Dear purse snatchers,

Dear purse snatchers,

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Us: the couple sitting on the bench in the botanical garden reading our books and enjoying the beautiful day for a couple of hours.

You: the band of 2 women and one guy that welcomed us to Buenos Aires by teaching us to be a little bit more careful with our belongings when in public spaces.

We were a bit confused, but also flattered when you asked us for directions to Plaza Seranno in english despite obviously being locals.  Of course, we were more than happy to share our map with you while your friend snuck up behind our bench and grabbed Jen’s purse in order to show us how important it is to keep a close watch on our valuables.

I’m writing to thank you for providing this valuable public service on behalf of the city of Buenos Aires–it was tremendously helpful to us and we have been much more careful since.  Some people might mistakenly think that you were actually trying to steal Jen’s purse for real (and to be honest, we wondered about it as well for awhile), but upon further inspection, there are several indicators which make it clear that you had no intention of actually making off with her purse:

  1. The park itself: Given that the Botanical Garden is surrounded by a tall fence, has few hiding spots and has only 2 exits which are staffed by guards, it would obviously be almost impossible to steal something from someone and make a get away unless you were EXTREMELY fast or very sneaky.
  2. Timing/location within park: Clearly,  if you had actually wanted to succeed you would have targeted your victims at night in the dark, or at least in a secluded part of the park, or at least somewhere where there weren’t other people nearby.  The fact that you went out of your way to choose us at our bench in broad daylight with multiple other benches full of people not only nearby (~10 feet), but also directly facing us is a pretty clear indicator of your intentions.
  3. Resource deployment: Your band of pretend-thieves/BsAs-tourist-safety-officers consisted of 2 young and athletic looking folks (a guy and a girl) and one very overweight woman (for the purpose of the story, we’ll call her Helga).  The fact that the 2 of you that looked as though you could run quite fast (we’ll call you Speedy and Smarty) were the two that tried to distract us from the purse by asking us directions while appointing Helga to grab it and take off “running” is probably the strongest indicator of your intentions.

When the people sitting at the bench 10 feet away suddenly yelled “THIEF!!” and pointed at our bench as we were showing Speedy and Smarty our map, we were very confused, scared and quickly becoming angry as we turned to see Helga running off with Jen’s purse.   Of course, it quickly turned from fear/anger to pure confusion as we watched Helga waddle along at her top speed of 1.3 MPH away from us down the main path in the direction of several other passersby and away from any discernible exit or escape (given the tall fence and guards and all).  Given Helga’s impressive land speed, we actually had quite a bit of time to consider what our next move should be…

As I turned around and saw Helga ambling off (which was almost hypnotic), my thought process was something like the following:


“What the…?”

“I should chase her…”

But then it occurred to me that this must have been a trick–I’m ashamed to admit that I briefly thought that maybe Helga was just a diversion since even in the heat of the moment it was clear that there was no possible way that she could successfully run off with anything; Speedy and Smarty, please accept my apologies for briefly thinking that you may have been deploying some sort of clever double fake-out plan–clearly that’s not something you’d be capable of (you being city safety officers and all).  My thoughts continued:

“It’s got to be a trick, they want me to follow her…”

“Yeah, that’s it, they want me to chase her down so they can take something else…”

“Ha! I’m smarter than them, they won’t trick me”

“Wow, she’s really slow”

“Wait, what else could they want to take…?  We don’t have anything else with us.”

“Wow, I’ve been standing here thinking about this for a long time now and I could still catch her in under 5 seconds…”

“Maybe this is some sort of hidden camera video show…”

My musings were abruptly halted as Helga–having completed her part of the plan in showing us that the purse was steal-able, and also making it obvious that she wasn’t really trying to steal it–simply put the purse on the ground a short distance away from the bench and kept on lumbering away (still at top speed).  Jen retrieved the purse and we had plenty of time to look through it to make sure everything was still there while keeping an eye on Helga and having confidence that we could still catch her if need be.  Speedy and Smarty were nowhere to be found at this point, but I can only assume that they had moved on to the next group of tourists they needed to welcome for the day.

Thank you again for your help.  Simply reading about other people’s experience with pick-pockets and the like does not nearly have the same effect as having experienced this simulated theft that you performed for us.  Best of luck with your future demonstrations, please let us know if we can put in a good word with any of your supervisors–I’m sure they would be very interested to hear how effectively you are performing your duties.  I’ve included the below picture of me sitting on the bench just before the demonstration took place in case you don’t remember us:

Purse Demonstration Diagram Image

All the best,

Ryan and Jen

(this happened a few weeks ago, but I figured it was about time I wrote it up)

Please leave a comment, it will make us feel special!

  • Paul Anderson April 14, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Hehehe – loved the entry!

    I too got done as a naive new Porteño, on my first day living in Buenos Aires. I like to think of myself as travel savvy (backpacking 80 countries will do that to you…) yet they still managed to get me on the Metro. I’d done everything right, slipped my wallet into my front shorts pocket, but damn they were goooooood. Timed it to perfection too. As it was Day 1 and I needed some pesos, I was carrying ALL my cards for once and had JUST hit up an ATM to withdraw about US$300. Bastards…

    Still, fell in love with the place and I’m sure you guys will too. Enjoy!

  • Sandra May 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    As a Portena I’m very sorry and ashamed for what happened to you. I hope you have learned the lesson provided by those theft masters and this never happens again.
    Thanks for a brilliant, humorous, and helpful report!

  • Frances May 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Well, every profession has its duds. Though have you considered that you, Helga, Speedy and Smarty were all a diversion and someone better at their job was robbing everyone else in the park? Just a thought. :)

    • ryan May 27, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      HA!! Brilliant, no I had not considered that, but it makes perfect sense. Too bad we didn’t get a cut :)

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