Saturday, December 16, 2017

Scammers and Robbers in Brussels Nord Train Station: Do you speak English?

Robbers in Brussels Nord train station is not new. They target the tourists who arrive from the Brussels Zavantem Airport as Brussels Nord serves as the main train station that connects the airport to the city center. I encountered them before this year during my early days in Belgium. That was of 3 women, presumably from an East European country such as Bulgaria, judging from the looks.

After that I used Brussels Nord train station several times for my daily commutes. But now I do not have big suitcases with me, unlike when I fly. I was wondering whether the situation has got better or is it just me being lucky. But yesterday, it happened to me again, as I was returning with my big suitcase, a large laptop bag, and a camera bag, ready to fly to Portugal.

As I was rushing between the platforms at the Brussels Nord station, a somewhat pretty girl in her early twenties stoppped me, "Hi, do you speak English?". She probably is of Romanian or Bulgarian origins, though I am not really an expert in identifying their nationality. It is not important either. She looked in distress. I assumed she wanted some directions with trains, metro, or whatever.

I replied, "Yes, I speak English". She quickly uttered, "Oh, thank God", and continue to say something along the lines like I saved her since no one apparently speaks English here. This immediately gave me a big warning - Brussels is a multi-lingual city. Actually it is very easy to find someone who speaks English. I never had trouble asking random strangers questions and receiving helpful suggestions in English - not even once. Despite Brussels being a mostly French/Dutch speaking city, its prominence as the European capital and tourist destination has made it truly international. For a newly arriving tourist, of course it may sound plausible that she had a hard time locating someone who can understand her.

She continues, "I lost my wallet/card/money *" (did not really catch what she lost, as we were in the middle of a noisy busy path where passengers were quickly moving around - it was 5:30 PM Friday, full of work crowd). "Could you please buy me a train ticket?" One thing apparent was her careful choice of the person to seek help - a young man possibly from India who is also apparently a tourist, potentially just arriving at Brussels. In such situation, one would easily sympathize: what if I was in her situation as a tourist with no money to train ticket in a place where no one speaks English! (oh yes, I believe that Brussels is a village in deep China or French-speaking Africa, where no one understands your English). Also who does not like to help a girl who spotted you as someone who can help among the millions of others passing by?

Now I confirmed that my warning signs were right. In these situations in the past, I always have helped people; happened mostly in Sri Lanka. I am not really sure how many of these were genuine need and how many were just regular beggars. I did not care much as they were mostly in a much small scale (< 0.50 Euro) as public transport in Colombo is much cheaper than in Brussels.

It did not take me even a few seconds to come to the conclusion: this young lady with a beautiful smile was either planning to make me pay for her "long train ride to Amsterdam" or in the worst case make me take my wallet in the middle of the crowded path where her partner can quickly snatch and move on with my wallet. In either case, I quickly replied with an empathetic smile, "Oh, I am sorry. I do not have Euros. I am going back". I watched her smile fade away as she rushes leaving me without any reply.

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