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.

pp2My 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.

ppNo, 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