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Gypsies (sometimes spelled Gipsies, singular Gypsy) are communities of semi-nomadic peoples in mostly Europe and North America, where they generally live insular and sometimes itinerant lifestyles separate from their surrounding societies. They do have similar religions as the locals (with some older influences), and have widespread if sometimes shallow contacts with them.

The term Gypsy is mostly used by non-Gypsies, and encompasses the perceptions that non-Gypsies have of them. The term describes a large, loosely bound population with many dialects, who traditionally have held a low status.


Throughout Europe, local names for Gypsies incorporate some version of the root "Gitan", like Gitano in Spain. Others have named them after Egyptians (Gypsies), Bohemians, and Romans, but their ancestry is believed to trace back to northern India after the first Muslim invasion. Many still have a somewhat Indian appearance. Some Europeans later joined them and adopted their ways.[1] They kept no written records, and their own names for themselves have varied historically. In recent decades, the term Romani people or Roma has become preferred in the media and government when discussing them, and other terms are now considered politically incorrect, much like how terms such as Negro and Colored for black people, and Eskimo for Alaska Natives and Inuit people, have similarly fallen into disfavor.


Gypsies were already nomadic by the 14th century when they first appeared in Europe and spread through the continent. From the beginning, they traveled between communities and survived by doing seasonal and short-term work, in addition to the fortune-telling and musical performances for which they are better known.

Unable to integrate in the long-established societies they migrated across, they developed a strong group identity, which made integration even harder. To survive, Gypsies often resorted to begging and theft, and promoted such survival skills in their culture. Hence they were often enslaved, expelled en masse, or killed. In most countries a sometimes uneasy equilibrium evolved between the locals and the Gypsies. This broke down most notably during the Holocaust, during which over 300,000 Gypsies died in concentration camps.


Over the centuries, Gypsies have led what non-Gypsies consider a marginal lifestyle of seeming poverty, but freedom from obligations. However their culture is bound by sometimes strict honor codes, and family networks extending across countries.

Gypsies may feel less allegiance to the country they presently inhabit than to their own communities. In popular culture they were depicted as easy to get along with, but untrustworthy to outsiders. They have their own justice system using tribunals, and prefer not to rely on local governments.[2]

They learned to adapt to local opportunities in ways that require quick social skills instead of higher education. Gypsy trades included sales of metal-works and knick-knacks, horse trading, home and car repairs, gambling, and used goods. Famous Gypsies include many skilled musicians and performers.

Criminality perception

In Europe, Gypsies have acquired a bad reputation for alleged involvement in petty criminality on a massive scale, particularly in large cities.[3] They may be treated with contempt, hatred, or fear; though expressing these opinions can lead to fines and criminal prosecution by the justice system.[4] It can also be illegal for the police to investigate Gypsies proactively as a group, instead of as individual suspects after a crime has been reported.[5][6]

Gypsy street crimes include forced begging, confidence tricks, and pickpocketing, which can involve elaborate ruses and misdirection. Gangs are said to operate near train stations, in busy shopping districts, and anywhere tourists tend to congregate. Children are trained to participate in these operations from an early age.[7][8] The crimes they commit are no more violent than necessary to acquire the victim's possessions, with stealth and cunning being highly praised. Ideally, the victim wouldn't realize they had been robbed until much later, and be unaware Gypsies had committed the crime, since violent assaults by Gypsies or even serious accidents may cause a local backlash.[9]

There is some confusion between Gypsies and Irish Travellers, who sometimes form a related culture. Gypsies have loose associations with other marginal groups like refugees, homeless people, and illegal immigrants. However, they may have extended turf wars and outright battles with other organized gangs operating in the same areas.[10]

See also


  1. The Guardian, Filip Borev, Oct 25, 2013, article mentions intermarriage.
  2. ScienceNordic, "Romani distrust of government lives on", Jul 11 2015.
  3. Paris Journey, article retrieved Jan 12 2017.
  4. Daily Mail, Sep 5 2014.
  5. Niklas Orrenius in Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Sep 23 2013.
  6. Alexia Campbell, Sun Sentinel. "Police focus on South Florida 'gypsy' crimes sparks criticism from Roma advocates", Jul 3 2011.
  7. BBC, Sam Bagnall, This World: How Gypsy gangs use child thieves, Sep 2 2009.
  8. Corporate Travel safety blog, Child Pickpockets in Europe – A Real Life Charles Dickens Story, Jan 24 2011.
  9. The Telegraph, Apr 30 2008.
  10. "Muslim and Gypsy Gangs Battle For Supremacy on Streets of Europe". Oliver JJ Lane, Aug 16 2015.