On trains, in restaurants and even in the hair salon: people warn you to be careful with your belongings. I have never been in such a society where one is scared to near death with what seems like a surfeit of vigilance.
There are signs everywhere to watch your stuff. On the metro, a local man tapped a young female tourist on the shoulder and asked her to swivel her backpack around, from behind to the front, so that she could keep a closer eye on the bag. In the hair salon where I dropped in, the boss practically made a song and dance about not leaving my camera bag just anywhere in her establishment; she locked my bag away in a store room. Too kind of her, I thought, but it seemed to me over-the-top.
Basically from all this you would think that Spain was being overrun, not just by tourists, but by crooks! While I was never directly threatened in anyway, this atmosphere of constant attention to one’s well-being did force me to do some things that I’d never do back home.
For example, when walking through the crowded Sol district in Madrid I would shift my wallet from the back pocket to the front; and sometimes when I notice another fellow walking behind me, either I make a sudden U-turn or stop and feign window shopping. At other times, however, there was no option but to simply make a fast getaway, such as when I accidentally found myself in a plaza lined with African prostitutes in Barcelona’s el Raval, It was like a different world in some hidden corner of that city and finding myself in its centre made me nervous. I don’t know why exactly, but I bolted out of there in quick time.
And there is also another side-effect to this widespread vigilance. When not looking like the regular tourist, and walking close behind to people, I distinctly notice, for instance, a husband or the wife make a quick checking glance in my direction. This is also sometimes accompanied by a protective arm or even a sudden jerk to move away from me. All I could do was to be understanding.
So is Spain overrun by crooks? I leave the country with that question remaining unanswered. I’ll probably find out the next time I visit.