How to stay safe in Paris

August 29th 2013:

Well today is not an anniversary that I like to celebrate, but not everything in my time here in Paris has been a wonderful dream. Sometimes in life we have to have some awful things happen to us; hopefully we make it out unscathed and we most certainly should learn from our mistakes.

Last year coming out of the metro at night I was followed home by two guys who attacked me and tried to force their way into my building. I threw my bag over their heads to distract them which bought me enough time to jump-up and push them out of the doorframe. 4 detectives picked me up in cruiser, zoomed me to a nearby park where hidden behind the seats I identified one of my attackers. I spent the next 7 hours on a bench in a Police station crying my eyes out alone.

It was an awful experience, I basically fled the city to my friends’ in Troyes, I wasn’t able to go out after dark for months, and when I did come back I didn’t leave my friend Liz’s for a week. But my entire life changed because of this one awful event. I found a new apartment which lead me to meet an amazing family and even lead to the events in meeting my “fella”.

But the best thing that came out of this is now my understanding that I am not some invincible youth, that something can actually happen to me, but most importantly I can do something to Protect myself.

So this brings me to the advice portion of the blog:

HOW TO STAY SAFE IN PARIS

Paris is a very safe place if you remain attentive and intelligent about your movements and choices. Paris is different than an American city like New Orleans or New York where there are defined neighborhoods that are less/more safe than others. In Paris you have to pay attention at every instant because sadly there are characters waiting in the shadows to take the advantage in every part of the city.

Pickpocketing is a serious problem in Paris. People will find you at your worst (or they create a situation) and take advantage of you. It is a huge problem and the main thing on tourists minds when they visit the city. But it doesn’t happen to everyone and there are many ways that you can keep it from happening to you. I’ve only been pickpocketed once. I was out late at night with some girlfriends in the metro and because we were obviously distracted talking and laughing the guy took the opportunity to grab my large wallet out of my bag. The guy pretty much just tore the thing apart and scattered its contents across the metro platform. I don’t carry cash so no big loss, the guy only got about three euros off of me but the experience was enough to rattle me. After this I started to carry a small walet. At first it was just because I didn’t have a replacement but eventually it proved to be a very smart decision. In the US there is this fashion of carrying a suitcase sized wallet with every membership card and form of identity that we have ever had on our person. But when you are moving around in Paris all you need is a coin-purse sized wallet with maybe two credit cards, ID, some cash and metro tickets. This coin purse should be small enough to fit into the small zip pocket that is in most purses. This keeps it accessible to you but not as easily lifted to a pickpocket.

The most important thing is to NOT KEEP EVERYTHING IN THE SAME PLACE! I can’t say this enough! Do not keep all your cash and cards in the same wallet. I’ve heard so many horror stories of people having one bag lifted off of them on the street or on a train platform and that in one fatal swoop their ipad, iphone, passports, money, credit cards and everything was taken from them. Spread it out between other wallets or bags. When I was backpacking in Europe I even kept my emergency card Duct-taped to the inside of my pack with my medical insurance card and emergency contacts incase I got hit by a bus or something. Just follow the simple principle of Keep it light: Don’t carry your passport with you, just leave it at the hotel and that goes for any credit cards or cash you don’t need right that moment. Thieves are rare in hotels (granted you aren’t staying in some shady hole-in-the wall bargain Inn). So you say “what if someone asks me for my papers”. Unless you are a student and are trying to get into museaums for a discounted price (you can only do this with a valid student visa) you probably won’t ever need your passport. If someone like the police asks you for your papers then you can politely tell them they are welcome to follow you to your hotel. But, in the three years I have lived here no one has ever bothered to ask. Just keep as little on you as you need that way if you do get your pockets-picked it isn’t such a loss. If you do though have to carry your passports, other documents numerous cards, and a good sum of money  Spread it out in your bag’s compartements so if you get picked they don’t get everything in one fatal sweep.

How to protect yourself:

Your first defense against pickpockets is your body language. Even if you don’t notice these thieves they can tell just by the way you are standing whether or not you are a good target.

Phones and Ipods. Simply by holding your phone in two hands with a finger placed firmly around the top of the phone you are sending the message that you are not easy prey.

Purses: Placing one hand on your bag signals that you are very aware of its possition. The presence of your hand automatically becomes an unpredictable barrier between the thief and your bag’s contents.

Weapons: I’ve gotten a few emails and questions from people asking if they can be armed in Paris. Well the answer is NO. In the US we do have concealed weapon permits and laws but in France this is not the case. France is a highly gun controlled state meaning that there are no arms permitted in public areas by civilians. This includes any arms with permits concealed or unconcealed. So any kind of armament, including knives, will get you barred from any attraction be it museum or sight or even arrested for terrorism.

My advice: Get creative! When my brother visited me in 2010 he drove me nuts with this obsession of carrying a sharpened pencil with him everywhere he went. And now I will publicly say this boy is a GENIUS. I didn’t really understand his preoccupation of being armed I mean…my brother is a massive column of human being, I would think that anyone who would try to attack him would have to be legally blind to attempt the affaire.When I was attacked i did have one weapon on me: my keys and I used them. I had a broken Eiffel tower keychain where the angular feet of the tower had been reduced to three bent sharp edges and I dragged so hard against the guys’ leg that it broke off. The bigger point being the fact that you simply being armed is not going to help you in Paris. The majority of crimes take place simply because people are not paying attention to their surroundings. If you are vigilant, on the look-out and smart they can’t get to you. The best way to protect yourself or your family is to be cautious.

Trust your instincts: When you have a suspicion don’t doubt it. The criminals and pickpockets are easy to spot. The “Romes” or gypsy people that plague Paris are easy to spot and all look alike and this is truly an earnests fact. They travel in packs with the sole intention of robbing people blind. Everyone knows this even the police. For example when train operators see them on platforms they announce to everyone that there are criminals on the train even before they board. When you see someone that you don’t like, don’t feel bad for suspecting them, look them straight in the eyes and let them know you see them and you are not afraid. They are cowards and will back-off from your death stare.

Never stop for anyone who is trying to attract your attention on the street whether they are trying to hand you something or get you to sign or look at a paper. DO NOT STOP. This is a way that pickpockets trap you. There are many scammers in Paris that reel you in to traps to pick your pockets or do even worse. Some of these traps are: -groups of girls waving at you to sign a piece of paper- a person trying to give you a ring that you “lost”- someone trying to braid a braclet or other iteam onto your finger –and anyone seeming to handout pieces of paper or magazines (they try to get you to pay for it afterwards and in the process often someone will pick your pockets)

Avoid crowds. This is hard to do but if you have the option to go around a large group of people or walk down a road or on the sidewalk less populated DO SO. But of course don’t venture anywhere that you are not sure of and there are few people.Walk on the less crowded side of the walkway: This may seem stupid but there is always a side of the street where there are less people. Don’t rubberneck! That is to say, don’t see a large group of people and say to yourself “oh that’s a bunch of ruckus, I wonder what it is, let’s investigate.” First of all riots break out easy durning protests and even friendly gatherings so getting in the middle or near a large group of people could rapidly become a risk. Secondly: if you are paying attention to the crowds movements you are not watching out for your bag. This goes for things such as firework displays, free concerts in crowded streets, and other public demonstrations for holidays. Pickpockets count on these situations to pass through crowds and rob spectators.

Stay in the central parts of the city (1-4,6,7,16) and not the north such as the 19th and 20th arrondissements. The things to see in Paris are in the “touristy” parts of town. This is where to be. Be VERY careful in the 18th!

Don’t buy anything from anyone who is not in a real store. These guys who are selling Eiffel towers, water, and other things from the streets are illegals and crooks. First of all their products are made in sweat shops and the funds go to human trafficking and drug cartels. Also these lowlifes are watching where you are pulling your wallets from. First they will sell you something, follow you and lift your wallet. Even if it costs you 50 cents more buy your Eiffel tower keychains in a shop. See more in my blog on how to buy souvenirs in Paris HERE.

Stay vigilant, protect yourself and you’ll be fine. It is not dangerous here as long as you are carful

Be safe in the METRO:

One of the main places that people get pick pocketed is in the metro so you really have to be careful. Don’t let people pass behind you on the turnstile. First of all I hate this because I find it just unfair that I make an effort to always pay the metro faire and there are others that don’t and make everything more difficult for the rest of us. Often though people will push themselves in behind you and slip through the barriers as well as slipping thier hands into your pockets; I had a friend recently who had her phone stolen this way. Basically if at any moment you feel someone is too physically close to you you should remove yourself that instant. And this goes for when you are walking into the metro car itself. The moment when people push and heard into the metro car is the prime time for a pickpocketer. I’ve seen it happen: they target you on the quai and then push against you going into the cars, taking advantage of the fact that you are focusing on the metro to slip their hands into your bags. Keep one hand firmly on purses and hold them in front of you and swing your backpacks to the front when entering the cars. Especially if you feel someone getting close to you or pushing up against you.

Do not dwindle in the transport. Walk quickly through the metro. Find out exactly where you are going and in what direction before you takeoff. Do not wander or attract attention to yourself by speaking too loudly or wandering about; you become a target right away. Do not keep backpacks on your back in the trains. For one thing this is common courtesy to the other travelers who are mostly just trying to get in and out as quickly as possible but obviously if your back is turned you make for easy prey to someone who wants to come up behind you and riffle through your bag.

Don’t pull your pocketbook out in the streets or in the open like in the metro. This seems like a DUH situation but often people will buy a quick bite at a crêpe stand or other things from a street-side merchant. It seems like a safe enough place but take it as a basic rule: if you are not surrounded by at least three walls you are not in security. And you should especially never buy from anyone who is not in a real store or stalls! I go into the reasons why in a blog that I will publish this summer about the correct way to buy souvenirs in Paris, but to be short it is illegal and dangerous to buy souvenirs from anyone who is not a registered merchant of the city of Paris. what is better is to keep a little cash aside from the rest of your card ect

I hope this has you feeling better prepared for your visit to Paris which is, despite how it may sound a really wonderful place to visit.

Feel free to email me at: Bloggerparis@Gmail.com with questions or your Paris stories that you would like to share. And follow my blog for stories about the lighter side of the city of lights.

A+EmilieinParis

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About Emilie

I'm a small girl with big ambitions and very little common sense it seems. I decided after I graduated from college that I would move from my little city of Lafayette Louisiana to the raging monster city that is Paris. In 4 months of planning I have now uprooted everything I had in an amazing town to live in a truly wild place where I have no idea WHAT I am going to do. But isn't that the fun of it all. So here is cheers to getting lost, breaking hearts, starving, and many wonderful adventures that come along with finding yourself.
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2 Responses to How to stay safe in Paris

  1. maryann says:

    Great advice, clear and well presented. In 1970 we were safe just about everywhere in Paris. It’s a pity things have changed for the worse.

  2. Allie says:

    Thank you Ma Cherie, Emilie. These are very useful tip. Me & younger my ysister will visit your paradise in Oct 😀

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