I got out of his eye sight. I told my friends where I was going and told them to meet me there when they were done. I couldn’t believe the man had been so forceful about selling me a pair of sunglasses. The ordeal was uncomfortable, borderline scary, and completely unnecessary — not something I want to remember about Rome.
But while I was trying to erase that memory from my brain, another dumb scam happened to me. At the Termini station in Rome, I was patiently waiting to board my train to Zurich. While I walked toward the platform, a few people came up to me asking if I needed help. I knew that they were just scammers looking to make money off of me, so I just denied and kept walking each time.
When I finally reached my train platform, a man in a dark blue suit was standing at the entrance of the train and asked to see my ticket. Assuming he was with the train company, I showed it to him and he directed me toward my carriage. But then a red flag was raised when he picked up my suitcase and started carrying it towards the carriage. I looked around and saw no other patrons getting help with carrying their luggage to the train. Uh oh.
The man began walking so quickly, I had to jog a little to keep up. I was so nervous that he had my belongings; I thought he was trying to steal them! But he got to my carriage, with me in tow, watching him lift my luggage into the overhead compartment above my seat. I thanked him for his help, and then he put his hand out and asked for five euros. Fooled again!! I gave him a €2 coin and told him that was all I had. He said he really needed five, but again I denied him. Getting the idea, he walked away, and I took my seat. Moments later, I saw him carrying someone else’s luggage onto the train.
Of course, I understand cultural and regional differences. But sometimes I find it so hard to understand the nerve of some people to go out of their way to scam others. These people didn’t make me think any less of the beautiful city that is Rome, but it absolutely made me lose some confidence in humanity. Like, c’mon. If people are smart enough to devise plans like these to get money out of people, they’re smart enough to go into a better profession! Easier said than done, I know, but I really think that there are ways we can help people help themselves. But I know it will take some time.