Dear PoP – Should we say something to tourists?

by Prince Of Petworth March 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm 65 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoP,

Saturday I took a trip to the zoo and saw six cars in a row parked on Connecticut Ave with a GPS device in plain view on the dash. The seventh car was in the process of being locked by a young couple with a child in the stroller. I debated whether I should stop and say something friendly to them about putting their GPS away as it was pretty clear they were ready to leave their car and it was still on the dash. Ultimately I decided to mind my own business but I’m not sure that was the right decision.

Considering that tourist season is coming up and more and more people unaccustomed to taking these personal safety precautions will be coming to visit, I wondered what your readers think – should we say something to tourists that we see who are leaving things in their car, leaving purses unzipped with items easily reachable, etc? Most of us wouldn’t hesitate to say something polite if a tourist is standing in the left aisle of the escalator, but for some reason I felt it would be too ‘preach-y’ to advise a person on how to handle their personal property.”

Well this is actually a tough question because I feel like during the day on Connecticut Ave, NW with all that foot traffic you won’t be likely to get your car window smashed. However, I’ve gone on record a thousand times encouraging people not to leave anything visible in their cars – particularly electronics like GPS. So even though I think a Connecticut Ave window smashing by the zoo is unlikely – I don’t think there is any harm in advising tourists to secure them/take them out of view. What do you guys think – is that too preachy?

  • YES you should.

    I always take a moment to help confused or seemingly lost tourist when I am out and about.

    That includes the advise you give about the GPS and purses in the open.

    Once I saw a lady in the Dupont with her purse wide open. We struch up a conversation and I advise it was a no no.

    Well don’t you know, I saw the same lady the next day who thanked me big time. Guess what happened?

    The mother of another family traveling with her had her purse was picked right there in a broud daylight while enjoying the sunshince on the Lincoln steps.

    YES you should.

    • Anonymous


    • MtP

      even as a local i want people to tell my if i’ve left my bag open. once was in line to pick up dinner at chipotle in CH and a young man behind me tapped me on the shoulder to let me know i had forgotten to zip my backpack. i ALWAYS appreciate that. and if a tourist gets offended that someone tried to help them out, then it’s their loss (and i guarantee they will zip their purse/put away the GPS when you’re out of sight).

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me of the german tourist who got off at Shaw Metro stop, wrong place, wrong time, no clue, bullets from kids, dead tourist. Ugh.

  • jm

    tourist robberies play an integral role in the local economy

    • anon

      not funny. no even a little.

      • YuppieHell

        I found it to be amusing. Good form. Let the hater hate and keep with the humor. I’m sure anon is having a mugging flash back and didn’t use my advice implementing a Muay Thai clinch during the robbery.

      • Even gross…

    • mizer

      HA! +1 thanks for the laugh!

    • Sleepy

      It’s a legit point – DC has a perception, and rightly so, of having a lot of crime. That keeps quite a few tourists away, and hence hurts our local economy.

  • photodork

    I told a lady to lock her GPS up as she was parking near FL and and 11th NW one afternoon last summer. She was very thankful and told me that her daughter (whose car and GPS it was and who lived nearby) told her to do the same and that she almost forgot!

    I’m all about giving peeps the heads-up.

  • Anon

    I probably wouldnt say anything in either the escalator situation or the GPS one, but, its comical to me that you find the GPS one, which has a potential positive impact on the tourist and reduces crime, as preachy – but the one that potentially saves you 2-5 seconds is perfectly rational and appropriate.

    • OP

      Heh. I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of my own convenience. I was thinking about it with respect to ‘society rules’ – i.e. where to stand on the escalator vs. someone’s private property with which they can do what they want.

      Judging from the comments here people who have advised tourists to keep their property close have been well-received. I guess I was imagining a scenario where I was told to mind my own business… in which case, no harm no foul I guess, I just hate being snapped at πŸ˜‰

      • Meckels

        The escalator rule applies all over the world. Except in England (& rest of Commonwealth) where you stand on the left and walk on the right. And in Switzerland both sides are strictly for walking. If you stop, they will smack you and call you a lazy American. It’s brutal. Must be all that alpine hiking. They are fit! I’m just giving the heads-up people, “society rules” are difficult out there.

        • Razel

          Er, no. They drive on the left in the UK, but they most definitely stand on the right on the Tube escalators.

          • Meckels

            Haha, thanks for clearing that up Razel! But the Switzerland part is definitely true. I promise.

  • gonzo

    Funny that, i’m in the market for a GPS device. Thank you PoP! So helpful!

  • steve

    it didn’t cross my mind that it could be preachy. I thought the debate was if those tourists deserved to learn the lesson the hard way. πŸ™‚ my car got broken into between 12-2 on a sunday afternoon about 5 car lengths from connecticut ave. in the same situation, I’d appreciate the advice if it were delivered in a friendly manner.

    on that note, it surprises me how many women walk around with this strange posture of elbow in, wrist up, purse lamely dangling off their forearm. what is this? 1) it makes these women look mildly retarded and completely helpless, and 2) it seems like an open invitation to snatch their purse. ladies, what gives? wearing uggs and sunglasses on your head isn’t enough?

    • Jiffy

      Just curious, but what is strange about that? Ideally the purse would be strapped across the body and held in the front, sure, but not all purses have such long straps.

    • Stella

      No, it’s not. We’re all exactly the same.

    • Anonymous

      it always weirds me out when a woman rushes to get steps ahead of me when walking down a fairly empty street, so that i’m walking like 5 feet behind her.

      it happens so often, but i always think what careless behavior that is. if i was a mugger, they’d be toast.

    • C Money

      It’s physics. Shoulders slope downwards and due to the force of gravity, purses will fall down. They then get caught on our elbow and rather than constantly readjust we sometimes are ok with looking “mildly retarded”. Also, it’s a more ideal starting position if we want to use our purses as weapons and get a good swing in.

      • 8th Street SE


        Unless the woman is built like a football player or wearing 1980’s shoulder pads the purse is going to keep slipping off.

      • steve

        well thanks for the explanation, but I have to say that a woman who carries herself that way ain’t doing herself any favors.

  • RD

    If all the robbers are busy with the low-hanging fruit, maybe they’ll never bother having to resort to more risky tactics on us savvy locals who take precautions.

  • MK

    I always say something to them. You wouldn’t believe how, in addition to leaving purchases visible in their car, many of them just count wads of cash right out in the open. Then there is the usual standing on the wrong side of the metro escalator and walking around with cameras and electronic devices unsecured without a thought. One time I stopped a couple from giving a well dressed woman, who appeared lost, money. I knew for a fact that the woman had scammed many a person out of funds with her very convincing act.

    • anon

      why are you peering into tourists’ cars looking for cash?

  • Anonymous

    How do you know they were tourists? For all you know they could be longtime DC residents who simply choose to pick their battles when it comes to these things. As PoP noted, it’s unlikely someone would smash a window on Connecticut Ave during broad daylight. You might as well go door-to-door asking why people don’t have alarm systems or bars on their windows and doors.

    • Anonymous

      having a bad day?

      • Anonymous

        Nope. Just looking at it from the perspective of the other party. Is that so wrong?

    • photodork

      “How do you know they were tourists?”


      • 8th Street SE

        What, no one who has kids and goes to the zoo could possibly live here? You should come out to my neighborhood.

        • rooty tooty

          If you’ve lived in DC for more than a year – you can probably distinguish tourists from locals.

          • Anon

            Really? How? I grew up here and I have problems. maybe I realize tourists and locals are both pretty diverse sets…

        • photodork

          Your powers of observation are keen.

          • 8th Street SE

            Hey, I’ve been mistaken for a local many times while traveling. Not every tourist necessarily looks like one, and the same is true of locals.

          • mizer

            How often are you mistaken for a tourist in your home town?

          • Prince Of Petworth

            I actually get mistaken for a tourist all the time because I have a camera around my neck and am always staring at buildings. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me if I need directions. I think it’s really nice.

          • Maybe the out of state plates gave them away.

          • 8th Street SE

            I accidentally asked a group of people if they needed help yesterday– they’d been standing in front of my house looking lost and confused for some time. They mumbled that they were just waiting for someone and shuffled away looking embarassed. πŸ™‚

          • mizer

            I’ve never been mistaken for a tourist.

            I am sure there are some that blend in well, but a lot of them stick out. I think that’s the point here. Nobody said they can identify ALL tourists. Just that it is easy to identify many of them.

    • Anonymous

      Not having window bars seems like it would be a lot riskier to me. You have the potential to lose so much more.

    • petvet

      “it’s unlikely someone would smash a window on Connecticut Ave during broad daylight.”


      • anonymous

        Yes, this made me laugh as well.

        I once saw two kids smash a passenger side window – I believe they used one of those quick escape glass breakers that makes very little noise or mess – and grab a bag off the seat. This was on Columbia Ave between Kalorama and Belmont, right in front of Kalorama park, between 4 or 5 pm on a sunny day, lots of people out and about. There was even some big event in the park. It took literally seconds for them to smash that window and grab what they wanted – I was stunned by how little attention it drew. I saw it happen from my car across the street, and by the time I realized what it was it was over. They just calmly walked away as if nothing and no one noticed a thing. It was really, really unnerving to see a crime take place in the middle of the day on such a busy street like that.

        I kept my eye on where they went and circled the block looking for a cop. There usually are some along 18th, but this day no one was around. 911 didn’t seem appropriate, though I’ve since learned that you do in fact call 911 for property crimes in progress. I circled a few times and kept tabs on the thieves but eventually gave up when I couldn’t find a cop. I felt really bad that I wasn’t able to recover the stuff for the owner but I didn’t know what else to do.

        • Anonymous

          My colleague had his car broken into while it was sitting in his driveway in a suburban cul-de-sac in Anne Arundel County. Really, tourists should be taking these same precautions at home– crime can happen anywhere.

  • photodork

    You must be new here.

    • Anonymous


      Honestly, I don’t even notice things like this anymore.

  • Pokerface

    I always warn people who look clueless. Over the past few weekends, cars on my street had there passenger windows knocked out in broad daylight. Belmont/15th. Both cars were relatively empty inside except for something dumb left on the front street.

    My coworkers always remark about how clean I keep my car inside, I remind them I live in a city where your window will get smashed in for a half bottle of Diet Coke.

  • Anonymous

    In this situation, I’d look at the license plates. If they’re from a state to which you are favorably inclined, do a good deed. If not, let the wolves have at ’em, especially if it coincides with something like a Glenn Beck rally or CPAC …

    (But seriously, help them out. As annoying as they are on Metro escalators and Potbelly lines at lunch, I think we have an interest in and obligation to make a tourist’s visit to the nation’s capital a pleasant one. Their dollars create jobs, and we should want people to feel some investment in and goodwill toward the people who live here full-time. Nothing to turn you south on DC like getting your car broken into, particularly if an ounce of prevention will be worth a pound of cure.)

    • Anonymous

      “Nothing to turn you south on DC like getting your car broken into, particularly if an ounce of prevention will be worth a pound of cure.”

      Actually this is why I was going to advise against approaching someone in a fairly safe neighborhood to warn them that their car will get broken into if they don’t remove their $25 GPS. I would mention it casually if they ask for directions or something, but no need to scare them by approaching them strictly for that reason. DC has a bad enough reputation as it is.

      • Anonymous

        Fair enough. It’s a judgment call based on time of day/location/presence of other people on the street/etc.. To be honest, I occasionally leave thief-bait visible in my car, just out of laziness, and I know better (actually have been ripped off before), so it’s not like it’s strictly the province of dumb tourists. I’d just say my rule of thumb is “if I even think of saying something, I go ahead and say it.” At worst, a complete stranger thinks you’re a bit of a busy-body. At best, you’ve saved a smashed window and they’ll be able to find their way out of town with warm thoughts of kind locals dancing in their heads.

  • ANON

    I’ve told someone that there car would be fine at 5PM and it got broken into. So, it’s never good to leave things in your car.

  • Ray

    as someone who lost a GPS to a window smash-in (inadvertently left it exposed on a friday night in dupont between the hours of 6 and 8pm), your recommendation will be well received. people (like me) tend to forget.

  • it doesn’t matter if they’re tourists or locals. If they’re mistaken enough to leave electronics or valuables visible in the car, do the right thing and say something to them. it may not be a matter of them not knowing better, maybe they’re just in a rush or simply forgot to put them away.

    I once had a cop tell me that savvy thieves these days wont even look for visible electronics, they’ll look for the plastic suction cup stem on the windshield, since it’s safe to assume there’s a GPS in the console or the glove compartment. Some thieves, apparently, are good enough to see the ring that is left behind on a windshield and make the same assumption. The cop recommended that if you have the GPS, attach it to the dash or somewhere inconspicuous so potential thieves don’t take notice.

    • Anonymous

      I guess you’re new here too? We’ve all known that for years. Good to see a cop watching out for people though!

    • m

      The suction-cup ring is REAL… thieves look for that, and will break your windows b/c they know it’s in there.

      Honestly, though, you would think that tourists coming to a city would have enough common sense to stow things out of plain site or keep them on their person. Even if it’s in a parking garage. And it’s also a bit of shame when you see locals being just as dumb.

      Sometimes people need a reminder, and sometimes you have to know when to stay out of it. Sometimes a hard lesson is better than hearing someone lecture you. We live and learn, right?

  • Andy(2)

    It would take 20 seconds to be nice and save someone hours of agony. Do it, simple as that.

  • MK

    People have been nice and patient to me when I traveled. Why not return the favor. It’s better than seeing some headline about a tourist being robbed, beat up or killed.

  • L

    My fave thing to prevent theft/window smashing is leaving the glove compartment open on purpose. “Nothing to see here. Move on, please!” I’ve had my car broken into twice for as little as a mix cd of music the stealers probably didn’t even want.

  • RJDynamite

    Use your street-smarts people. Leave absolutely nothing visible in your car. A thief can spot loose change and have a reason to break your window. Bottom line…don’t give them a reason.

  • Anonymous

    So… lecturing someone about leaving a poor helpless animal tied up outside is wrong but it’s rude not to lecture someone about not putting away their GPS after wrestling a stroller out of the car?

    • photodork



Subscribe to our mailing list