A traveler's guide to dealing with pickpockets in Italy: how to foil them, and where to avoid them

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Yes, tourists are easy marks for pickpockets in Italy
Yes, tourists are easy marks for pickpockets in Italy. (Technically, this sign in Venice is warning you that the knockoff handbag may only cost you €15, but the fine for being caught buying counterfeit goods is €10,000.)
It's no secret that pickpockets target tourists, especially the American kind. The United States is a rich country, and they know that American tourists carry the best cameras, the most money, and the latest, priciest electronic gadgets.

Be especially careful anywhere that’s crowded: buses, subways, train stations, street markets, exceedingly popular tourist spots. Also, be especially careful around gypsies, who only hang around tourist sights in order to beg (which is fine) or steal (not fine).

The solution is simple: Don’t tempt the thieves.

Leave all your jewelry at home, and don’t flash your wallet or valuables. When you aren’t using your camera, keep it stowed in a plain bag (a camera bag is like carrying a big sign that says to thieves “Yo! Over here. Steal this camera.”).

If your stuff does get stolen, see this page. Try to avoid that situation and make yourself theft-proof by following this advice (which may sound scary at first, but is really just a list of sensible precautions that quickly become second-nature).

Safety Tips

Proud (?) to be an American

Some travelers worry about being pegged as an American when they travel. They think it makes them a target, both for pickpockets and petty thieves as well as terrorists.

To some extent, the nervous nellies are right. Americans carry the best and most expensive stuff to steal, and, frankly, tend to be the most oblivious to the above safety precautions.

There's a bit of resentment out there, rightly or wrongly, regarding America's status as sole superpower and role as head of the global economic empire. There is also some resentment, latent or blatant, about how that power is often wielded broadly and, frankly, frequently obliviously to local sentiments. (I'm not passing judgment here; just noting perceptions.) I'm not trying to trash-talk my own peeps, just illuminate a point: Many bad guys take these resentments as an excuse (or at least a mitigating factor) for targeting Americans.

Repeat after me...
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
The result? Some Americans learn to fake Canuckness. You've seen them. They sew large Canadian flags on their pack, learn the words to "O Canada!," and train themselves to flatten their vowels and end all their sentences with "eh."

The problem with this is that we are now starting to give our honorable (oops, make the "honourable") neighbors to the north a bad rep. ("Wow, these Canadians are just as bad as the Americans...")

But seriously. In truth there are far more people out there who like Americans than hate us. The haters just yell more loudly.

A better solution: Prove the haters wrong by being the gosh darn best cultural ambassadors for your country that you can be.

Show them that Americans can, indeed, live up to our stereotype of being open, friendly, eager to learn, outgoing, guileless, warm, and just plain ol' aw-shucks nice—but not to the stereotype that we are arrogant, self-centered, ignorant, uncultured buffoons with a massive (and undeserved) superiority complex.

And if that doesn't work, you can always belt out a verse of "O Canada!"

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This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in February 2011. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 2008–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett