Kleptomaniacs or Thieves? What To Call the Family Caught Stealing

On a hot summer evening, not so long ago, I was at a friend’s place, drinking beer. The glass I was drinking was tall and made of thick glass. Everything about it seemed top quality.

As we were sitting on a mattress (he still didn’t have a bed), I teased him. “Fancy, eh... beer glass and all.. Where did you buy it from?”

“Oh, this... I stole it from a bar”

He then took me to the kitchen and exhibited five more glasses, proudly announcing the names of the bars he had nicked each from.“I got a whole set now”, he gleaned. We had a hearty laugh.

But when I saw the video of an Indian family caught stealing from a resort in Bali which had gone viral, it didn’t leave me amused. Instead of a funny anecdote, I could now view the scene in its entirety. I could see the angered hotel staff, I could see the clever way in which the stuff was hidden, in suitcases and towels.

This time, I felt bewildered, on behalf of the hotel staff.

Why do people do it?

What is it that drives the well-to-do to temporarily let go off their inhibitions, and steal from hotels and bars?

Is it a childish kick, or opportunistic kleptomania? And what about the family that got caught — are they thieves or opportunists?

Thieves or Opportunists?

Psychologist Kamna Chhibber rejects both labels. “They are a family which made absolutely the wrong moral judgment and got caught, ” she says.

But psychiatrist Madhumati Singh doesn’t rule out the possibility of the family’s behavior being a behavioral disorder, fueled by “the thrill out of doing something wrong.”

Dr. Kamna, however, cautions, that this behavior only escalates with time.

“Once you have been able to pick a small thing (at a restaurant or bar) and no one stopped you, maybe someone noticed or not, but in my mind, I made the assumption that no one got to know and no one will be able to figure it out. So I go...let me try this again”

But are hotels really *that* unaware of what is being nicked from their guarded premises?

More often than not, they know, but are simply trained to look the other way. In fact, many hotels have a policy in place of what to ‘ignore’ and ‘what to highlight’.

But when confronted with an extreme case, as in the case of the Bali hotel, the hotel staff just has to intervene.

"You’ve got to be in la la land to believe that the hotel will not come after you!" - NiveditaHolidays and Entitlement

Despite the risks, there’s something about holidays that emboldens our risk taking abilities.

We get into behaviors not characteristic of us, simply because there’s the cloak of anonymity and we are metaphorically miles away from our own country.

“It does embolden us, the inhibitions go away,” says Nivedita. She adds that even tourist-y entitlement could be a reason for our brash behavior in another country.

"Tourists often have this entitled behavior - irrespective of class, caste or the background. There’s also this feeling: that if I have paid for the hotel, I think I have the right to these things." - Nivedita

Perhaps that’s why, the family thought it right to steal hangers, soap dispensers, and whatnot.

One thing is clear from the Bali incident though - that it is not that you aren’t able to afford those things yourself. It’s just that taking what’s not yours gives you a high.

But as with all other highs, this one too is temporary. The moment you are caught, it’s over. Then, the defence mechanism comes into play.

"The defence mechanism has different stages: First, there’s the denial mode. When you deny, you think you can get away with it. Then there’s anger... you are feeling violated that someone is going through your bag, and then you become the aggrieved party. As we know, offense is the best form of defence! Then when there’s still no change, you look for ways in which you can protect yourself, by apologising, touching the feet or by offering to pay" - Nivedita, psychotherapist

As the family members in the Bali incident were alternating between these stages to get them out of the mess, one of the family members offered to pay their way out of the transgression. But a hotel staff categorically rejected the offer. His words were, “It’s not about money, it’s about respect”.

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