During my 30-day backpacking trip in Europe, the most common reaction I got from people—aside from “You’re so brave for backpacking alone!”—was, “Be careful of gypsies!”
My usual response was, “If I can survive the dodgiest streets of Manila, I think I’ll survive backpacking the rest of the globe.” I also did my best to be street smart by reading about the most common scams in every city and country I visited.
I’m happy to report that I did not get pick-pocketed or scammed in Europe. I did see all sorts of gypsies, but I will never forget the one in Florence, Italy.
During my walking tour break, I stood in front of Piazza Del Duomo to go people-watching. I saw many fellow Asian tourists taking selfies.
A gypsy appeared out of nowhere. She was dressed in loose, white garb, with white paint all over her face and hands. I think she was trying to look like a mascot resembling the statues and sculptures of Roman gods, or perhaps a cosplay of a ghost. Maybe a nun?
She darted straight towards the Asian couple. She screamed, “Hi!” with a shrilly voice while waving at them and inching a little too close to their faces. The surprised couple jumped back and politely said hi. The middle-aged white-faced gypsy kept inching close to their faces, making the couple uncomfortable.
She signaled for them to take a photo with her. She made faces, put her arm around the girlfriend, and told the boyfriend to take a photo. He did, begrudgingly. She grabbed the Asian girl’s hand and kissed it. The fresh white paint from the gypsy’s hand and lips smeared all over the girlfriend’s hand. She grimaced. The girlfriend tried to wipe the paint off her hand.
The gypsy started harassing the couple for tip money. When they said no, the gypsy threatened them. The couple started moving away, not giving in, despite the gypsy repeatedly grabbing their hands to smear it with more white paint.
It all happened so fast—probably two minutes, tops.
Thank goodness one of the nearby street artists saw what was going on. The artist screamed at the gypsy and did a threatening hand-whistle. The gypsy backed off and ran away.
An hour later, I moved to another tourist spot a few blocks away. It happened again, but with a crazy twist.
I saw the same white-faced gypsy suddenly appear and dart towards another Asian couple taking selfies. She screamed, “Hi!” while waving at them and inching close to their faces. Same modus operandi—white paint smearing and all.
This time, the boyfriend gave in to the threats and took out his wallet. As he was looking for money, the gypsy quickly grabbed the thick wad of cash from the wallet. The boyfriend tried to grab it back, but the gypsy did the grossest thing:
She lifted her skirt repeatedly (like a can-can dance) to reveal that she wasn’t wearing any underwear—it’s a jungle in there, as I was shocked to see from afar—and shoved the wad of cash into her private area. I’m not sure if there was a secret pocket somewhere, but you’re free to let your imagination run wild.
With a look of disgust, the boyfriend backed off. The gypsy ran away with his wad of cash securely hidden under her skirt. She looked back just to see if anyone tried to follow her. The couple started arguing and asking help from the waiters at the nearby restaurant, but it was too late. The thief was nowhere to be seen.
It all happened so fast. I wasn’t able to take a photo of the offender.
As for me, I gave her a different nickname. Whenever I tell this story to my backpacker friends, I call her the VAGYPSY.
Have you ever been scammed while traveling in Europe? Share your story and tips below to help fellow travelers.
*Not all people of the Gypsy culture are involved in crime. While I did see a lot of the stereotype gypsies in my travels, I am aware that there’s a deeper political history and culture we need to know. If you’d like to learn more about the struggles of the gypsy culture, here are some articles: