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Venice Picture Scam - women on stilts

While in Venice last week, there were 2 women dressed in long, colorful dresses, on stilts, in front of the water where you can see the islands, and the cruise ships dock. I know from this description you will think I did zero research, but our plan was mostly to just walk around Venice and ride a gondola, as we were only there for one full day, so please forgive these details :) Anyway, my husband saw these women and assumed they were street performers that at the most were looking for tips (he often travels to New Orleans for work). He took a picture of me with them in the background from about 20 feet away. Then the women beckoned us over and offered to be in the picture. Husband had a couple coins in his hand to give them as a tip. I was worried they might attempt to pickpocket, as the pose involved them holding my hands, so I was cautious of that, and not thinking of a possible set price for pictures. He snapped a couple pics, then they told us to switch. This whole exchange was under 60 seconds. My only thought then was that the picture with him in it might be funny. After this, he goes to offer them a coupe euros, and one of the women says it's 20 euros per picture. He immediately said he didn't know how much it was and that he didn't have the money. My thought then was that we were so stupid to not have asked beforehand. As I said, this all happened so quickly, and my husband got his wallet out thinking he could give them 20 and get out of there. Her demeanor had changed very fast, demanding "Italian money.. I make change". I know we sound very stupid in that we actually gave them the 40 euros, but in that moment I felt dumb that I had tried to research so many possible things that could go wrong on this trip, and fell into this trap. We both felt swindled and honestly almost sick walking away from the exchange. We had been so careful up to that point. A little ways down there were 2 more women dressed in the same way, so we asked them how much for a picture, and I swear the one said "two" so my husband replied that it was 20 with the other women, and then she said "yes, twenty" like we'd misheard her or it was due to a language barrier (like 2 means 20 in some language), but yeah we knew they just get however much they can out of anyone who falls for it. We didn't see any tourists with either set of women later in day when we walked by.

The other disappointing thing about this was that we had tried to plan out how much we needed from ATM to last the rest of trip before this day, as it was our last day touring. I know if sounds dramatic, but it did put a damper on the day. We did sidestep the petition and rose scams later in the day, on a better note.

We found out the next morning that a couple from our hotel forgot to validate bus tickets (that cost 3 euros each) and were charged 60 euros each! And another woman staying there had her purse stolen the same day, losing many cards, etc. So we felt bad for them but felt our luck could've been worse.

I just hope writing this out helps someone naive like we were to avoid these women. As some of my thoughts that day were "did I miss this on the Rick Steves forum?" follow-up thought "They are probably too smart to fall for this!" haha but hope if helps someone :)

Posted by
706 posts

Thank you for sharing this embarrassing adventure, most all the people on this forum found themselves scammed at some time during their travels, usually it happens so quickly that it's over before we realize it, don't let this keep you from traveling in the future, your just becoming a more savvy traveler!

Posted by
314 posts

Yeah. In NY it's the costumed characters in Times Square. The city had to invest in posters reminding everyone that the tip is voluntary. Here as well, whether it's street performers or living statues, the unwritten rule is you need to donate something if you stop to watch the show or take a picture. Best thing to do if you don't want to pay is to keep walking... they're just trying to hustle a living.

Posted by
7204 posts

Of all the beautiful things in Venice to photograph...yes, you chose poorly. I know you were embarrassed, but really you should have handed them your coins and walked away. Don't let embarrassment make your decisions for you.

Posted by
277 posts

Thanks for helping others to learn from your mistake. I have stopped to look at performers and even taken their picture from afar, but so far I have avoided having to pay for them. I hope you will continue to travel and not let this tarnish your European adventures.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for the kind responses. We had a really great trip overall. And we'll of course have to frame these expensive picture mementos ;)

Looking at the picture just now, as I hadn't seen it since the day it happened, the women didn't tower over me like it'd seemed (I'm 5'7") so it's probably more likely they were standing on boxes or something and not stilts like I'd thought. The dresses covered their feet. Probably not the most important detail, but thought I'd clarify.

Posted by
11613 posts

As previously noted, many of us have fallen for something once (or more). This sounds like a variation on the photo-op-with-gladiators in Roma.

Opposite issue:

What bothers me is people who take closeup photos or videos of street musicians and do NOT drop a coin or two in the instrument case.

Posted by
6243 posts

I agree that most of us have fallen for one scam or another at least once in our lives so nobody should be faulting you. I have always asked before taking any close-up, identifiable photos of people on my travels, or I have (as Zoe suggested) dropped a few coins in their box if I took photos of street musicians or entertainers - that's only fair. On the other hand, in your situation, after taking the photo and offering them some coins as you did, I would just walk away. Unless they were pointing a gun at me or had thugs standing guard for them, I would just walk away when they tried to make me pay them that much. After all you had the photo in your camera, there really wasn't much they could do and you did offer them some compensation. In a situation where you give your camera to an accomplice to take your picture with these posers and they refuse to give it back without a payment, then you're stuck. If there's no sign stating the price of taking a photo or there's no agreement before hand about how much, then you should have no qualms about walking away after paying what you felt appropriate. All in all, a lesson well leaned, if a bit expensive.

Posted by
1171 posts

Thank you for the warning. It helps us use more caution than we would have otherwise.

Posted by
440 posts

You should of just ran away imagine the comedy value of them chasing you on stilts. Unfortunately some people are there to exploit tourists and even locals such as those that have young children and they want a picture with these performers. Has anybody seen the one with the grown women dressed like a baby in a pram and making goo ga noises, what is that about please

Posted by
31218 posts

Acacia,

They definitely sound like scammers trying to squeeze as much as possible out of unsuspecting tourists. If there was a charge for the photos, they should have indicated that up front. In the same situation I think I would have just deleted the pictures in front of them, and then told them to "take a hike" (that's the polite version, I probably would have used other wording). After all, what are they going to do - call the police and report you for non payment for non-existent pictures? I refuse to be intimidated by scammers!