When we were getting ready to travel to Greece, the travel guides, internet sites, and our Greek friends all warned us about pickpockets – especially in Athens and especially in the Metro. Apparently Greek pickpockets are world-renowned for their numbers and for their skill at separating tourists from their wallets.
While we were in Greece, I got an notification from a travel site saying to watch out for the newest tactic – someone will hold a Metro door open for you and while you fumble getting your luggage on the train, they’ll pickpocket you and step off the train as the door closes.
One Greek travel expert said that whenever he visits Greece he carries a dummy wallet in his hip pocket and keeps his valuables in a sling around his neck and shoulder under his shirt – so that’s what I did.
I got a Gideon New Testament that is about the same size and shape as a wallet and carried it in my hip pocket while my passport and wallet, etc. were in a sling or buried deep in my backpack. I figured if someone were to steal my bible out of my pocket then they would probably need it more than me.
We took the warnings seriously and didn’t have any run-ins with pickpockets – at least none that we knew about, and I still had my bible at the end of the trip.
We were also warned by several Greek friends as well as people who had traveled in south-eastern Europe more than us, to watch out for Gypsies – as in real, live Romani gypsies! We were told that panhandlers (probably Roma) would accost us wanting to sell us stuff and that if we refused then they might switch to pick-pocketing or good old fashioned purse-cutting or knifing as a backup plan.
We didn’t encounter any pickpockets but we sure did encounter gypsies – or at least panhandlers dressed per the stereotype. Any time we were sitting at an outdoor cafe we were liable to be approached by an old woman trying to sell me a rose for Elise along with a blessing so that we would live a long time and have lots of children.
And none of them would take no for an answer. When we told them no, they would press the offer and continue to press the offer until we’d said NO quite emphatically several times.
After we’d run the first rose-selling old woman away from our table, I told Elise, “I was sort of afraid to tell her no. What if she puts a curse on me like in Stephen King’s novel, Thinner!” Come to think of it, I have lost a couple of pounds since I got back!
To be fair, the panhandlers were not only stereotypical Roma. We were approached by an Asian teen trying to sell us battery-powered phone chargers, and while we were exploring the Roman forum in Athens we stumbled upon an enclave of pseudo-Jamaicans trying to sell us cheap bracelets. Elise told one guy, “I’m pretty good with accents and you don’t sound Jamaican,” and he responded, “Oh, I’m Nigerian.”
At one point, we were driving around an agricultural village in Epirus at night, trying (unsuccessfully) to find our AirBnB. When we finally found the central square of this village there were several box trucks parked there with sleeping people stacked like firewood in the open backs of the trucks. We assumed that they were gypsies trying to make a few Euros as itinerant farm workers.