Getting Robbed by the Mustard Thieves of Buenos Aires

January 13, 2011 3 Comments

Last Wednesday I broke every rule in the Buenos Aires tourist book.  Having lived there for three months, I had never broken the golden travel rules until then.

Travel Rule#1 – Buy a leather item and use it to carry things in place of your backpack which glows like a beacon for thieves.  Travel Rule #2 – Never walk and talk on your cell phone at the same time.  Travel Rule #3 – Do not yell loudly in English while breaking rule #2.  Travel Rule #4 – If you must wear a North Face jacket, do not stop to look at a giant subway map.

Watercolor Illustration by Kate Rose Johnson

I was feeling cavalier about my near-porteño status after having lived in the city for three months but had unfortunately shipped my chic Argentinean clothing and bags home as I was about to take off for more travelling.  And so, the scene is set with one American tourist alone and lost in Buenos Aires.  I wasn’t, in fact, lost, I was looking desperately for one of the last restaurants that I hadn’t been to, frantic that I was running out of time to devour my way through the city.  While searching a map for a street that had inexplicably ended, a rush of mushy, cold liquid splashed on top of my head, covering my face.  Shocked and smelling apples, I turned my head expecting to see someone who had tripped and to be apologizing.  Instead I saw a guy pointing up at the building and saying something about a bird.  It was then that Travel Rule #5 saved me: Always research on Lonely Planet Thorn Tree for safety information on a new city.  The infamous mustard scam flashed across my brain as I protectively swung my backpack to my hip and darted down the sidewalk taking the first right onto a side street mumbling something like “those f*ckers”.  I managed to wipe away all of the applesauce with my scarf and see out of my glasses again.

I was getting robbed. I’d read in disbelief about one tourist after another who wrote warnings about this scam happening to them.  It goes like this: thief identifies target – local or tourist, has companion thief squirt innocent victim with mustard and tells the victim that a bird has pooped on them or that something has fallen from a building.  Conveniently, the thief is a good Samaritan and offers you napkins to clean up.  While you are distracted cleaning up, the companion thief helps himself to your belongings and usually you walk away thanking them.

Just as I had finished checking my bag to see that everything was intact (it was) I saw the “friendly thief” round the corner looking for me with his “assistant shady thief” in tow.  They thought perhaps I hadn’t figured it out and they could try again to “help” me.  I thought of my options as they walked towards me, recognizing me.  Luckily, I was surrounded by tall porteño bankers out on the streets for lunch.  I felt safe but angry and began to yell, “Tu eres una mierda.  Sabes?  Una mierrrrrrrrrrda”,  (“You are a shit. Do you know that? A shit”). rolling my r’s for all I’m worth even though mierda isn’t an r rolling word, and even though I’m using the “tu” (Spain) form and not the “vos” (Argentina) form.  I pointed at them and yelled, “MIERDA!!!” at the top of my lungs.  The bankers stopped to see if I was alright as the confused applesauce neé mustard thieves took off in a sprint.

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3 Comments to “Getting Robbed by the Mustard Thieves of Buenos Aires”
  1. franco says:



  2. Jessica says:

    I am a new visitor to your blog and I love this post! I’m obviously super late to this but this is hilarious- i love how you ended it- I would have been way too scared to say anything to them, so good for you!! And thanks for the tip for checking out LP, I’m traveling to South America soon and need all the help i can get.

    also, props to your sister for the artwork, it’s lovely

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