WTF Weds: How Barcelona Turned Me Into a Thief

Posted on
Mar 21, 2012

Folks, I have many, many, many, many flaws.

If it’s okay with you, I’d rather skip the details and just leave it at that. I’m a decent human being. I’m not a great human being.

But Spain made me a slightly worse one. And I’m kind of okay with that.

Despite my many flaws (see above), I can say one thing definitively: I’m not a thief. Except for that one time when I was 13 and shopping at the mall with my brother, and I accidentally knocked a ring into the sleeve of my giant hoodie, (and maybe I sort of noticed but didn’t say anything because I could totally get away with this and then claim IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, since it kind of was. All the thrill of shoplifting, none of the guilt!) and then I swung my arm and  the ring went projectile flying across the store and my brother was not at all happy, I’ve never even thought about stealing. Nope. Not at all.

Not until that day in Barcelona. On that day, I stole something. But I had to. In the name of JUSTICE.

And because they started it.

Let me explain.

We had been wandering around the city for the days, seeing Gaudi’s works, taking the funicular to Montjuic, and enjoying the local delicacies, and finally decided to spend an afternoon doing not much of anything. And so, we meandered around the Barcelona waterfront. It’s a lovely place to enjoy the sights.

However, if you are thirsty, I do not recommend getting a drink at the little cafe with the blue awning right across from where the boats are moored. My apologies. I can’t be any more specific than that on pain of extradition.

It was there that we sat down, tired from an afternoon of wandering, and ordered some drinks. I was slightly concerned that the prices were not posted. Oh, well, I thought. We’d get drinks, and a few snacks. My guard was up, but we were having fun. Besides, how much could the bill possibly be?

We ordered some peppers with salt (a common tapa in Spain) and the waiter asked if he could bring out pan con tomate – (bread with tomatoes). Not thinking, I agreed.

I really should have known better. Never take a waiter’s suggestions while in Europe. Ever.

The platter of bread was enormous. And stale. It was awful. I struggled through one bite, and we left the rest. Later, when the bill came, the bread was listed on it.

12 Euros. 18 U.S. dollars. For a fucking plate of stale bread.

I suppose I should have complained, but I doubt there was anything we could do. Granted, we’d walked into this situation, but by this time, I’d had it. Yes, the states aren’t perfect. Yes, we expect you to tip 20% at restaurants. And our healthcare will leave you penniless. BUT WE DON’T CHARGE PEOPLE $20 FRIGGIN DOLLARS FOR BREAD.

I was livid.

Rand tried to calm me down, but I wasn’t having it. What I had had was a really big glass of sangria. Which was in no small part responsible for the actions that followed.

“What can I steal?” I said, wide-eyed.

Rand and his colleagues stared blankly at me.

I grabbed the napkin dispenser.

“I am taking this,” I hissed, “and anything else that isn’t tied down.”

I like to say that there are two kinds of travel companions. There are the ones who will, no matter what time it is, no matter how costly, show up at whatever jail you are being held and pay your bail. They are wonderful people to have in your life.

And then there are the travel companions who can’t bail you out of jail, because they are sitting next to you in the cell, perhaps quietly laughing to themselves about the events that got you there in the first place.

It turns out that my travel cohorts were in the latter group. And that is why they helped me shove an entire ginormous sangria glass into my bag and sneak it out of the restaurant.

Was it immature? Absolutely. Petty? Sure. Did it make me no better than the people who had ripped us off? Kind of. But here’s the thing: it made me feel better. I mean, a lot better.

See? Look how happy I am after paying $20 for stale bread.


I dwell on things. This should surprise no one. It’s why I have an entire Dick Move! section of my blog that keeps growing and growing.

But having that glass in my bag made me feel like I hadn’t quite been as ripped off. It enabled me to let everything else go.  And eventually – at Rand’s request – I let go of the glass, too, and wandered into the night, giggling and laughing.

It may have not been the right thing to do, but I had to do it. In the name of justice.

That’s also why I peed all over the seat in their bathroom, in case anyone asks.

Leave a Comment

  • Lars

    And you wonder why American tourists have such a bad reputation in Europe? Wel… Now you know why.

    • Oh Lars, you have to admit, there are many reasons why Americans have bad reputations in Europe, and petty theft is not one of them.

      Criticize Americans for our foreign policy, our overall ethnocentrism, our overall ignorance, our loudness in public, our poor fashion sense, our fanaticism about religion and/or guns, our nationalistic pride, or our poor eating habits, but for stealing from crappy restaurants? Sorry. That one is not so much typically American as it is uniquely Geraldine (with all affection to Geraldine, of course).

    • Also, I have to add, that I have seen European and Australian tourists behave very poorly, and I have occasionally seen American tourists get blamed for the bad behavior of others.

      My favorite example of this was when I was in Florence with a girlfriend. My friend had just finished remarking that she was disgusted to see all of the littering going on, and that she was surprised to see that it was usually the Italians and not the tourists who were doing most of it. A few moments later we noticed that there what appeared to be little coupon booklets left at the stoops of all the small businesses on the street we were walking on. My friend picked up one of the booklets out of curiosity and thumbed through it as she walked. Then she tossed it onto the stoop of the next small business we came across. Just then an Italian woman stopped us and chewed us out for littering! It was really ironic. I mean, my Italian was non-existent at the time, but I speak Spanish, so I understood everything she said. She was really laying into us, saying things like, “Why do you tourists always dirty up our city this way?” etc. I translated to my friend, who just laughed and spoke English back to her. I then answered in Spanish, saying, “Look, I think you’ve misunderstood the situation. This isn’t litter. It’s a book of coupons. If you look, you’ll see that every shop on this street has one. We just picked it up to look at it, and then we put it back.” But the woman either didn’t understand me or didn’t want to, because she just kept repeating her rant. Finally my friend and I just shrugged and walked away. To this day I’m sure that woman believes that it is the American tourists who are littering up her city. I guess it’s easier to latch onto stereotypes then it is to be an objective observer. (Also, for any naysayers out there, my husband is a Florentine and he completely agrees with my friend about the littering issue. He told her we were way to nice to that lady and taught us both how to say “Vaffanculo” that very day, LOL.)

      • Chris

        Katy, the lady didn’t understand you because you were speaking Spanish. She’s Italian. I speak both, but you can’t expect all Romance-based language speakers to fluidly understand each other.

        • Oh, I disagree. So does my Italian husband. Anyway, I speak better now, so no more need to begin every conversation with, “Parla inglese o spagnolo? No? Poi, io non parlo molto italiano. Posso parlare spagnolo con Lei?”

    • Molly

      HAH! I live and work in a tourist town in Colorado, and the people with bad reputations are the Europeans. I’ve NEVER been tipped by a European, EVER. You can say that its just a cultural difference, that servers get paid more there and they dont tip in Europe, but I dont think that ignorance is a good excuse, when you visit a foreign country learn the customs. thats my rent money your messing with!

    • Doreen Johnson Kendrick

      I really enjoyed your story, however, as a mother I must insist that you return that glass! LOL. I will be sure to show this to Leah…she will probably agree with me…ya think?!?!? Ha Ha Ha!!
      Be safe and Godspeed!

  • Pam

    OMG you’re my hero. You crack me up. I think I need to find a travel companion like you for a short trip. You know, cause I can’t handle travelling with people for long periods of time. lol

  • Good for you! If I was charged that much for bread, I’d have tried to put the entire restaurant in my pocket!

  • Guy

    Good luck keeping the glass in one piece! Spaniards are not well known unfortunately for their bread, at least from my experience. I am a big fan of their manchego though..

  • jajajajaja No me lo puedo creer ¡¡¡¡

    I can’t believe, now I understand when the police wanted a girl all over Barcelona with a stolen cup ……

    next time, I’ll be a quality guide

  • Awesome!

    I feel you! I am german and I have been living here for 10 years now. The way the spanish waiters, or tourism businesses behave with visitors is just shocking.

    Even after 10 years here they try to trick me in the Taxi, in the Bar, in the Restaurant thinking “he’s a guiri, i can do that with him” (word for non spanish tourist)

  • Go with the trench coat and fake mustache, but skip the funny glasses – way too obvious 😉

  • Dylan

    It’s been awhile since I’ve been in Europe, but I think I would have at least tried to talk to the waiter/manager. If/when that was unsuccessful, I think I’d have gone with leaving cash (minus cost of bread), then quickly leaving the restaurant.

  • Amazing story. Don’t think I’ve ever read anyone, in such a funny way, admitting to a criminal act. In public.
    The again, I guess you’r not exactly going back to that place anytime soon… 😉

    Happy travels!
    – Christian

  • Irina

    I am a huge advocate of “evening the score”, if you will. On my birthday a few years ago, my friends and I ordered some shots and when we paid the waitress with a $20 bill, she told me she had no change, and she’d find us later once she passes by the cash. Thirty minutes I later I had the brilliant idea of suggesting ” OH, maybe what she MEANT to say was that the shot glasses are included in the price… ” and proceeded to stuff the shot glasses in my purse. Best. Bday. Gift. Ever.

  • Two comments from an expat living in Spain:

    1) I thought you were going to say that you stole the napkin dispenser, which should have a post all to itself since the napkin dispensers in Spain are always filled with crappy, non absorbent papers akin to sandpaper, which is so counter-productive. So stealing one of those would have been awesome and useless all at the same time.

    2) This bread situation has happened to me so much that I forget how odd it is. Granted, 18 dollars is incredibly outrageous, but when waiters bring bread to the table now, I just reject it. It’s better for my beer belly and my wallet.

    But good job on the theft! Sadly, sometimes the situation just calls for it..

    And I would have totally bailed you out of jail!

  • attendant

    so Im here waiting rand for the omexpo conference due to this? you where overcharge in a toruist place (as many others) and some peoolle come from other cities to meet rand in madrid.

    concerence cancelled. great!

    • Rand and Geraldine were in Barcelona in October 2011 for MozCation: This didn’t just happen today.

      Rand will be speaking Thursday as it was always planned from the communications with the OMExpo coordinators.

    • Everywhereist

      Nope. These events took place last October. As for the conference in Madrid, Rand made it very clear that he would be speaking on Thursday. I am sorry the organizers misinformed you about his arrival time, but your negative comments about my husband have absolutely no place on my blog.

  • attendant

    by the way. pa amb tomaca is more than bread. more or less like italian tomato bread. 2 drinks peppers and that 12€nit is not that big deal

    • Everywhereist

      You are correct: 12 Euros for drinks, peppers, etc. is not bad. But 12 Euros just for stale bread is pricey.

  • I will not sit here trying to figure out the physics of you peeing all over the toilet seat. I won’t. I WON’T!

    • Also, I have an IHOP coffee mug that I procured under similar circumstances. I used to think IHOP was bad but cheap, then I noticed it was bad and kind of expensive.

      Sadly, as is the case in most International Houses of the Pancakes, somebody else had already peed on the toilet seat.

    • Everywhereist

      It required a move I call “the hover and sway.”

  • haha! LOVE IT!!! You are awesome.

  • Natalie

    Your blog is an inspiration! You are witty and HILARIOUS!

    Your blog sparked the blogger in me that had been trying to get out. I had been trying to find something witty enough to write about for years.

    I started a company blog and find myself hoping that one day my blog will be on a Top 10 list, somewhere in the world!

  • I believe I was next in that bathroom booth where you pee’d so freely and it pissed me off…Goes to show: We never get back at our intended audience…just some hapless passerby. We only FEEL vindicated… But I enjoyed your saga of woe….

  • Meg B

    Kick ass! You sure showed them!

  • Christine

    One Halloween I came upon a house with a giant glass bowl filled with good candy, but it was inside the well-lit foyer. Nobody answered the door, and this “trick” pissed me off so much I stole their doorknob. Still feel good about it.

  • I think all drinks taste better out of a “procured” glass.

  • Kristina Cline

    Those moments are awesome, I would have paid for everything except the bread, and would have written “I do not pay for the food you forgot to throw out” on the bill. And then ran away.

  • Lauren

    In Italy we made the mistake of going to an over-hyped restaurant. The service was HORRIBLE (I know, but WORSE than usual–we’d been there over a month and knew what to expect). We may have left with a couple bottles of red wine. Shouldn’t store wine on shelves on the wall, restaurant.
    (You aren’t alone, Geraldine)

  • Paige

    My mother did something similar once. She was so disgusted with the price of a hotel that she took everything she could discreetly fit in a suitcase (thank goodness she left the artwork). She took enough food from the continental breakfast to feed a small village. She took coffee when she has never had a cup of coffee in her life. And there are still packets of hot chocolate in her pantry with the hotel insignia. My favorite though? The spare rolls of toilet paper she stole, still in their decorative wrappings.

  • Pau

    As spaniard I must say that I am embarrased and concerned about this kind of ripp off restaurants/bars, for 12 €, a couple of streets aways you could have a whole menu, with two main dishes, wine, and cafe…My uni was pretty close to this area, and I sweare I could find a cheap place for lunch or drinks every single time. So fair enough with your trophy however just for your knowledge, by law all the reastaurants have to show publicly their prices,

  • As a Spaniard I’ll admit that is quite frustrating reading this kind of posts and that you were treated like that on a restaurant in Spain. It’s a shame that out of your “food experiences” in Barcelona only this one deserved a comment.

    I am not trying to say it was not, but in this kind of ultra-tourist destinations specially in big cities, you should try to find out of the restaurant ownership was actually Spanish, as its not always the case.

    I do have to agree completely with Nicole in the quality of the napkins of those dispensers, completely useless.

    Let me suggest in any case that on your next visit to Spain (hoping you still want to return “after this”) and if you manage to get to the correct places, you should:

    – trust waiters suggestions if you want to enjoy some proper food.
    – never eat those “pepinillos” which by the way are not “typically spanish” except for tourists. Olives and “pan tumaca” itself in Cataluña, is the typical free “tapa” you get with a drink
    – order bread, in 95% of the restaurant you won’t even be charged for it.

    Hopefully on my next visit to New York I won’t be overcharged in any touristic place so I don’t have to steel any napkin dispenser (I am sure the US ones are better) and write a post about it 😉

  • Nicky

    Love it!!! Sometimes there are situations where our only recourse is some such act, we can only live in hope that one day they will realise why their crockery stock is dwindling and get their sh*t together.

    They are the thieves, not you!!!

  • Denise

    Your story is good but that last sentence made it AWESOME! I’m cracking up as I write this.

  • Rolling on the ground right now. Also, I met your friend Kate Thorman that you introduced me to over the internet. Her sarcasm and pessimism fit me like a glove. Thanks for the intro!

  • Jenny

    Sorry that all the Spaniards here are getting rather up in arms—Don’t think this post is meant to be a bad reflection on Spain! I’ve had similar experiences in other countries around Europe, and I’ve never even been to Spain. If a waiter ever brings me anything I haven’t asked for (that is, waiters outside of america, the land of free unlimited refills) I do not touch it and ask them to remove it immediately.

  • michael

    I don’t think that this is so special or uncommon at all. One time me and my buddies had a great but surely a bit to extroverted time in one of Berlin’s bars and also got quite unfriendly reactions from the waiters and just went with the flow and each took a glass of beer we had there with us to the next location. Or one time I was in Stuttgart and the drinks were that overpriced that I practically *had* to assume that the glass was included in the price… and this is nothing compared to what other people do… imagine, some people leave bars without paying at all… like the one time in Crete where a group of Greek tourists ordered several bottles of liquor one night and really had a blast and then tried to sneak out without paying… OMG!! 😉

    Well and a small hint about the bread: If you ever get to Austria there are some locations where there is bread already on the table. Don’t eat it unless you really need to.. Cause there they charge these aswell… Though, the breadsticks in Italy are usually free, they charge quite a sum for the table there that is somewhere mentioned in the menu… But nothing beats paying like 20 Dollars for a cup of coffee in Moscow – wonder how many cups are stolen there on a daily basis… ;-D

  • This is hilarious. I had a similar experience in Sienne. We were looking for a restaurant that was recommended to us and we asked someone on the street. He led us to what we thought was the place we were looking for. We sat down and noticed that the man who had helped us seemed to work there. Cool coincidence we all thought until we noticed the name on the menu was not what we were looking for. We got charged 50 euro for two people, for lunch. The food was awful and at that point we were pretty livid that we went along with it. So we took their bottle of balsamic vinegar…

  • I completely understand this move and the happiness that followed. My fiance, Zen master, likes to remind me of the time I felt it necessary to steal a coffee mug after a particularly horrible meal at the terribly overrated ABC Kitchen in New York City . . . or the pretty little spoon I pilfered from an Indian restaurant in London. Because while he would never do such a thing, he does aid and abet my sordid crimes.

    So, all that to say: I hear ya, sistah.

  • Chris

    A very amusing read, loved the last line. But chuckles aside, anyone who has traveled should know that touristy places are overpriced and under deliver on quality. Always ask to see the menu! ( your initial instincts were bang on) We can’t look at places we travel with our home country lens either, but nor can one experience in a crap restaurant be taken as your overall impression of a place as some people interpreted. As funny as peeing all over the seat, as funny and vindicating as it is, it only buggers it for the next customer, who could have been you if a pervious customer was outraged as you at the charge for pan am tomat.

  • Tithonium

    “And eventually – at Rand’s request – I let go of the glass, too”

    There’s a present waiting for you on Rand’s desk.

    • Tithonium

      I’m so used to livejournal, where most people set it up so they get emailed whenever anyone comments on their posts, so even if someone comments days later, they still see it, and know it’s there.

      Apparently Rand was quite confused about the goblet on his desk.

  • Aimer

    My dad stole an A&W mug before. LOL. He just loved it’s size and he couldn’t find any that were the same in the local stores. I freaked out when he showed me the mug… I was a wee little kid then and still had a hyperactive imagination. I thought the cops were coming after us. Haha! XD

  • Kitty

    Psst those napkins are useless to get rests of food away from your face but they’re great to soak up and remove sebaceous oily residues from the T zone (forehead, nose and chin) and turn it into a nice matte looking face. And they don’t charge for them so grab as many as you like!!!

    I do agree that spanish catering services leave a lot to be desired when it comes to satisfying the needs of foreign customers. It’s a pity ;(
    I don’t blame you for stealing a couple of things from that place!!!

    It’s also sad that so many european tourists don’t tip when abroad. Even guidebooks don’t stress the importance of tipping enough for europeans to understand and grasp the whole thing. I’ve had waiters and bell services ask for a tip when they realised I was coming from Spain. I was astonished that they felt they needed to ask for it. And it made things hard when the person who asked for it actually didn’t deserve thetip at all.

  • Ned

    I love how this entry is linked in pretty much every other one. 🙂

  • kokopuff

    I went on a trip to Europe…at the hotel in Germany, at dusk, we went outside to the patio and had a couple of beers in these gorgeous glass steins. But while we enjoying our drinks, the bar manager turned off the patio lights, and locked the door. This patio had a waist high stone wall around it, BTW. So, I tucked those gorgeous steins into my purse, and climbed the wall. I carted those steins all around Europe in my luggage and eventually, they made it home.

  • Waaa

    You pissed on the toilet seat? Justice for NO ONE, sister!!! Everytime I go into the Ladies and I see piss on the seat, I wonder who would do that to the next woman? Do unto

  • RiderWriter

    I have never, EVER forgotten the time my mom slipped a bottle of catsup off a restaurant table and into her purse. This actually was not vindictive; we were on vacation and having a picnic the next day and Mom didn’t feel like buying a bottle of catsup we wouldn’t take home. However, we kids were simply blown away by the sight of our sainted mother, the one who preached “Thou shall not steal,” swiping something.

    The funny part is whenever I bring up this incident my mother heatedly denies it ever happened. 🙂 Wrong, Mama, I could tell you the name of the restaurant, the time of day and the temperature even though this took place when I was about 9… LOL

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