Paris is not only elegant architecture, museums, handsome men and cafe crèmes. There are also the realistic problems that occur in most large cities.
I debated about posting on the subject of crime, because I don’t want to deter anyone from visiting this wonderful city.
But the wise maxim,“forearmed is forewarned,” is important to remember.
France is a relatively safe country. Most crimes are non-violent. Three different forces maintain public safety and security: municipal police, national police, and the military gendarmerie. After three weeks in Paris, we have seen three of the most common crimes encountered by tourists and one response to a demonstration.
We are staying in an apartment three blocks from the Mosque. Police were on alert in Paris after protests planned by some Muslim groups were banned.This photo is of an officer in SWAT type gear heading to a demonstration held against the publishing of a distasteful cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. We wished him safety and non-violence. Thankfully it was a peaceful protest.
The majority of crimes directed against foreign visitors involve pick pocketing, bicycle theft, and other forms of theft with minimal violence. Violent crime is relatively uncommon in the city center.
Being the chingonas that we are we also believe in using wisdom. So in that vein, I’m passing on these tips to you.
On day two, we observed the ring scheme. While we crossed the Pont Neuf we observed a young woman pick up a ring from the ground and present it to a passing couple. The ruse is to ask if you dropped it, “… is it yours? It’s so beautiful, must be expensive, I have no need for this, but maybe you’d like it, I’ll give it to you for ten euro…”
When my friend pointed out the scene to us, the young woman’s friend (a much older man selling iced bottles of water a few feet away) glared at my friend so intently I immediately thought of the words, ‘if looks could kill.’
A young man tried the ring scheme on us a week later as we crossed the Jardin de Tulieres enroute to Musée D’Orsay. We kept walking and waved him away. “It’s a nice ring, baby,” he said, to which we had to laugh. I haven’t been called ‘baby,’ for years.
Another ploy involves several young women asking you to sign a petition or take a survey while waving a clipboard and pen in your face. This occurred in Montmartre and at Metro exits near the Opera. Keep your purse close and keep walking.
Pickpockets are by far the most significant problem. We heard about pickpockets on crowded Metros and took precautions: zip the purse, keep it in front of you with the strap across your chest.While in the Musee D’ Orsay a pickpocket warning was broadcast over the PA system in four languages.
Yesterday we returned from Bon Marché department store (with our raincoats, umbrellas, and purses) and just made it into the last metro car before the doors shut. Three young girls somehow jumped on after us, bumping into my friend, who entered the door after me. It was so crowded we all stood, along with four other people in the small space. It was a prime environment for the ‘sandwich’ technique: the thief bumps into you, lifts your wallet or other valuable item, and masks the physical contact with expected benign body contact (like in a crowded area).
Within a few seconds, a tall handsome man standing next to my friend (the guy looked like Daniel Craig) yelled at the girls, they yelled back. I heard the word ‘pickpocket,’ and then an argument ensued. The smallest girl, maybe 15 and about 4’10 85 lbs, turned into a fighting Chihuahua, snarling at the man and puffing out her chest like she was a Golden Gloves flyweight. One of the taller, slightly older girl followed suit.
A few people backed away into the aisles of the car, including this chingona (I know when to back away even if I did grow up in the barrio). My poor friend was stuck on the other side of the arguing group. The man stepped forward, I heard the words ‘pickpocket’ again, and he gestured at my friend, more yelling and wild gesturing from the girls. The metro car jerked to a stop, the man reached over the girls and hit the green button. The doors slid open and he yelled at them to get out, they refused and he pushed all of them out the door.
All three of them gave him the finger, cursed him and continued screaming as the metro car pulled away. One jumped at the window. Mr. Daniel Craig calmly took out his Blackberry and continued reading.
When we departed, at the next stop, we talked about what had just happened and remembered that there was no one behind us when we entered the car. We hadn’t heard footsteps behind us. The girls must have been waiting in the small alcove. But thanks to Mr. Daniel Craig and the precautions we took with our purses, we were not victims.
Stay vigilant in the Metro and commuter trains, especially at night, and do not display any electronic devices or wallets. Carry only essential items. Avoid carrying high-value jewelry and large amounts of cash. Valuables should be kept out of sight and in places difficult for thieves to reach, such as internal coat pockets or in pouches hung around the neck or inside clothes. Shoulder bags and wallets in hip pockets are an invitation to a thief. In addition to purses and wallets, smart phones and cameras are particular targets. Keep backpacks in front of your chest.
Crowded elevators and escalators at tourist sites and crowded metro cars should raise awareness levels. When possible, take a seat or stand against a wall to deter pickpockets and try to maintain a 360-degree awareness of the surrounding area.
While on foot, remain aware of your surroundings at all times and keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street. Many tourists have had purses or bags stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table while in restaurants and nightclubs/bars.
Keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement.
The Paris Police Prefecture publishes a pamphlet entitled “Paris in Complete Safety” that provides practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors. It can be downloaded here.
Please don’t get the wrong impression, we are having a fantastic time here in Paris and have met many, many more pleasant, helpful, and courteous French people than not. Like in most cities in the USA, you have to practice safety and be alert. Remember these few tips and enjoy any trip abroad. Au Revoir.