Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pocket pinching in Switzerland



I never imagined it would happen to me in Switzerland. It is called a country of milk, cheese, chocolates, watches, and banks, and extremely tourist-friendly nation (all true) – all good things a tourist wishes in life. It is a dream destination for anyone going overseas. Honestly, we too enjoyed our vacation in Switzerland and may like to go there once more, but then had some different experience also.

I am usually careful regarding my wallet, passport and other documents whenever I am on my trip overseas. Not that I am a frequent flyer, but in last 3 decades of my travel to different places, I have visited notorious places known for their skilled pickpockets. For example, New York or Washington, where pickpockets have to prove their skills to their own community, before they are admitted into their ‘prestigious club’. Larry Collins and Dominique Pierre described it in the novel ‘The Fifth Horseman.’ The novice has to pick the inner pocket of a jacket, which is lined with jingle bells. The pickpockets of Barcelona, Rome, and Prague are described in all travel guides; at the main train stations and bus stops, the advisory to the travellers are prominently displayed to be careful about your  belongings and pockets. I survived all these places. But it would happen to me in Switzerland, I could never imagine.
Last week we were at the Zurich main train station to travel from Zurich to Interlaken. As usual, the train station was crowded, and the platform where the train to Interlaken was to leave, was especially so. Switzerland has been unusually bright and sunny for the month of July with no rains so far during our stay. There were a large number of tourists, particularly Indian tourists. Chitra and I were carrying our backpacks, and one bag each. After Chitra had boarded, when I started boarding the train, one white man extended a helping hand to lift my bag. Even in those few seconds, I realized that though he helped me to lift it, he resisted my attempt to put the bag on to the rack in train compartment. This man went away to the next compartment, and we took our seats near the windows to enjoy the famous panoramic view of the route, which this train was to take. After some time, when I cursorily checked my belongings and pockets, I realized my wallet from the side pocket of my cargo trousers was missing. Not willing to admit that I had become a victim of pickpocketing in Zurich, I checked my other pockets, and then backpack also to be doubly sure, but all in vain. My wallet was gone with my credit and debit cards, driving license and nothing more. Luckily, in the morning, I had transferred all my cash to the watch pocket of my trousers before leaving our service apartment in Zurich. Next one hour, I was busy talking to my Bank in Delhi to block these cards. Fortunately, only previous day, I had bought the locally available sim card for international calls. It came very handy, and the calls to India were not expensive either. I could block the cards in time. I escaped cheaply. But that was the end of my wish to enjoy the scenic and panoramic journey to Interlaken, which was truly breathtaking with its landscape, littered with lakes and beautiful houses scattered all over. I realized that I had to be careful in Switzerland too.
However, this was not the end of my bad luck or my incompetence for 

Our next leg of travel was from Interlaken to Lucerne. As usual, the platform was littered with tourists. When we were to board the train, again a white man, almost with gentlemanly look and in his forties, allowed Chitra to board the train first. That meant he effectively came in between us. Again the same ploy was enacted of diverting my attention by trying to give me a helping hand to lift a heavy bag, and almost directing me to where to put my bag. Til then I did not realize what was happening. Then this man got down to join his colleague on the platform. After I had secured my bag, the second man on the platform extended his hand towards me with some money. He was holding some euro notes, gesturing that he found it on the floor of my compartment. I was cautious, refusing to accept, and thinking that it could be another ploy. But he insisted, and then I checked my back pocket, and found the 50 euros (5 notes of 10 each) missing. These were the same crumpled notes I had in my pocket. From the safety of my compartment, and with all our bags secured, I accepted the money, and that man went away.
I painfully became aware that my pocket was pinched twice within a few days. But why did that man return the money? I am still to fathom. Though, the usual currency in Switzerland is Swiss Frank, but euros are also accepted everywhere, and the duo had made some quick buck, though not a large one. I am still struggling to find the answer. Chitra says he returned the money thinking that that was all the money you had with you, and the loss would put you in deep trouble without it, so he took a pity on you. But I am still confused.
It is said, if your pocket is pinched once, it is an accident, if it happens twice, it is your misfortune, but third time indicates a pattern. Now it is up to me.

Sudhir K Khandelwal
Lucern, 08 July 2013 
(Written at Lucern, 08 July 2013)



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