Czech language tram pickpocket warnings of no help to visitors

Take a tram in the centre of Prague these days and you are very likely to hear a prerecorded message: the transport authority and the police would like to draw your attention to the fact you are in an area with a high incidence of pickpocketing: please watch your belongings. Actually, that’s a translation. The warning is in Czech and Czech only. Which is of course utterly useless if you’re a foreign visitor to the city and don’t speak the lingo.

A 2006 survey by the insurance company Norwich Union found the Czech Republic was the state where the highest number of British tourists had their pockets picked. The UK Foreign Office has also in the past warned the country’s citizens of the dangers of being robbed in Prague, among other places on public transport.

And a number of online tourist guides warn visitors to Prague to watch their bags and wallets, particularly on some tram routes, including the notorious No. 22, which winds its way up to Prague Castle. On this point the guides are dead right. There is one apparent family group of overweight pickpockets (not Czech, they’re from somewhere further east) who seem to live on the 22. Every time I see them I think, if these dastards are so obvious to me – they stand out like a sore fat thumb – how come they have gotten away with plying their pilfering trade for so long?

Czech Television reported the other evening that the number of recorded cases of pickpocketing was up last year to 19,000, with over half taking place in the capital. Many of the victims will have been visitors and many of them will no doubt have had their holiday ruined – and any desire to come back extinguished or at least diminished.

So why aren’t the tram warnings in English? After all there was apparently a similar initiative on the No. 9 a decade ago, with messages in Czech, English and German. Well, a police spokesperson told Hospodářské noviny that they’re waiting to see if the Czech messages work. In the same article, the newspaper suggested it could actually be because Prague City Hall is afraid of international embarrassment, evidently because English warnings would draw attention to the fact the city has a considerable pickpocketing problem. If that really is their reasoning, then that itself is embarrassing.