Pickpocketing, AIDS, Marijuana, and Condoms – A Conversation in Lisbon

Today I was on the train coming back to Lisbon after a brief visit to a suburb to visit Microsoft.

I sit down next to an early 40 year old man dressed in a suit, well-kept. After I sit down he eyes me up and down. He says something to me in Portugese. I say “English.” He says, “Oh, thank god, I thought you like club XYZ. Club XYZ bad. Football. I don’t like. Your shirt is their colors.” I smiled and turned me head straght again, staring aimlessly.

“You’re from England?” he asks me.

“No, San Francisco. California.”

“Oh, California! Why are you in Lisbon?!”

“Tourist and some friends. It’s a beautiful city.”

“Pugh. Yeah right. No beautiful. Not compared to California. Ugly. Ugly city.”

“What, do you even live here?”

“I live in Lisbon. Grew up Lisbon. Work Lisbon. Have kids Lisbon. Married Lisbon. Whole life, Lisbon.”

“Uh-huh, well, I like your city.”

[1 minute pause]

“Where do you go next?”


“Ah, Paris…..Be….Be…Be care, be careful.”

“Why? What do you mean?”

“Uh, um, um, uh, uh…AIDS.”


“Yes. AIDS. I mean, it nice city. Beautiful. Beautiful people. But AIDS. Don’t do prostitution. Always cary some, some, some, condoms in your pocket. Be careful.”

“Ok,” I laugh.

[train arrives in station]

“Can you tell me how to walk to Plaza de XYZ?” I ask him.

“Ah, follow me. I go that direction.”

As we walk along the street, he brings up my favorite topic: pickpockets and safety.

“Be careful for [hand gestures to signal pickpocketing].”

“Ah yes, I know, I’m being careful.”

“Too many people walk around with hands flailing and look up at sky and BOOM, watch, documents gone.”

“Yeah, I know, thanks.”

Literally a minute later a husky man comes out of no where, grabs the guy I’m talking to, reaches into his suit jacket for wallet, and runs off. Holy shit! I was just witness to a real pickpocketing right in front of my eyes, with the victim being a man who had just warned me! We both pursue the assailant, who runs into the sidewalk crowd, but then stops. My train friend grabs him. The assailant is laughing. What the fuck is going on I ask? I’m starting to think I’m being set up, all this is too bizarre. It turns out the husky man had heard the guy talk about pickpocketing, knew the guy, and then played a practical joke.

As I walk off my train-friend calls out one last time, “Be careful for pick pockets!” A few minutes later I meet Austin in a plaza and see him in conversation with a dark skinned man holding sunglasses. I think to myself, “He better not be buying face Gucci sunglasses.” I walk up behind him and play the same practical joke I had just witnessed — on Austin. Feeling his backpack zipper opening he flips out.

Only later do I realize I had chosen the best — or worst — time to play the joke. It turns out this “sunglass seller” was in fact hawking marijuana and cocaine, and Austin was just realizing this, and the vendor was becoming aggressive and Austin was trying to leave. He feared an accomplice would pop out of nowhere and steal wallet, which is just what happened (me)!

We were approached a couple times later in the day by druggies.

What a day.

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