By Rachel Arandilla
I DIDN’T have a very good experience on my arrival in Paris. Quite literally I was robbed on my first day in Paris; aggravated by the fact that I was robbed of a box of pizza.
A young man hit us and went off running with our pizza at 1 a.m. while walking to my friend Stephanie’s place in Cité Universitaire. It was 1 in the morning and I was understandably grumpy; coming from a 20-hour flight from Hong Kong to Charles de Gaulle. Stephanie’s hug and the sight of the pizza was the best thing I’ve seen that day, and the young man took off with it.
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. Towards the last leg of my trip, in Barcelona, I caught a gypsy’s hand (literally red-handed) in my shoulder bag. I involuntarily slapped the hand and elbowed her face, with a big wave of panic afterwards as I feared about the possibility of getting sued by the thief for assaulting her, only to dissolve any guilt as I comforted myself that I wasn’t in the States, the land of frivolous lawsuits.
Still, I was trying to get to the bottom of this.
“Do I reek of tourist?” I asked my friend. I feel like a thief magnet in Europe. Back in the Philippines, this doesn’t happen. My 5’7″ height was very formidable in the country whose average height for women is 5’1″. So I didn’t understand why suddenly every thief, scammer and pickpocket wanted a piece of me.
She laughed. “Of course not, you look like a local — that is, if you stop sporting that dumb beret.” She explains 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 was the Asians who purchase designer labels in droves. That was a funny thought for me, because back in the Asia Pacific, every white man is regarded to be loaded with dollars. It was supposed to be the white men who had the cash, not 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 walk by the cobbled streets. It wasn’t until my German friend deflated my ego when he called me out on how I look so gullible.
Apparently, the Filipino nature in me is “too friendly” for my own good. It’s like every time we come out in public, we are ready to burst out into song, help a wounded creature, and poop rainbows. “The real world has no such thing as spontaneous synchronized dancing like in films,” he reminded me. “And stop making eye contact — that’s an open invitation for you to get robbed.”
I realize that was a more likely reason to why I was thief bait, versus me looking like one Crazy Rich Asian. I don’t even own a Louis Vuitton.
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 concrete jungle. What’s nice in the island may be considered rude in the city, and being “rude” in the island may be considered as “considerate” in the city.