The men are mostly located in Duomo Square (Piazza del Duomo). They try to tie something to tourists' wrists and ask for money. I have fallen out with them many times. Also my friends who visit Milan, encounter the same issue.

For the Milan case, what is the best solution to get rid of these men? Is it likely to see any police officer around and do police speak English?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Sep 21, 2017 at 21:56
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    Possible duplicate of What's the deal with the "string people" in central Paris?
    – Michael
    Sep 25, 2017 at 13:34
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    Voted to leave open, because in my opinion assuming that an answer about customs in country A also applies to country B is asking for troubles. Even though the answer is according to me the same in both case, I don't consider the question to be duplicate. Oct 1, 2017 at 10:01

6 Answers 6


Answer by a local here.

I work 200 meters from Duomo of Milan, so I find them at the underground exit every morning.

First and foremost, remember that most of the people doing this are pushed by a local "mafia" system. Therefore a good amount (from 70 to 80%) of their pay is just thrown away, and they live in a deplorable condition, so if you don't want to give them money, please be gentle anyway.

If you don't want to give money to them, you can put your hands in pockets and go away ignoring them (putting hands in pockets is the main important thing here, as I said before, that I experience this every day). Just don't in any moment stop to give them an answer, or anything, you'll be "caught" in their chats, and you will no longer get rid of them. Saying GRAZIE, or NO doesn't matter if they have chosen you as their target, so just walk away as if you had something important to do (in Milan walking fast everywhere is pretty standard, you won't be seen as a crazy).

In Duomo there are many police, since the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, so the police sees these men and know they are there, but they don't do anything except if someone goes to them and reports a problem, but they are anyway reluctant to catch them, because they are just the "last man" behind a criminal organization and they are basically just trying to survive.

The last sentence, this is mainly a personal one, if you don't want to give money to them, and you'll visit Milan in winter/autumn , and you are "caught", offer them to buy a coffee or a cappuccino (from 0.8 to 1.2 € in the nearby McDonalds 50 meters away) and you will be their "savior" for all the day; furthermore, you are sure what you'll give them is basically for them, and not for a criminal organization behind.

Enjoy your visit in Milan!

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    Coffee is a good advice as a "last exit".
    – user63373
    Sep 20, 2017 at 8:30
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    I often do this in the UK with beggars, offer them a sandwich or something instead of money. Sep 20, 2017 at 8:41
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    @mickburkejnr: In Israel we have few beggars, but whenever I do encounter one I offer him the apple that I usually have in my bag. Recently, though, the beggar's smile was enough for me to understand that he cannot chew an apple (almost no teeth)!
    – dotancohen
    Sep 20, 2017 at 10:14
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    @dotancohen Bananas would be an alternative :)
    – JAD
    Sep 21, 2017 at 6:37
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    @AnoE it can work, but the last time I did that (in Brussels) the guy pestered me for more :( Sep 21, 2017 at 17:16

You have to be assertive, just say NO! (or BASTA! or any other local equivalent ) loud and direct. That is how most locals deal with them.

Don't interact with them, don't engage; turn/move away.

If you feel threatened, walk away towards a store, shop or other places that look to be official (museum entrance, ...) and if you see a police, walk towards them.

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    I'd add: do not give them your arm, and if they put the string on your shoulder, do not give it back to them: hands in your pockets and tell them to take it back then keep walking (you shouldn't have stopped in the first place). Pay attention which store you walk towards as there is a catholic bookshop behind the church with religious book hawkers of the same kind in front lol
    – Formagella
    Sep 19, 2017 at 22:27
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    A tactic I've used is a quick "no" gesture with the hand while not saying anything. This is because I've also been approached while sitting down in public places and find by saying "no thank you" you give away your language and probably country of origin which they try to use to engage you. If you don't give away your language they may as well be talking to a brick wall
    – User1
    Sep 20, 2017 at 16:21

Ignore them. Don't engage in conversation. A polite but firm NO should suffice whilst walking away assertively.

Unfortunately these things are very common in large cities in mainland Europe.

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    Ignore seems to work everywhere. India, Thailand, Italy. I've found it creates the least friction and always works well. It helps if you don't make eye contact. If someone is very aggressive and trying to put something on you preemptively avoiding the space around them is sometimes necessary (but ignore by itself usually does the trick).
    – Dan S
    Sep 21, 2017 at 13:05

If possible, behave as if you are not a tourist; their main goal is to attract tourists because they know locals won't fall for their tricks. When they approach you, simply say: "No, grazie!" (pronounced as: ˈɡrat.tsje) - if they insist, repeat once more - maybe in a bit louder tone, while still not offensive :) - and they should go away at that point!

Furthermore, they generally try to trick you by claiming those bracelets are for free, and forcefully put one on your wrist (sometimes they throw one to you as if they don't care it falls to the ground to make you believe it's for free) - under no circumstances accept (fall for) it, because the moment you do, they'll start asking (begging) you to pay for it!

Regarding your second question, there are always some police guards in Duomo. Italian policemen mostly don't have a strong knowledge of English, but the ones in Duomo should be able to handle a simple conversation. Although, in this specific case that won't be necessary (imo).

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    I don't think that picking anything up would constitute a sales contract, but these guys would get a lot more insistent anyway.
    – o.m.
    Sep 19, 2017 at 17:56
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    @o.m. true; I think part of my answer was conveying a different meaning than what I intended. I updated that part to prevent confusions :)
    – hatef
    Sep 19, 2017 at 18:55
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    @o.m. Even if it would, which I don't believe, although IANAL, they would need a regular license to sell ANYTHING in Italy, so they couldn't enforce the contract unless they had such a license (which I strongly doubt they have). Sep 19, 2017 at 18:57
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    @o.m. the problem is not some legality about picking it up per se, but they will grab your hand and tie it to your wrist if the string gets anywhere close to your hand. They have no legal recourse anyway, they're illegal immigrants doing an illegal job without permission.
    – Formagella
    Sep 19, 2017 at 22:30

The solution is having the right attitude. See, they will try to exploit your weakness. In this case, being polite is a weakness. Don't be afraid of looking rude.

Engaging in a conversation is a mistake. They'll manage to have your sympathy, and from there it will be easy for them to ask you for money, because you'll feel sorry about not giving it. You have to prevent it. Don't start talking to them. Either you say nothing at all, or you just say "No". If they come towards you keeping their hand in a way that indicates they want to shake it with you, don't. Avoiding their eye contact also helps. If you really can't find a better solution, just turn around and walk away.

Letting them come close to you is also a mistake. Sometimes you have to stop, for example to check a map or a tourist guide, or to take some pictures (which are, by the way, all things that signal that you are a tourist and therefore a good target). Try to avoid doing it where they can see you. Find a quiet corner and do it there. Sure, if you have to take a picture you can't do it at another place, but if you need to consult a map you can. And remember that, in general, a solution is to walk away from them. So if you are not in a condition that lets you do it (because you've put your backpack on the ground and you have unfolded a giant map), you are vulnerable, and they know it. Try to avoid it as much as you can.

If they do get close to you, they will try to get hold of your arm. Don't be afraid of being rude by retracting it quickly and abruptly. Again, you can even turn around and start walking in another direction if you need to. And again, don't worry about it being rude. If they do catch your wrist, don't, don't, DON'T expect them to stop tying that thing and let go of your arm just because you tell them so (even assuming they understand you). They won't. They will keep smiling all the time, and showing you how nice and friendly they are, since they just want to give you a present. If you think refusing it is rude, you've lost.

They might try to play the racism card, that is, when you do something that looks rude (but, let me repeat it once again, it isn't!), they could start saying something like "Is it because I'm black?". If you feel like you have to explain that no, you are not a racist... Don't. It's just another trick to engage in a conversation, at the end of which you will feel like you have to apologize in a tangible way, that is, you have to give them some money.

If they try to force you to take something, because they manage to put it in your hand and then they won't take it back, tell them they have to take it back or you'll just leave it on the ground. If they don't understand you, or if they ignore you (which is almost certain), just put it on the ground and walk away without saying anything.

If you feel any of this is rude, you are going to fall prey to them. It isn't rude at all. You are just preventing them from using their tricks to make you feel guilty and get you to do what they want. Remember, they can't afford being polite and respecting your desire not to have it. They have to catch any opportunity they get. They have to exploit your weakness by putting you in a situation where you seemingly have no choice, and the only polite way out is paying them. If you let them do it, they'll win.

Anyway, don't push it too far. Don't insult them, there's no need to (and it's useless). And don't be violent, ever. Someone in the comments suggested to punch them (hopefully they were just being ironic). I think I don't need to tell you it's absolutely wrong. Violence is not a solution. Nor is it such an extreme situation that you need to turn to violence to survive. Besides, they tend to be in groups, and since they have a much harder life than you, they are probably much better than you at fighting. And if you start a fight it's even possible that they will call the police, and guess what? At that point the best scenario for you is that to settle everything down you'll have to give them some money.

And about the police: yes, in general there are policemen (either the so called "Polizia", or the "Carabinieri", the military police), and even some soldiers carrying submachine guns. The latter won't help: they are there to react to terrorism, and once I read that they have explicit orders to ignore common crimes. The police, on the other hand, might help - but in general you don't need them. I wouldn't disturb them for these things.

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    Yes, you're right about "They might try to play the racism card." I had someone do this scam to me with a CD instead of a string. I'm white; he was black. When I told him I didn't want the CD and kept walking, he gave me a dirty look and replied, "Oh, yeah, I see how it is." At which I stopped, gave him a direct look, and replied, "Yeah. That's how it is." That ended his attempt to engage with me. Sep 21, 2017 at 21:45

This is a world wide problem. Best to just ignore them & walk on by. They touch you were I live you can hit them. But if they don't touch you nothing you can do but ignore them. Some do try to tie or hand you a home made object. Do not touch it. They stick it in your pocket or such just keep walking. Do not pay for it. There loss.

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