You Won’t Find This in the US! The Etiquette of Petty Thieves in Mexico

I’m always telling people that crime and safety, generally speaking, are not worse problems in Mexico than in the United States and most other countries – especially in the tourist areas.  Yet, it’s only fair (and helpful to any newcomers) to acknowledge that petty theft is in fact one of the few crimes that is worse in Mexico, and that people need to take some common-sense precautions to avoid it.

Basically, what it boils down to is don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, and don’t carry items of considerable value in plain sight.

However, this is not the point of today’s post.  The point is that in Mexico, in many cases, even petty thieves have a kind of an “etiquette” of how to treat the people they are robbing.

Consider this story that a friend of mine told me.

This (Mexican) friend of mine was in the old colonial downtown of Mexico City. (Mexico City is actually relatively low in crime, even compared to large U.S. cities, and  always listed on the “green light” list of safe places to travel in Mexico – but, again, that’s a side point.)

He and a group of his friends started off a friendly chat with some strangers.  At some point in the conversation, these strangers informed them that they were going to rob them! (You know, a nice friendly part of every daily conversation …) They were also informed that they had others waiting around the corners to get them if they tried to run away.  If they just cooperated and gave up their valuables, they would walk away safely.  Generally, in Mexico, cooperation is the best approach to take if you do find yourself the victim of petty theft, so these guys opened up their wallets, handed over their cash, their cell phones, etc.
hey got to this friend of mine. He didn’t have a cent on him.  The thieves took a look in his wallet to confirm that he was as cash-less as he claimed to be.  Satisfied that this guy really had nothing to rob, and didn’t even have a few pesos for lunch, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a subway ticket.

“There you go, brother,” he said handing him the ticket, “now you can get home for lunch.”

The thieves made off with the valuables, and these guys were free to go home – without any cash, of course!

But imagine that; a thief feels sorry for you and gives you a subway ticket to get home!

I’ve heard other similar stories where a petty thief is convinced that their “victim” has less than they do, so they actually give that person something! It sounds ironic, but now and then, it does happen.

Now, I have to point out that someone who looks like a foreigner (most expats) will usually have trouble convincing a thief that he is needier than the thief.  Also, these stories are most certainly the exception rather than the rule.  But the point is, that as far as I have heard, this would simply never happen in the U.S., not even if the thief thought the victim was worse off.

Mexican petty thieves are not someone you want to bump into, but they do have their etiquette.


-by Thomas Lloyd
First Time Mexico Real Estate Buyer – 7 Steps