Paris the city of love, the city of romance. Wandering the streets of this city is literally like walking through a historical museum. I had always wanted to see the capital of France, so taking a train south after our week in the Netherlands worked perfectly. Of all the places we had travelled thus far, Paris was by far the most unforgiving. All it takes is one unpleasant event to ruin a city for you. In our case we had a few bad encounters with some of the shady characters of Paris leaving us on edge for the rest of our vacation, never wanting to fully let our guard down.
1. Pickpocketing Gypsies:
People tell you to beware, posted signs tell you to watch out for pickpockets, but what they don’t tell you is these bandits are 13 year old girls. Astounding isn’t it, the antics of the youth. We’ve all heard about gypsies, sly thieves in baggy colourful clothes. It pains me to stereotype but there really is no other way to describe these girls, and Paris is full of them.
Joey and my first encounter with these gypsies happened at the North Paris Train Station not even five minutes after we disembarked. Somehow a small group of five girls were on us like magnets. Our first mistake was probably the big Canadian flag we had plastered across the shoulder of our bag labelling us as tourists, or maybe it was the tourist map we had in hand. For all intensive purposes, we could have had “tourist” plastered across our forehead, the lions had found their prey. Joey had two bags, one on his back and one strapped to his front. They approached him first but decided I was a better target. I had my own big bag on my back and purse hanging off my shoulder. Because we were in transition from Belgium to France I had all our passports and some of our Euro’s stashed in it.
Even after our encounter I am still a bit unfamiliar with their predation tactics, these young girls and sometimes boys, seem to travel in herds of 4-5 ambushing lone and unsuspecting backpackers with donation forms. From distant observations, it seems that these petty criminals report back to a main alpha gypsy, who is oftentimes a dominant and older female, likely bringing her their stolen loot. Popular stake out spots for these villains include; outside the incoming train stations and near all the popular tourist attractions (i.e. Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower… you get the idea).
If you’re a visitor to Paris make sure you keep your tour maps close, and your purses closer.
2. Tall African Men Making Friendship Bracelets:
“Hakuna Matata!” According to the Lion King this phrase is suppose to mean no worries, however if you are a visitor to Paris and you hear that sentence you should be worried. Much the same as the gypsies, found around popular tourist attractions, you can also run into con artist black men looking to make an easy dollar. “Hakuna Matata” is their opening line as they befriend tourists with the well known catch phrase from the Lion King.
The Basilique Sacré Cœur was were we had our first encounter with the group of African Men. It was hard to avoid them as they position themselves strategically so that unsuspecting tourists have no choice but to walk by them in order to get to the landmarks. When we were conned, one of the men casually started making conversation. That’s how they sucker you in, by being personable. Before we knew it he had wrapped a bracelet around our wrists saying it was a gift from my country to you, “Hakuna Matata!” The catch is, even though he didn’t ask, after he ties the bracelet to your wrist, he will expect payment and harass an follow you with his friends until you give him money. It is very intimidating and I was scared they would become physically violent when we refused to pay. We ended up chucking a Euro at them and walking away as fast as we could into the Basilique.
The moral of this story is don’t stop in Paris for people who want to talk on the street, most are just looking to pull a fast one on you. As rude as it sounds, the best way to avoid trouble is to ignore and keep walking.
3. Locals that Pretend they don’t Speak English:
The year is 2014, and English is the most important language for international communication. Let’s be honest, when someone in a first world country, like France, pretends they can speak even a little English I have my suspicions. Having grown up in Europe, Joey has told me on numerous occasions that most country in the European Union require English to be learned in elementary and high school.
The French are very proud people. I say this as a bilingual Canadian having French descendants on my dad’s side of the family. Having traveled to Quebec many times throughout my life I was no stranger to having people refuse to communicate with me in English, so it wasn’t surprising to see it overseas as well.
We had been in Paris for only half a week and I had some postcards to send home to Canada. All I wanted was a few international stamps. Even though I can speak French, it has been years since I’ve used it and given that I was really rusty, I tried when possible in Paris to use English. I approached the postage desk and asked very kindly if the lady spoke English and could help me. “No” was her scowl faced answer and she continued going about her business ignoring me. I didn’t really want to do this, but I was left with no choice. In seemingly perfect French I told her I wanted to send the postcards internationally and would like the appropriate stamp please. She looked up from her work the shock plainly visible on her face. Then as if to spite me, she responded to my request in pretty fluent English. I bought the stamps, sent my postcards and thanked her, but what I really wanted to say was you can take the stamps and shove them where the sun don’t shine. I left the post office with a storm cloud over my head.
When it comes to their language France is a split country. There are some residents that understand English is important for business, travelling and foreign careers, were as others simply believe that the primary focus should be expanding French everywhere. This leaves very little grey area for visitors. I’m not quite sure which side of the ongoing language feud this post office lady was on, but I can tell you if the post office wasn’t so hard to find, I would have marched right out of there and gotten my stamps somewhere else. People like this baffle me.
All in all, Paris is not for everyone and I’m sure under different circumstances, Joey and I may feel a little differently about this beautiful city. It is unfortunate that a few bad apples, made the city’s people seem so unfriendly.
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