Friday, April 12, 2013

Les Pick-pockets de Paris

You may have heard that the Louvre was closed on Wednesday due to a strike by the security staff.  The Louvre rarely closes except on Tuesdays, so when there is a fermeture exceptionelle it makes news.  The staff was protesting the increasingly aggressive mobs of pickpockets that are active in Paris, especially in the Louvre, where there are about 25,000 visitors each day and large crowds gather in front of the best-known masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.  In the Louvre now you will see signs all over that caution you to watch for les pick-pockets. The guards say they are threatened and even spit upon by the pickpockets.  Apparently the thieves also use their young children, who have free access to the Louvre. 

I always like to chat with the French, anywhere in France, to get a sense of what is going on in their world.  This trip I spent a lot of time talking with the man selling housewares and baskets at the Avenue President Wilson market.  Paris continues to change and evolve, I noted, and he agreed.  Safety seems to be on more and more people’s minds.  I told him how I had watched Raquel wander off to one of the side streets at the flea market, and instinctively I sensed the change in who was around her, and went after her and brought her back to the area I consider “safe.”  Absolument, the basket man said.  There have been muggings around Paris, including at the Canal St. Martin, in daylight.  And stay away from certain areas at night; Pigalle used to be ok at night, he said, but not now.  In the last few years iPhones have been the target of theft, from Parisians and tourists alike.  On some of the French blogs, Parisians are embarrassed to admit that they have been the victims of theft in places you normally wouldn’t worry about the security of your wallet or belongings.


And one trend you can count on in Paris is that thefts have gotten much more sophisticated.  You used to worry about someone pressing up against you, or a mob of small children surrounding you in Italy, for example.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but at the curb in front of the Musee d’Orsay a woman dropped a very large gold ring at Raquel’s feet.  “Is it your ring,” she asked?  Raquel wasn’t sure what to do I think, but I pulled her away and we kept walking.  The women was a gypsy, at the Museum, that was my first clue (and I’m sorry if that sounds like profiling).  And when a situation seems too bizarre, it usually is…..  I have come to find out that this ring story is one of the latest scams, though it’s a way to engage you and then ask for money or for you to buy the ring or any other number of strange requests.


I spent last night writing two very detailed lists for Rêve: general travel tips (such as what to do with your passport, credit cards, and currency exchange) and a second list with detailed ways to avoid being a victim of pickpockets or other theft.  Beyond being aware of your surroundings, there are some things that I strongly suggest you consider if you are traveling to France.


Because let’s face it, who wants to be in Paris and feeling like you are always looking over your shoulder?  Be prepared and be aware and follow a few simple rules and you’ll be fine.  And now I’m curious, have you seen or personally experienced theft in Paris? 


  1. Hi Andrea, no however in Italy(Rome and Florence region) several years ago, we were strongly warned about pickpockets and thieves. It seems wherever there are a lot of tourists it is a prime place to target.

    I am getting more and more excited about Reve!

    Art by Karena

  2. I have loved following along on your trip to Paris! I have been going to PAris every year for the last 30 years and I agree with you that things are changing there. From the Starbucks popping up on every corner to the amount of crime. The pick pockets and beggars out out in force all the time, it is almost like traveling in a third world country.

    As with travel anywhere you must be diligent and aware of your surroundings.

    Looking forward to all of your tips and photos!


  3. Andrea, Friends were in Paris last month standing in front of the Eiffel and a man dropped his wallet in front of them. The husband picked it up and the scammer accused him of stealing it. He threatened to call the police if they did not pay him $200. They knew they were being scammed and told him to go ahead and they would wait. After much yelling and threats the scammer left them alone. In Italy we were surrounded by gypsy children. They left once my husband yelled at them. It is sad that these children are being raised to be thieves.

    1. Sherry, I was hoping to hear from you as you are so well traveled. What a story!!! I have a friend who put gypsy Mom in a headlock in Rome until the kids returned purse contents....must be vigilante!

  4. So sad,it seems to be that way everywhere now!

  5. It's not profiling when it's true. I've traveled in eastern Europe a fair amount and it's always gypsies and their children who are trying to separate me from my money. I've seen a mother direct the vilest language imaginable at someone because they wouldn't "donate" money to her six year old daughter. I'm fairly impervious to it all; I just shrug, say "God bless you" and walk away.
    The other thing, I use a mesh wire purse that cannot be sliced open or the strap cut by a runner.

    1. Completely agree, Sandra, and I noted this trip that if you take a pic of the gypsy dogs and don't give "enough" they really give you a tongue-lashing, in something other than French, with lots of hand gestures.

  6. The last time I was in Paris was in 1995.(Sadly, eighteen years ago.) Our hotel was just a couple blocks from Sacré-Cœur at Montmartre. Not the best neighborhood. I have to admit that I was doing a lot of profiling especially having my 12 year old Chrislyn with me. I must say that instinct and profiling has probably saved many from such perpetrators.

    It makes me angry that the thieves have taken over the Louvre! We experienced the "excuse me, you dropped something" trick, not far from the Musee d' Orsay as well! My dad was with us. He was immediately ON to them! We ignored them. He is a retired Seattle policeman. He was in the fraud unit for a while. He had encountered many a qypsy and gypsy king. These are old crimes, but the criminals have become so much more brazen about it! (It sort of ruins "the romance" of the character that Johnny Depp played in movie Chocolat, doesn't it?)

    I so pleased to hear that travel safety tips will be a feature in Rêve!

  7. My Husband and I were at the Paris flea Mkt.
    Walking behind us were 2 guys, one man burnt my Husband's arm with a cig.
    The other went for his pockets. Needless to say my man hit him in the face
    and he backed off. I saw it with Gypsy's at the train station in Paris.. American Man
    and Teenage son. There were about 4 women asking him to break a dollar,
    they had his atten. while the others went into his luggage,
    straight to the bottom flap, where everyone hides the money. Yep! they robbed them.
    He came over to speak to me, I didn't know what was going on.

  8. Let's face it: pickpockets and thieves are all over the world, including the U.S. I experienced it a lot in Italy more than anywhere else. But it happens in all big cities everywhere.

  9. Many years ago when studying in Provence, I came home to my ground floor bedroom at my host family's home, and entered to find two young men going through my things. Luckily they dashed out through a window without taking anything, and I then felt unsafe leaving my passport and cash at home; knowing the thieves were aware of study abroad students living there, I carried it with me after that! Maybe not the safest move, but the best I could come up with at the time.

  10. I was in Paris last year and the young girl tried to get me with the ring trick but instead of saying it was mine I kept telling her how lucky she was to have found a ring and kept walking. Notre Dame with the deaf girl who wanted a donation and wasn't happy with 5 wanted more. And I felt very uncomfortable walking from the metro to the flea market. Very scary area but what can you do it is a city and all cities have problems. Most just aren't as beautiful as Paris.

  11. While in Paris in 2002 with my daughter and granddaughter we were taking pictures in front of The Opera. Lots of tourists sit on the steps as I'm sure locals do, too. We saw two young women sitting on the stop step chatting, etc. They had put there large pocketbooks behind their back and we noticed a sleazy looking guy siddling up to their backs looking everything over. So, I stool on the couple steps below the young women and just stared him in the eye. He backed off, stood around looking casual and then in a flash he was gone. The two young women never stopped talking, visiting. So I went up to them and told them that a pickpocket had tried to steal their bags and they should keep the bags in front of them/not behind them. Again on same trip we were with our tour group going through Versailles and one of the women who was very busy taking pictures in the Hall of Mirrors, etc. had had purse slung over her shoulder and a pickpocket got her billfold. Was on a tour in Sicily in 2008 and one of women in our group was crossing street after we had eaten dinner and a motorcycylist came roaring by and tore her bag off her shoulder. We do think we were "marked" at the restaurant where we had eaten by the waiter as some guys came up to him while we were at table on sidewalk and one of them was on a motorcycle, etc. Back in the 80s, my husband and I were driving in Italy on western coastline, stopped to look at the sea, came back to our car and found it had been broken into, his sports jacket stolen. And then again I had my billfold stolen from my shoulder bag at the International Counter/Delta at the Atlanta Hartsfield airport in the late 80s. So it can happen anywhere, anytime.

  12. I've been to France a couple of times over the last five years. We could count on encountering the usual gypsies (for lack of better term) at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, the ones with their sob stories written on a battered card. They don't leave you alone if you just ignore them. When one of these women asks if I'm American, I respond with a sharp, almost rude, "non" and keep walking. Do not make eye contact. I doubt I'm fooling anyone that I'm not américaine, but they do move on.

    The scam we encountered was a couple of Brits who approached us with a story that they had been mugged. They had a round trip ticket, so they were booked to get home, but they didn't have enough money for a hotel room for another night and were about to be tossed out. They ask for a 20 euro donation to assist them. They seemed very earnest, looked solidly middle class and spoke with a lovely British English. We were approached by a woman in her late-30s with this story. She had a younger woman with her that we assume was supposed to be her daughter. When we asked where they was staying, she couldn't come up with a name of a hotel. We promptly walked away.

    On a lighter note, we had a good laugh at the people who illegally sell trinkets outside the Louvre. The bicycle police came along to chase them away, and they "vendors" immediately scattered. One young man, about 15 years old, dropped an Eiffel Tower statue. He hesitated, calculating if he had time to go back for it it with the police in pursuit. The police officers slowed their bikes almost to a standstill so the kid could retrieve the little statue before picking up the chase again.

  13. Thank you for these comments as I am about to travel there

  14. Yes, everyone, thank you for helping us prepare for our visit. Vigilance must be the name of the game. Don't let them know you are American..that is a sad state of affairs, isn't it?
    I hear you about the non-cut bags/straps...
    I need your info, Andrea! ASAP!