Safety in Paris

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Photo: Maria Dams/Flickr

The City of Light, the City of Love . . . the most romantic city on earth, n’est-ce pas? That is, until someone swipes your bag and you have to spend the day running from the bank to the embassy, recovering your losses. In reality, Paris is a remarkably safe city, but like anywhere on earth, we have our share of thieves. Fortunately, visitors rarely encounter violent crime, but there are pickpockets, and there are one or two annoyances you should be aware of when considering your safety in Paris.

Before we begin, please visit the website of the US Embassy and read the information provided there. It is very helpful and reassuring. You will notice that money belts and steel-reinforced handbags are NOT recommended. That is because these objects are unnecessary in Paris. You will also notice the line about carrying around only one ID as you visit the city. This is really great advice from the people who spend their days replacing stolen IDs. I am even more precise: use your local driver’s license as a photo ID, keeping your passport securely tucked in the hotel safe or carefully hidden in a rented apartment. This way, if your ID is stolen, you don’t risk missing a flight and having to repurchase your airfare home. You may want to carry a photocopy of your passport for tax forms if you plan on shopping, but your passport is much safer off the city streets.

The embassy’s website includes information about keeping your purse clutched tightly under your arm, and you will notice that local women dine with their bags on their laps. I know five expat ladies who went to the cinema one night and each placed her bag at her feet. All five wallets were missing by the time the film was over, so please keep your bag in contact with your body at all times.

Some common-sense tips: do not stop and buy anything from the guys who have set out tarps along the Champs Elysées. Stooping down and taking out your wallet on a busy street is never a good idea. Men sell similar wares on the Champs de Mars, where the foot traffic is more dispersed and you can make your purchases while standing, which is a much better option.

There are some annoyances, like the gypsies throughout the city who have a ring scam that goes like this: a person stoops in front of you and rises, claiming to have just found a gold ring. The person shows you that the ring is too small/large for him/her and offers it to you in exchange for some euros.

And there are the men who “sell” bracelets on the lower steps of Sacré Coeur. If you slow down to chat, they will grab your wrist and braid a bracelet before you have the chance to say no. Many tourists are happy to pay a few euros and enjoy the souvenirs as a memory, so it’s up to you.

In both instances, the people are not dangerous and will accept a firm no, although the locals simply scowl at them. I repeat, these are merely annoyances, and not a threat to your safety in Paris. If you’ve followed the embassy guide, you have nothing to lose!

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