Wednesday, August 28


Paris, Je T'aime !Paris is a relatively safe city, as cities go, and recently, I was having a discussion with someone about places to be wary about traveling to and was told that the only place in the world that they felt unsafe was Dallas, my hometown! I, on the other hand, feel perfectly safe here in my own backyard, but anything can happen anywhere in the world and petty crime sometimes occurs in places where you least expect it, like museums, hotel lobbies, restaurants and public transportation. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Other times, it’s a lapse of common sense and judgement on our parts. For example, if you wear fancy jewels or tote a pricey handbag on the métro, there is probably someone riding with you that loves your gold Rolex as much as you do. On public transit, it’s especially easy to “grab and go” things because once the doors shut and the train pulls away, the damage is done. They're French my friends, not stupid - and yes there is a difference. If you advertise your wares, they are going to take you up on your offer. If that does happen to you, notify the driver at the next station; sometimes they will call security for you and alert others on the train to be careful. In cases where your wallet is stolen, thieves will sometimes remove the cash right away and toss everything else in the trash, or even on the ground, as it’s hard to prove that a wad of cash is stolen. So you might get lucky and get your wallet back. Wily pickpockets blend in well. It’s easy to categorize people by how they dress or look, or their nationality, but pros know how to mix in. Some pose as young couples on their honeymoon, young women "tourists", looking lost as they "try" to read their maps - using the maps to cover up their hands as they rifled through people’s belonging, mother's with babies, even men with young children. 

Tourists often feel timid about raising a stink in public. But if you feel you are in a "situation", don’t be afraid to be pro-active; in spite of their reputation, Parisians are very helpful and they hate scams and petty thieves too, and will often come to your aid. However if you feel in danger, it’s best to give up your wallet or whatever, to avoid things escalating. If you are a victim of a crime, you can file a police complaint online, but it’s probably better to go to the police yourself, especially if you need a police report to file an insurance claim back home. The likelihood of you being held up by gunpoint is slim, but pickpockets - well that's a totally different story. We have been very fortunate, in all of our travels, not to have been victims of crime. Earlier this Summer, as we were traveling in Europe, we found the pickpockets and schemers to be working it hard in Paris. These are some of ways we were approached.
Lost & Found Ring
This is a common ruse in tourists areas, like around the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the bridges that cross the Seine as well as in places like the Place de l’Opéra and Madeleine. Someone walking in front of you will "find" a gold ring on the ground and pick it up, with a look of surprise. They will show it to you, ask if it’s yours, then after marveling at what a valuable piece of jewelry they found, they will offer to let you buy it from them for a great price. The ring is cheap brass – just walk away. OR, they will ask you, as they point to a ring on the ground, "Did you lose your wedding ring?" As you bend over intrigued, they are trying to lift your purse or wallet.

Crowded métros and buses are places to be alert. We had a few rides where we were packed in tight. I made sure my purse was in front of me with my hand resting on top, which is usually how I walk around while traveling. Be careful of people following you through the turnstiles. It’s a popular way for people to avoid paying the fare. But also, for some, as they push through, squeezing in behind you, they are lifting your wallet. If you see someone getting ready to lunge behind you,  stop, pretend that you forgot something, and stand there for a moment. They will quickly move on to someone else. You’ll notice that Parisian speak softly on public transit. Speaking loudly quickly identifies you as someone who is not a local and may be in unfamiliar territory. Cameras hanging from your neck easily mark you as someone with something to lose. If the métro is packed when it shows up and you have valuables, you might want to wait for the next one. No need to be paranoid, just be extra aware and pay close attention to what's happening around you. Even though Paris public transit is fairly safe at night, if you are in an unfamiliar neighborhood and there aren’t a lot of people around, you might want to ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

Recently the Louvre security guards went on strike because there were so many pickpockets and petty thieves patrolling the museum - and because children get in free, many of those are kids. Everyone is looking at art and not concentrating on their personal belonging. So be especially aware while at the Louvre and if you someone is standing too close to you, move away. If shopping in the gift shop or buying a snack, be aware when you remove your wallet and put it away.

Sadly, in today's world, if you are travelling abroad and someone asks you "Do you speak English", they are wanting you to read their papers, while another might be checking out your pockets, purse or backpack. In some instances, there are teams of young girls and boys with clipboards, clamoring for you to sign something or donate money. Often they are for organizations that claim to assist the blind or deaf. As the City of Paris advises, "Although they may seem to be acting on behalf of reputed associations and foundations, they are not. Their only aim is to get money from you, which will never be transferred to these organizations but instead used to fund illegal organization and underground networks." While we were in Paris we were hit HARD with this scam, 10 to 15 times a day. They were relentless. After our first day of that, we began pretending not to speak English. When asked we just put up our hand and kept on walking with no trouble.

Thieves scope out some ATM machines and have lightning-fast fingers. So once you enter your code, they will rush by, shove you aside, and hit the buttons for the highest amount of cash and run off with it. The way to avoid this is to use ATMs that are located inside banks whenever possible, during business hours. Or go with a friend and have them stand near you while you get cash out.

Open Purses
In restaurants, do not leave purses on the floor, hanging from the back of your chair, or on the seat next to you. One ruse is that a customer will come in, without a reservation, and slide in next to you. They’ll scope out the menu, then suddenly decide they’re not interested in eating there and leave - taking your wallet with them. Another ruse they use is to “stumble” when walking by a table, using that as a chance to rifle through a purse left on the floor. They brush themselves off, assuring you they are "Okay" – and keep on walking. Unfortunately, on occasion they will take a wallet or an entire purse. I ALWAYS keep my purse strap over my head and across my chest while I rest my hand on top. I don't have to worry or even think about my purse because I'm touching it all of the time.

The RER train from the airport is fast and cheap. It’s also full of jet-lagged people, bleary from a long flight. If you take the RER  train from the airport, do not leave your luggage next to the door; thieves are brazen enough to reach in just as the doors are closing and grab a suitcase. 

I know it may sound tiring and not worth the headache of traveling to new places, but don't stay home because there is evil in the world. Be vigilant and mindful of your surroundings and you will be successful in your travels. Take your children and teach them NOT to be afraid of the'll be glad ya did!


Photo Source: Flickeriver

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