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.

Conversation of the Day in Portugal

In hotel lobby at front desk.

Me: “Do you know of a nearby laundry place where I can wash clothes?”

Receptionist: “Hmm…in the metro station there’s a laundry place.”

Me: “Self-service? You know, machines, I do it myself?”

Receptionist: “Oh self-service, no, no self-service.”

Me: “Do you know of self-service?”

Receptionist: “Nah, we don’t have self-service laundrymats in Portugal.

Me: “Really? Every European country I’ve been to has had laundrymats.”

Receptionists: “Look, I’ve seen your American movies, I know what you’re talking about, but we don’t have them in Portugal. Think Iraq or Africa. That’s the mentality of Portugal. No self-service.”

Me: [laughing]

Receptionist: “See, I made you laugh, that’s what’s important, who cares about dirty clothes?”


Welcome to the Friendliest Country I've Been To; Two Days in Lisbon

We took the night train from Madrid to Lisbon, Portugal. I had a bed (in a room with two Taiwanisse guys and an L.A. guy getting a masters at UCLA) and slept pretty well. We arrived in the morning and checked into our reserved hotel.

In the afternoon, after a fruitless search for beaches, we went to Belém, a suburb of Lisbon. We asked five different people how to get there and we were told five different things. Nonetheless, the Portuguese are FRIENDLY. The friendliest people I’ve encountered on the trip (slightly ahead of the Irish). On the very first day three different people not only showed us which metro stop / street to go to, but phsyically walked us to the location even though each time it was opposite from where they needed to go.Img_1371

Belém is worth a half-day trip from Lisbon. It’s home to a famous monastery which houses the tomb of the famous Portuguese explorer who founded the Portugal-India trade route. Across the street from the monastery is a "Discoveries Museum," tall building view, and other artifacts celebrating Portugal’s glory years of dominating the spice routes in the Mediterrian. Doesn’t that red bridge look like a famous bridge in San Francisco?Maponground

Bridge For dinner we metro’d across town to have dinner at a Fado restaurant. Fado is classic Portugal — a guitarist and singer play romantic / nostalgic music while you eat (the food is unexceptional). All the Fado restaurants employ guys who stand outside trying to lure in tourists. The first place we stopped in was too pricey, so we went across the street where the Mozambique-lobbyist charmed us enough to pick the less expensive and more friendly restaurant. My veal with mushrooms was excellent though the service slow. Sitting next to us at the restaurant was a young Dutch boyfriend/girlfriend. We had a great time talking, comparing travel stories, and discussing Holland and America. (Btw, the Dutch are really great people — everyone from Holland I’ve met is kind and likes Americans!) At the end of the dinner the Fado singer tried to get us to buy her CD. We weren’t interested, and fortunately there was an ample language barrier to feign confusion…until Austin "saved the day" by speaking French to her, forcing us to make an awkward exit while she was in the bathroom (guilt makes us do the craziest things, no?).Fado

We woke up Thursday morning to the pleasant surprise that breakfast was included with our room, so we enjoyed the sufficient buffett (nowhere close to the ones in Germany, though!). I then took off for Microsoft in Lisbon where I met a contact and Austin lay by the pool and went for a run. We met back up in the afternoon to visit the famous castle, a church, and walk along streets we hadn’t yet been on.

Lisbon is a friendly, beautiful place still off the beaten track of "highlight tourists" (it’s not Rome or Paris). Though it doesn’t contain any show stopper tourist attractions, its history is impressive, its climate and location along the sea attractive, its people kind and proud, and language warm on the ears. Well worth a stop for anyone in that part of Western Europe, especially if you’re going to Spain.