After all this waxing rhapsodic about Paris, I suppose it is only fair to give time to the dark side. Of course there is. Like any city that has stood for so long and contains so many people, it has a rich, deep and very dark side.
Fortunately, as visitors we don’t have to deal with it on a long term basis. Being aware of it, however, is always a good thing.
Common sense should keep you away from the more obvious places, like, say, the docks of Marseille on a rainy night. Organized crime takes many forms, however, and the brass knuckle, leather jacket wearing giants are the least of your worries.
Much more common are a variety of street scams employed by relatively harmless looking women and children who are, in all likelihood, family members of above noted leather jacketed cliches. You are probably aware of some deceptions but these folk are nothing if not creative: new ploys are worked in to the rotation all the time.
When in Paris or Rome or just about any major European centre, if someone of short stature approaches you with a letter from their mother/sister/aunt/friend which they cannot read for one reason or another, just walk away. Should an old woman approach with a flower in one hand, the other held out for a donation, walk away. Don’t let her come close or you will lose. Money, jewelry, teeth, shoes…you name it, she will have it tucked under her tattered shawl before you realize you’re standing there in your oh-be-joyfuls and a smile.
A small child approaches you smiling? Maybe there are a few others with her? Run. Trust me, just stay as far away from the wee innocent urchins as you can if you wish to retain happy memories of where-ever you are standing.
The most recent scam is to walk by and appear to pick up a gold wedding ring from just near your feet. “Oh madam….look”
It isn’t real gold. It isn’t some poor schlub’s wedding ring and she is not an innocent but concerned person. She will try to get you to take it because she does not have family here, she is not married, she does not have a passport so cannot take it to a pawn shop…oddly enough, she hasn’t eaten for days and could you help her buy a sandwich…what the hell? I could have sworn I had jeans on when I left the hotel but at least I have this valuable gold ring…oh, look, the gold is still wet…
I was approached twice yesterday by different good hearted souls who just happened to find gold rings at my feet. Bugger off, s’il vous plait.
Life in a big city makes you very hard very quickly.
So, a few simple survival tips are in order. Do not carry a purse. If you have a small back pack, make sure you can carry it comfortably, inconspicuously in front of you, not on your back.
If you are carrying identification, make sure it isn’t your passport. That belongs back at the hotel either in the room safe or at the front desk, if they provide security service.
Cash is preferable to carrying a credit credit card. Only carry the amount of cash you’re willing to lose in a day. When you want to make some gift purchases or splurge on a big meal, only carry one credit card.
Most importantly keep your metro tickets in a very safe place so, no matter what happens, you can get back to the hotel without a long, long walk.
Finally, don’t dress like a tourist. Would you wear surfer shorts, a loud shirt, flip flops and a big straw hat at home? Okay, maybe you would but you’d look like a tourist there too. Dress comfortably but not conspicuously.
Am I saying these steps will guarantee a safe and hassle-free time? Sure, dream on Sparky. It may help but being smart and aware is still all up to you.
No matter what, roll with it.