Stop *&^!* thief!

The first Advent candle has been lit and the countdown to Christmas has officially begun. December is one of my favourite months of the year. The biting chill in the air is nicely combated by a warm infusion of mulled wine. The party mood is palpable. The markets are open and the city has a fairy-tale feel. I left the flat on Tuesday full of the joys of the season and just thirty minutes later my mood (and my language) had degenerated into that of a blaspheming fishwife. I surprised myself at the breadth of my invective – I hadn’t thought I was capable of such anger.

My phone was stolen from my zipped-up bag while on the 47 tram. It happened as I crossed Széchenyi híd from Gellert tér to Fóvam tér. One stop. I didn’t notice until I went to pay for a coffee in the Grand Csarnok; the tourists queuing alongside me were treated to a strange mix of Hungarian, Gaelic, and English, as every bad word I knew came billowing out of me in a torrent of abuse directed at the world in general and one person in particular.

I don’t know what’s worse – that I didn’t notice it happening or that it happened at all.

I know it’s a first world problem – in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t herald the end of civilisation. Nobody died. It’s an inconvenience, albeit an expensive one, but just an inconvenience nonetheless.

If the culprit stole it just because they could, I’m not impressed. If they stole it to sell to feed a drug habit, I could drum up some modicum of sympathy. If they stole it to sell to buy food for their aging parents or starving children, then I could admit that they needed it more than I did.

But it’s not the loss of the phone itself that has my dander up – I won it a few years ago in a raffle so it didn’t cost me anything – it’s what was on the SIM card. Texts from my mate Lori before she died; Viber conversations that I like to revisit when I’m in need of cheering up; photos that I’ve taken to remind myself of books I want to read and wines I want to taste. The phone numbers, the addresses, the entry codes to friends’ apartments, none of which, of course, I thought to back up. Why would I?

Other people lose their phones or have them stolen. Not me. I had prided myself on being a little more careful. It could have been worse – they could have taken my wallet, too, and then I’d be facing an even worse nightmare as I made my way around town in an effort to replace my address card, my registration card, my driver’s licence, not to mention credit cards, debit cards, and my kidney donor card.


No, it’s not the phone – it’s what the act itself represents. An invasion of privacy. A violation of self. An unwanted intrusion into my world that was neither solicited nor welcomed. If I met the culprit I’d ask them if they’d ever thought to weigh up their profit against someone else’s loss? They might get 5000 forint for the phone but the information I had on it was priceless, to me. I’d have much preferred just to give them the cash. Or even have them call me and offer me my phone back – at a price. A survey in Business Insider earlier this year puts me in the minority – just 5% of smartphone thefts are done on the street. It also puts me in the majority – I’d be prepared to pay to get it back. Perhaps though, that says more about my enslavement than it does about anything else.

First published in the Budapest Times 5 December 2014

9 Responses

  1. Sincere sympathy – a similar thing happened to me this year, but on a train. Again, from a zipped-up bag.

  2. Being there, I feel responsible as it was my fault that we over shot the tram stop. It was on the return that the purse was opened and the phone stolen. Grrrrrrrr !!!!!! plus all the expletives available in any/all languages, not that they would return the phone or publicly burn the ears off thief, preferably on a crowded tram !!!!

    1. You were a victim. It was not your fault.

      However, that does not mean you you should not review your circumstances and take corrective action to prevent being a victim in the future. Pick pockets are opportunistic thieves. And they often exploit circumstances that benefit them. When the circumstances are to their disadvantage, they move on to a more susceptible victim. If you think that way, you can consider personal changes that can prevent you being robbed in the future. Just a short list of things to consider:

      – Close and dense environments are rich environments for pick pockets. Trams are ideal as people literally squeeze by each other getting on and off the tram. So where possible stand or sit in areas of less traffic such as at the end of the tram car.

      – If you keep valuables in a purse, consider the purse design. Zippers are the easiest to open and close by a talented thief, especially if the purse has a zipper at the top.

      – Consider having a purse that has a flap top closure. And keep the flap opening toward your body, and in a tram keep your arm firmly over the purse. This will make you less an attractive target to a pickpocket thief.

      So in other words, I agree with Mary that there were maybe “reasons” that contributed to your being robbed, and those reasons can be addressed. But I do not agree that it was “meant to happen”, which is a fatalistic attitude that may prevent you from making personal changes that can prevent you being re-victimized. Or as the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.

      1. Yep – I know all that – but that day, I wasn’t thinking. And yes, I do think that for whatever reason it happened, it happened. Perhaps to heighten awareness to prevent something worse happening later – who knows…

        1. Each of use is entitled, without question, to our view of the world and life events.

          That being said, as for myself, I knew two people no longer here because they were murdered. One, who was in law enforcement, was killed in a shoot-out with criminals, and the other was killed because he was simply in same house of someone else who was marked for assassination by a drug dealer and he was the witness they could not afford to let live. Don’t see how dead people can learn from being killed. And if this was some sort of life lesson for me, that is a pretty awful one I want no part of if it needed to take two people’s lives. Personally, I see no grand scheme. Rather, sometimes, s*** just happens.

          But again, each to their own.

  3. Sitting on a train in a Paris metro station I witnessed a young man take a phone from the backpack of a young woman. Then he ran off the opposite direction. She did not even notice. It was on the other side of the rails and all I could do was watch. I felt awful.

    Later as we were exiting our station I caught another young man trying to pick a dirty hanky out of my back pocket. I should have let him have it…..the hanky that is.

    I do sypathize with you. An awful inconvenience. In today’s world what good is a stolen cell phone? I thought they could be traced. And/or erased.

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