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Hard lessons learned in the Paris Metro

We are experienced travelers who did fine in South Africa, Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Germany, Italy, Spain, Israel & Latvia. We loved Paris this week, but not the part about being robbed. Here what we learned the hard way:

1) Memorize Rick Steve’s theft prevention tips, carry a copy of his page “how to report lost/stolen credit cards in France”.  (Instructions on the back of your Visa are incomplete - when you've been robbed, you need clear, detailed instructions.) 
2) Remember, when you have your suitcase, aren’t speaking French - you’re wearing a flashing neon sign:  “Tourist: I’m carrying all my cash, credit cards & passport on me”.
3) ALWAYS carry money, credit / debit cards, passports in money belt - even on hot sweaty days when you’re tired of the hassle.
4) Only carry in your front or back pockets what you’re prepared to lose.
5) Do not ask questions of young men standing idly by Metro maps, don’t follow their instructions - not even when a second man comes over and confirms what the first one says, not even when a man in a suit comes up and confirms what the other two are telling you; at Gare d’Est, it was a set-up to be robbed.
6) Out of fear of racism, don’t override your gut character assessments.  
7) It’s true:  Theft happens near doorways of Metro cars.
8) Even when hyper-alert, hanging tightly to possessions while entering/departing Metro subway-cars, if you’re holding something in both hands, even front pockets are easily picked. Happened to us twice within 15 minutes.
9) When reporting theft to police out in a public place (ie. Metro stations), thieves may listen for what wasn’t taken.  Minutes after making our verbal report, my husband was again swarmed/bumped while exiting a Metro subway-car.  Bullet-train tickets and comb were pick pocketed this time - were they looking for our passports & cellphone that we told police were not taken in the first theft?  Soon after that incident, a man steps in front of us, blocking our path, flashes a badge at us, demands to see our passports.  We didn't wait to "meet" his buddies that were likely in the wings - by this point, we would only have complied with such a request if it came directly from the President of France himself! We screamed at the man to leave us alone, and dashed away thoroughly shaken.
10) During our 5 days in Paris, we noticed that Police don’t hang out in the boarding area - where Metro robberies are happening.  
False Assumptions:  
(A) Pickpocketers work independently.  No, two or more hem you in, crush, bump you around, quickly, quietly.  (Based on being accosted 3 times within 15 minutes, &  thousands of dollars of luxury items immediately charged to our VISA, was this a professional gang?)
(B) Men can more safely carry cash / valuables than women.  Not our experience.
(C)Since you were just robbed of €400, credit/debit cards, drivers license, & Metro tickets, surely you wouldn’t be robbed again - what’s left?  Minutes later - we were!  While traumatized, feeling stupid, shocked, angry - trying to evaluate “what do we do now”, you are shaken and extra vulnerable.

Thank God for the kind French, American, & German people who expressed outrage and helped us after we were robbed - their kindness was a huge blessing!  Their kindness helped carry us through this nightmare.

Finally, we get to choose whether the pickpockets have the final say of how we remember Paris.  They don’t.  We encountered far too much splendor, beauty and gracious Parisians for that to happen.

Posted by
123 posts

We're sorry this happened to you. Honestly, it's happened to most people in some form and it's unfortunate to learn the hard way but now you know. And we're very happy to hear this didn't spoil your trip. You certainly have the right attitude about things and I'm sure that's why you were still able to get past your unfortunate experience and have a memorable one. Hopefully other travelers will learn from your experience as well. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
5621 posts

Jeez - the crooks were so hard up they even helped themselves to a pocket comb?!? I'm so sorry to hear you encountered so many lowlifes and in such a short time span. Your closing comments are inspirational and I hope your continuing travels are safe and without any similar experiences!

Posted by
2471 posts

So sorry to hear about your horrible experience, but thank you for taking the time to let us know how it happened. reading these terrible stories helps us to be even more aware and diligent in our future travels,

Posted by
6871 posts

A pickpocket associate tripped and fell down at the bottom of an escalator--and people started to fall over him in a pile. The journeyman pickpocket came in behind me in the mayhem and got my wallet. After the downed people got up, he threw my wallet on the floor and said in perfect English, "Is that yours?"--talking about the wallet. They only took a little cash--and no credit cards.

I certainly agree with much of what you've said. We as Americans can often be a little too courteous when put into confusing situations with pickpockets.

At no time do I ever carry any billfolds or substantial cash on my body. My wife walks right behind me at all times, and is watching for trouble. When anyone gets in "my space," I quickly get aggressive. And at 6'4" and 230 lbs., the bad guys usually would prefer to mess with another traveler that's a little more docile.

My biggest gripe is that metro stations, train stations and airports where such activities go on are watched by banks of cameras. The subway workers and people in the stations know who these pickpockets are, as they see them all day every day. But this is an occupation that's accepted by Parisian society--instead of their being treated like the criminals they are. Travelers are wasting their time reporting any theft to the authorities--as they'll do nothing to help you.

If you as a traveler are defensive and do the above suggestions, you can minimize the risk of being pickpocketed. Go ahead and visit these great cities, but keep your eyes open at all times. And remember they're really just after your cash--and just don't carry any.

Posted by
5786 posts

First, sorry for your losses. Thanks for sharing.

Regarding "Since you were just robbed of...."
Were you "robbed" as in taking of money or goods in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, by force or intimidation? Or were your pockets picked.

I've heard stories of tourist getting mugged on the RER. Money belts are less effective if the muggers are armed or physically capable of inflicting bodily harm.

Would literally carrying pocket change and small bills in one's front pocket be an effective anti pickpocket strategy? I don't know if its an old urban legend but the story had big jackpot Nevada casino winners in the 50/60s taking their winnings in silver dollars.

Posted by
8291 posts

I've never heard of anyone getting mugged on the RER. Not saying it doesn't happened, it might on occasion, but muggings are very, very, very rare in France.

I've lived in Paris for a total of 6 yrs and have visited many times in the past 13 yrs for 1-3 mos each time and neither I, or my family, have ever been pickpocketed. I don't personally know anyone who has ever been pickpocketed in Paris. Of course it happens, but it doesn't happen to "most people" as Rosie said.

Pickpockets are rampant in London, Italy, NYC, San Francisco, just to name a few places and they can't be stopped there either. 99.9% of all pickpockets you will never see them pickpocketing. And you won't know you've been pickpocketed in most cases until long after it's happened.

David's statement "The subway workers and people in the stations know who these pickpockets are, as they see them all day every day. But this is an occupation that's accepted by Parisian society--instead of their being treated like the criminals they are." is hogwash imo. Subway workers do not "see" pickpockets pickpocketing, Parisian society does not accept pickpocketing as an occupation any more than subway workers and "society" in NYC, London, or San Francisco do.

Wherever you go, you have to be very careful and very street-smart. Everything a person needs to know to protect themselves has been preached about on this Helpline, Rick's guidebooks and by RS in his videos since the 90's.

passmoreci, I'm glad you still enjoyed Paris and didn't let this experience ruin your time there.

Posted by
8404 posts

This is horrid! I am so sorry. I have never heard anything this bad. It's a tribute to your strong character that you still found some good after experiencing this.

Given how European cities have changed since RS first posted his advice to go local and take the RER when coming in with travel bags, perhaps this advice should be reworded with more of a caveat that it's not for everyone, such as those with more than one small suitcase, or certain physical conditions. Knowing Paris transportation very well, we haven't taken the RER when lugging suitcases for several years, instead opting for the RoissyBus or the Air France bus. I think the RER advice should be reconsidered.

I also disagree with a blanket statement from the RS rep: "Honestly, it's happened to most people in some form". I've used the metro and RER for forty years and it's never happened to me--but I admit that it could one day. I've seen a lot happen down in the metro.

I just read Susan and have to agree that muggings are rare. In fact, in all the years I've lived and visited in Paris, I've never heard of an armed mugging. I saw a group of kids jump another kid for his wallet, but no weapons. My son fought another kid for his Walkman and won, but no weapons.

I do want to assure you (too late) that the police are around. Even if you don't see uniformed police, there are special plain clothes metro police patrolling the platforms. It sounds like you were traveling during very crowded conditions during which the police would have a hard time keeping an eye on their usual suspects. The police do their best to follow and catch these people. Yes, they know who some of them are, but there has been a huge influx from Eastern Europe. Society does not turn a blind eye, and French people get pickpocketed too.

Posted by
8291 posts

We take the RER all the time, all over, and to and from CDG with suitcases and other stuff and have never, ever had a problem nor have we ever seen anyone else have a problem.

Posted by
5786 posts

Re Susan's: "I've never heard of anyone getting mugged on the RER."

http://www.thelocal.fr/20130320/police-boost-numbers-after-paris-train-robbery

Safety fears after gang storm Paris train
Published: 20 Mar 2013 18:22 GMT+01:00

Security has been stepped up on Paris’s notorious RER rail service after a 20-strong gang of robbers targeted passengers on a train. New figures reveal 150 crimes are committed each a day on the capital's rail network.
Police have been forced to put reinforcements on the capital's overground RER train service after a 20-strong gang carried out an audacious robbery on passengers, while they were stopped at a station.
The robbers, reportedly armed with pepper spray stormed a train at Grigny station on the RER line D on Saturday. They threatened passengers before relieving them of their personal valuables, in what witnesses described was a “highly organized” attack.

Posted by
8404 posts

Edgar,

That was what your were referring to. It did make a big brouhaha when it happened but, I'll clarify. That one attack on a train way out in the suburbs was in fact perpetuated by a bunch of stupid high school kids on a lark. Yes, stupid high school kids who thought it would be fun. They were caught and tried. These kids scared the bejeevies out of the passengers, created stepped up security, made headlines on tv and in the newspapers, but when they appeared in court, they were skinny little high school kids with their parents.

I wouldn't generalize from this incident which made headlines but turned out to be a tempest in a teapot. And their arm for disrobing the passengers: pepper spray, not exactly what most muggers use. But based on the info you had, it would give a different impression.

Bets

Posted by
8770 posts

I'm so sorry to hear about your terrible experience. You do have the right attitude though. Paris is much more than any individual thing that might happen there.

I was pick pocketed on the RER too. Actually, my wallet was lifted out of my purse. We were headed to the airport to return home, so the inconvenience was minimal. The person who took my wallet immediately went to a shoe store and spent about $1400. Fortunately my bank returned that money to me. Even though I was careful before it I was picked, it's amazing how letting your guard down even once can enable it to happen. Traveling is fun, but there are many distractions.

I'm in London now, and we leave for France tomorrow. I've made sure that if anyone can get anything out of my pocket or purse it will be of little or no value to them.

Posted by
852 posts

I am sorry this happened to you, and thank you for the levelheaded recommendations you made based on your experience. Regardless of semantics, your possessions were taking away from you and that can certainly dampen the spirit and shake you up. I am happy to report that I am not one of the "most" people who has experienced some form of pickpocketing, and will continue my use of the moneybelt. You just never know.

On a side note, I was rather observant of the local ladies in Florence and Rome to see how they handled their purses. Almost everyone had their purse held in front while walking with the arm and hand across the opening. And of course they walked at much quicker pace and with purpose. One lady did note that being pickpocketed in the cities a real concern even for locals.

Posted by
784 posts

Thank you for sharing your experience and providing some very good tips. However, this is why I think it is worth the 50 or so euros to take a taxi from CDG (from the official taxi rank) into central Paris. When you have luggage and are jetlagged and easily distracted in an unfamiliar environment, it is like having a neon sign flashing over your head: "Pick my pocket."

Posted by
4694 posts

I'm very sorry this happened to you. I had my wallet nicked coming out of a tube station in London (and I lived there ... I wasn't a tourist). It is definitely frustrating.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for all of your thoughtful and kind responses and words of support and for sharing your insights and perspectives. Since I haven’t figured out how to publicly respond to individuals, I’ll try the method below.

“Phil” commented that we were obviously “culled” - it certainly felt that way! My husband and I are in our mid 60’s, both quite active, wear only simple wedding bands (no flashy jewelry or clothing), and the thefts I described occurred around 11a.m. when the Metro was busy, but not crammed full of people. I think what “targeted” us, was when I walked over to the big Metro map in the station, looked, then asked a question of a 30-some year old man standing next to it. He gave us false information and was one of the ones who was part of the team that bumped and pushed my husband around as he entered a Metro train - and stole his wallet.

Fabris: Yes, my hope is that those of us who are willing to share some of our not-pleasant experiences, can help safeguard others from similar experiences. I certainly wish I had sought out this travel forum and read it before our trip to Paris.

Edgar: Were you "robbed" as in taking of money or goods in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, by force or intimidation? Or were your pockets picked.
You raise a fair question. Before writing my post, I gave considerable thought to this question. It seemed “robbed” more accurately and authentically described both what factually happened, and even more so, especially the emotional response we suffered in the hours and days following - inability to sleep, plus the loss of most of our cash, two credit cards, and a debit cards resulted in the loss of our financial ability to carry out what was planned for the the last half of our European trip. I think most of us think of pickpocketing as petty theft; petty theft is legally defined as theft of cash or something valued from $50, up to $500 - the amount depends on the state. So even by that definition, the amount was too large to be considered petty theft. My husband will tell you he most definitely had "money and goods taken from his possession by force and intimidation" - especially the second time when they crushed and pushed him around forcefully, to the point that he nearly lost his balance. I’m expecting that the next time I hear of someone who has gone through this same experience, I will be far more empathetic than I have been in the past.

Betts: " This is horrid! I am so sorry. I have never heard anything this bad. It's a tribute to your strong character that you still found some good after experiencing this….
I do want to assure you (too late) that the police are around. Even if you don't see uniformed police, there are special plain clothes metro police patrolling the platforms."
As to the question of whether subway workers know who the criminals are, I would suggest they start by checking the pockets of those forcing the subway car’s door open just before it leaves the station - this technique would have recovered my husband’s wallet. But having volunteered at a police department for 8 years, I have no illusions that resolving such crimes is simple - though I have certainly thought of offering my husband’s and my services to the Paris Police bureau to help flush out the criminal element in the Metro since we seemed to have a knack for attracting them like flies!
"Yes, they know who some of them are, but there has been a huge influx from Eastern Europe."
In our case, they all appeared to be African immigrants - which really surprised/disappointed us! I have a deep fondness for Africa and its people - which is why I travelled there this past year.

Posted by
4 posts

Since my last post was too long, here's the last part of it:

Susan: "I've lived in Paris for a total of 6 yrs and have visited many times in the past 13 yrs for 1-3 mos each time and neither I, or my family, have ever been pick pocketed."
Susan, thanks for contributing from your years of knowledge as someone who has lived in Paris. This is encouraging to hear. For the most part, we loved riding on the Metro and were very impressed with it.

Andrea: " I'm so sorry to hear about your terrible experience. You do have the right attitude though. Paris is much more than any individual thing that might happen there...
my wallet was lifted out of my purse….. The person who took my wallet immediately went to a shoe store and spet about $1400. Fortunately my bank returned that money to me. "
Thanks Andrea for your encouragement and for sharing your experience. After cancelling our credit/debit cards, I’ve not had the courage to get new ones… I’m still awaiting assurance that the thousands and thousands of dollars that were run up on our Visa in the 20 minutes it took to get it cancelled, will not be charged to us.

Maryam: "I was rather observant of the local ladies in Florence and Rome to see how they handled their purses. Almost everyone had their purse held in front while walking with the arm and hand across the opening. And of course they walked at much quicker pace and with purpose. One lady did note that being pickpocketed in the cities a real concern even for locals."
Thanks Maryam. It's wise for us to observe and learn from all cultures to see how they deal with problems we share in common.

Posted by
5786 posts

Re Brad's comment:
Paris is beautiful but the French have this almost perverted notion of freedom it seems. I did not see one member of the police department approach the aggressive panhandlers and protect the tourists.

The French have been aggressively going after the Roma.
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25419423
France has possibly the harshest policy in Europe towards Roma immigrants. Most live in camps that are regularly demolished by police - and then rebuilt. Every year thousands are deported, but the overall number in the country remains the same.

Posted by
9110 posts

Thank you for taking the time, on your very first ever posting on this forum, to tell of this chain of events that are almost unimaginable in scope and repeativity.

Only by your stalwart nature where you able to press on despite the obstacles thrown in your path.

Hopefully you will have more cheerful subjects as you contine to report on your travels.

Posted by
7602 posts

I am so sorry that this happened to you and more than impressed that even with a double attack, you are able to choose and project a positive attitude. I'm not sure I could be so gracious! (well, rather, I'm pretty sure that I couldn't be.)
even when someone here tried to nitpicked about whether you were "robbed" or not -- how silly can we get?!! (although I love that your analysis bore out your choice of the word -- in most cases I'd say we're casually writing here on a travel forum, not writing a brief for a court of law!!) sheesh!!!

heck i consider myself a pro, and even i was targeted one evening a few months ago: I was walking along in the metro to the line 1 with my boss, yakking loudly in English (failure point #1), wearing an open purse that was slung a bit behind me (failure point #2 and something i rarely do), when I felt some pressure on my bag as we were going down some stairs. the difference in height had made it very easy for this young man to pick my work phone out of its pocket in my purse. I turned around and yelled at him -- and the funniest part: he, noting that I was yelling and the phone was only a BlackBerry and not an iWhatever -- simply handed it back and ran the other way.

Posted by
335 posts

I'm so glad to hear you were safe, although shaken, and that you didn't let this terrible incident(s) cloud your enjoyment of this beautiful city!

In late September of this year, I was ALMOST pickpocketed in a Metro station. This is the first time in 9 visits to Paris that this has happened to me! We three friends (women in our 50's-60's) were walking single file up one of the many sets of stairs in the station; I was walking close to the railing, holding onto it. I was in the middle, with a friend in front and one behind me. I use a purse that zips closed in the center (it was zipped) with open pockets on the outside which contained less-valuable items such as a water bottle, sunglasses, maps, etc. A young woman (20's?) slipped in behind me. The friend who was right behind me, saw this woman slip her hand along the handrail and start exploring the outer pockets of my purse - I didn't feel a thing! The friend grabbed the woman's backpack and pulled it away, yelling at her. That was the first I knew that anything was happening. Two things were very lucky about this - my friend saw what was happening and reacted immediately, and I only keep less-important things in those outside pockets. All the important stuff - money, camera, etc. - is inside the central compartment which is kept zipped up. My bag is cross-body so that would make it harder to steal altogether and I keep my arm across it at all times. I've tried a money belt but I sweat too much for that to be comfortable, plus they're a pain to use when you need to get at your $$. So, a word to the wise - always keep your valuables inside of an enclosed bag close to your body and make sure you have a good friend to watch your back! You don't have to be paranoid, just careful.

I think the pickpockets train from a very young age to be very agile and light-handed (shades of Oliver Twist?). About 10 years ago, I was sitting on a bench under the Tour Eiffel, waiting for a friend who was going to the top of the Tour. I happened to sit next to an older man who, after long observation, seemed to be the "handler" for a group of Gypsy/Roma teens who were asking people for money. They would periodically return to him to give him the money and receive further instructions of whom to target. It was very interesting! At that time, the girls dressed in stereotypical Gypsy/Roma clothing (long skirts, scarves, etc.) but now they all dress like every other teen. I know this is stereotyping but it's very true, at least here in Paris.

Posted by
12887 posts

Hi,

It pays not to hesitate to scream. Bravo! You certainly did the right thing and its effects paid off. No time to be polite. The chicken thief was totally taken aback, shakened, and left, ie, exactly what you expected him to do. Like everyone else I come into Paris in the summer, carrying cash, credit cards, a cell phone, passport, and, mostly have tourist written all over me. They may pickpocket me somehow but won't get anything desirable by me.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks for posting this reminder to all of us to take care. Something similar, though less successful for the thieves, happened to us some years ago in Madrid. We had just flown in, had luggage and it was rush hour in a crowded Metro. Since then, I've been much more careful, but had been letting down my guard in Paris.

Posted by
27735 posts

@nathaliebrown17

I don't know why you would tell your cousins who you say are living in Paris not to use the Métro. I don't see people here saying nobody should ride the Métro.

It is unfortunate that the victims here were robbed, I make not anything light about that, but millions of people use the Métro every day. If everybody stopped using the Métro where in the world would they go?

Would you stop moving about in Barcelona - a city where crime is not unknown ?

Posted by
8291 posts

Nigel is right, there is no reason not to use the Metro. You just have to be street-smart. That's true in any city.

If anyone thinks Paris is bad, come to San Francisco where physical violence (and worse) against tourists and locals is all too common. Makes Paris look like Disneyland.

Posted by
12887 posts

Or, using another analogy in physical violence (and crime) Paris is Kindergarten compared to San Francisco/Oakland.

Posted by
74 posts

I would never take the RER from or to CDG air port. I've heard too many stories.

I had no problem on my recent trip. I tried to travel Metro or RER in the middle of the day or about 4 p.m. There was hardly a soul on the trains. I also took generally short trips; my longest was from St.Michel/Notre Dame to Boulainville to see the Marmottan.

I did ask people (including young people) for help, but the stations (at least the ones I started and stopped at) had very good TV monitor information about where the next train would travel to. I felt a lot better than I would if I were a tourist in Philadelphia (I live near there) or New York City.

It may have helped me to be male and to look somewhat younger than my true (60s) age. But I am certainly not big enough to intimidate anyone.

Oddly enough, I didn't encounter any Roma, and don't really understand why not. Perhaps the police have chased them from prime tourist areas. OTOH, I did not visit Trocadero Square this trip, and I remember that as a prime Roma location in the late evening.

I am so sorry for the original posters. It is distressing to be robbed anywhere, but worse in a city far from home.

Posted by
61 posts

Had one pickpocket attempt in the metro. Girl attempted to pickpocket my wife, and was caught out. Happened as we were coming into Gare du Nord. She wasn't carrying anything, I insisted on keeping all the stuff on me, and in a non-pickpocket friendly location.

The girl got her hand smacked and a hard look from the two of us, and then fled - was timed to be just before the metro stopped, and the doors opened.

Other scam I saw a lot of was the "survey/petition" vermin. Turns out when they come up to you and ask if you speak english, they don't appreciate "Bugger off" as the english you present. Saw them at the bridge going from Notre Dame to Hotel de Ville, and while I saw loads of police (our apt was just down the street from the local police station) they did nothing about it. Saw a few tourists get shaken down for money after filling out the paperwork, so apparently it still works for a few.

$.02

Glenn in Tucson

Posted by
74 posts

In my trip last week, I was repeatedly on the bridge from Hotel En Ville to the Ile de la Cite. I never saw anyone in the least bit suspicious or dangerous. What's true at one time might not be true at another. FWIW, I was quite cautious about nighttime activities.

Posted by
40 posts

I beg of you, monsieur, watch yourself. Be on guard.
This place is full of vultures.
Vultures everywhere. Everywhere!

Posted by
4371 posts

My dear Mademoiselle, perhaps you have already observed that in Casablanca (or Paris), human life is cheap...

(great quote, georgeb944!)

passmorecl, it's all downhill from here! You used up all of your bad luck in one day - no, within 15 minutes! - and on one trip. And you are so right - YOU are in control of your feelings, and how you choose to view your life. Kudos.

FYI - to send a Private Message, just go to someone's post and click on their (blue) name. Then scroll down to where it says 'Send ______ a Private Message'. Then, just type away! You can click on someone's name from any thread...your PM isn't 'attached' to any specific thread. And keep those PMs private ;-) ; no reposting a PM without that person's permission first.

Posted by
104 posts

As someone who studied abroad in Paris and has traveled back many times for pleasure and work, I will share what has saved me from pickpockets....I always have a crossbody or satchel style day bag of which I lock ALL the zippers with small flexilocks and/or small, steal safety pins. I always carry my bag in the front of me with my arm on it (like a local does). If I am with friends and we have luggage we pile it into a corner or make circle with the luggage in the middle and keep all eyes on the luggage and behind each other at all times. I make a point of not being last on the train. Try to be first on the train and/or choose car doors at either end of the platform/train (not the middle where most people congregate).

Carry yourself with calm, confidence!!! Everyone can tell you are a foreigner, but more than that they can tell if you are a green traveler. How you might ask...because you look bewildered, overwhelmed and in awe of your surroundings. Stay in the present, save looking around for when your bags are dropped off at your hotel, only ask for advice from people who are behind counters (ie. Tourism Info Office-there is a small one in most train stations in Europe) then you know they are legit and they are paid to help (if all else fails go to a café, buy some coffee, exhale and then ask the waiter for help.

Most of all, be like the prior contributor who smacked the hands that tried to steal...be willing to give an "angry parent face", stern word or a smack (as the situation dictates) to someone who gets too close to you. Regular people are not going to be purposefully touching you or face to face bumping you (as a general rule: regular Parisians do not even look strangers in the eye on the metro, but rather look at the car reflection of others from the window glass). In Paris, if someone is annoying me (from possible pickpocket to the illegal "blanket salesmen". I first the best plan is to walk by as if they do not exist. If someone stands or walks in front of you go around with an annoyed sigh. They person persists in badgering you or is following you say in a snarky, super loud voice "Fichez-nous la paix" (leave us alone) or "De L'air" (back off) or "Police! m'aider , arrête les voleurs" (Police, Help me! Arrest those thieves)! Try to draw attention from regular people! If that does not work... I have varying levels of mean French which I usually use on the hucksters of the French speaking world.... "me perds ou je te casse le nez" (get lost or I will break your nose). I also learned some well placed swear words (which I don't believe I can share here). If you are traveling with a big guy gesture to him and say "Je suis sûr qu'il serait heureux de briser les jambs". (I am sure he'd be happy to break your legs)...then your guy should smile wickedly. There are books out there to help you learn some bad words and translation apps that can help you sound them out. Bonne Chance! but don't forget....show 'em your mean face!

Posted by
12887 posts

You can use "laissez-moi tranquille. Or, as the interpreter in the last battle scene in "Saving Private Ryan" said to the German soldiers who had surrendered to him, "Abhauen ! Verschwindet! "

Posted by
31 posts

After reading your story, I resolved that when I get too old to run, I'll just start using taxis and shuttles and carry less. If I were surrounded, I would be screaming and yelling loudly. It's probably all you got, and I'd try to break free running, while screaming, waiving my arms, attracting attention, etc. Generally, if you are in motion, it makes you harder to pickpocket.

Packing light makes the option of running away much easier. It helps to be in good enough shape to be able to dash! In Paris we saw almost no overweight locals, which brings up the possibility that too many Americans are good targets because we can't move very fast! That and being cluttered with multiple bags - not planning how to efficiently handle your gear, fumbling, struggling - must make us obvious juicy targets. We Americans are such good-natured folk. Too often we look obviously American. We let people impinge on us. We're slow to object, yell, push back, run away.

If you follow Rick's travel guidelines, you greatly reduce your chances of getting pick pocketed, but getting mobbed is another story. I read about this trick by Gypsy children (sooo cute!), that dash up and surround you, pinning you while pick pocketing. But that never happened to us. We discussed that we would be continually looking out for a mob heading our way and would run, while yelling. But we never needed to. In a really crowded train, we just kept our bags on our lap with arms over them, or directly over our heads, or on the floor pinned between our legs. In the crowded subway, my day pack is NOT on my back - it gets into other passengers' faces, but both my arms are around it in front of me. You can wear it this way when near crowds.

Just a quick perspective:
Wikipedia: "Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear."

Rick says you will probably NEVER be robbed in Europe. That sounds reasonable. Most incidents are pick pocketing, purse-snatching or burglary. Passmorecl is talking about aggressive pick pocketing, because you can still run, break free, yell, push back. In true robbery, you better do what you're told, or get hurt. Pick pocketing, I used to think, was not aggressive, but sneaky and quiet. WRONG!

At Montmartre, the lady pickpocket with the petition on a clipboard came at me aggressively, even though I said "no" loudly and waved her away in advance. But then I ran, and she even tried to chase me! She got my wife's cell phone, but it was a budget cheapie bought at the airport, and the pickpocket gave it back! There really was nothing else readily available. The good stuff was deep in my cross body bag and the rest in my money belt. Note that there were crowds of people all around. What nerve!
Be aware, that if they actually hand something back to you, they increase their chances of pick pocketing you again, so stretch your arm out and keep your body away.

We thought about how we must look to foreigners. It may seem trivial, but acting snappy and efficient, we think, makes you less desirable of a target. When in an questionable area, we quickened our pace, snapped our heads when turning them and generally acted more alert and agile (we're in our 60s).

We think that two clothing articles helped us blend in - to be harder to spot as a target. We tried a newsboy cap and a scarf, which Americans do not usually wear.

I hope none of this ever happens to anyone. But passmorecl's post is telling us that the crook's aggression level is going up! This IS somewhere between old-fashioned pickpocketing and actual robbery!! What next?

Posted by
51 posts

Well, I no longer need an excuse to see Paris for more than two nights now as opposed to a week on my original itinerary! My wife and I are in our mid sixties too. In Italy, being scam-prepared by Rick, we were successful in avoiding the scams and even intimidated a few jerks. However this is a whole new level of "gang" activity that frankly is disgustingly simple to solve. Since tourism is such a huge industry for Europe, why wouldn't they stop it with the police? They're lazy, bureaucratic attitudes seemingly toward most everything, probably has a lot to do with it. My wife and I were "held hostage" on a train between Milan and Verona for 2 hours by about 20 thugs that couldn't be intimidated. All the train personnel, conductors who took our tix, etc., locked themselves in their car which was ten feet from ours! This was a noon train in June. Twenty guys and ten women (North African, Muslim, Gypsies, who knows what?) screaming in you face or sticking babies in your face speaking Italian. When the locals got off the train, they would push and shove them while trying to unzip their bags. Bottom line: No cops waiting at any station/train terminated in Verona, we were last to get off train and still no train personnel/thugs got back on next train for Milan. The guys wore gold jewelry, Air Jordan type shoes and clothing and the women, of course, looked like and were treated like crap. We learned later from Italian friends of ours that this route is notorious for this type of activity, even chloroforming seniors and stealing their wallets and purses.
Italy is still our favorite foreign country though and we are doing three months on our next visit. I already have Rick's Paris book highlighted but having been through this bs before, we will probably stay in Versailles and take the notorious RER to see the Louve and then get the hell out of Dodge.

Posted by
31 posts

" ...but sweeping(and insulting) statements like that aren't helpful."

But please propose something that IS helpful. I could be that some Europeans don't value tourism as highly as we would like. Then we should accept that fact and adjust our plans accordingly. Jim_bird1 is actually DOING something, he's voting with his feet.

"this route is notorious for this type of activity".

If that is true, then my desire to explore Europe is now less. And why not? So far, the only decent remedy is to avoid the situation. Too bad.

I think we all understand Jim_bird1's frustration. We sort of expected a "dream trip" and these new developments in crime are a come-down. There was no justice.

In my small example, the pickpocket with the clip board was openly accosting tourists, aggressively. Practically everyone knew what she was up to. No police anywhere. Crowded tourist spot - no police presence. If tourism is so valuable, wouldn't you make those locations better policed? Remember, it pays to keep tourists feeling safe - right? So let's focus on Jim_bird1's valid point.

I'm still hopeful of northern Europe. The Germanic and Scandinavian countries may be a little more "law and order" with at least some police there when the train stops. Does anybody have more reports like this?

Most travel promoters point out that your chances of encountering a problem are small.
So they are really saying that it could happen to you, but probably not, so go anyway and take a chance.
As the physical and emotional violence escalates, fewer of us want to take that chance. That's sane.

Maybe if more people reported on where the crooks congregate, and posted them regularly, then some of us could avoid those places and increase our chances. Until then, people are going to grow less interested.

Now I have to consider how I would exit a train if I saw a questionable mob getting on. I sure wouldn't enter a car if I doubted the occupants. Is that what Europe is allowing itself to become?

Posted by
12887 posts

"We Americans are such good-natured folks. (...) We let people impringe on us. We're slow to object, yell, push back, run away." How very true! How about adding to that list , " bark and scream" at the culprits? I wonder if these scammers/ thug wanna be types with their gold rings, string scam, petitions to sign, etc accost other tourist nationalities, esp the Chinese, Russians.

Posted by
51 posts

Thanks Don. My objective was to do as you stated - advice for the avoidance or at least to be on guard for these people who accost and hassle tourists. We have longtime Italian friends who advised us (on our 2012, 31/2 week vacation) about certain places in certain cities to avoid. In addition, Rick Steves has "scam" blog info that helped us a great deal. The morning of the train debacle, in Milan on the Piazza of the Duomo, we got the "friendship string bracelet" scam by two Nigerians in beautiful robes and a big dude in an expensive looking Armani suit circling behind us. Our crime, on our first day ever in Italy, was getting to the Piazza at 6:30am to be first in line at the Duomo. There was virtually no one on the Piazza and they literally blocked our way to the Duomo. So, after screaming at them, my wife and I exited the Piazza to the left through the Galleria to wait for the safety of crowds and calm down. Needless to say by the end of our first day in Italy, we were thinking what the hell will the next 3 weeks and 3 days be like! You may not believe this, but by 10:30am, a union leader called a transit strike. He drove on this huge Piazza in the back of a Toyota pickup truck shouting through a bull horn in Italian. The police swat team in body armor with automatic weapons started showing a presence on the Piazza as well and police helicopters started circling above. No metro, no buses, no transit - stuck on the Piazza. Finally hundreds of taxi cabs showed up which got us back to our hotel and train station. This is why we took the noon train to Verona!
We, in the future, will never get within fifty miles of Milan ever again. But we absolutely love Italy, we want travelers to love Italy, we want our friends to go as well which is why we are staying so long on our next trip. To be able to recognize and avoid these jerks is part of the preparation, especially first timers. This is not the US. After meeting Italians and trying to speak their language, experiencing their exquisite food and wine, art, Tuscany, history, you realize how important and wonderful this country is. Tourists spend a ton of money to get to experience the best of Europe, and in my opinion, should not be surprised and shocked and unprepared when these clowns come around.

Posted by
51 posts

Emma, I appreciate your eloquent commentary and I don't think we are in disagreement. America has a lot of problems, especially lately, and we advise and warn our European friends on places to avoid in the US when they travel here, especially in S. California where we live.

The problem I'm addressing is to the Yankees going to Europe. Our mindset is: pickpockets, some aggressive, are waiting for us at almost all of the main sights. This type of aggression is new to us; we don't know how to deal with it in real time. Americans who are unprepared, with information, are shocked at how blatant it is with virtually no police involvement whatsoever. Europeans work very hard and we appreciate that, but we don't know how to dial 911 in London or read a train schedule in the Check Republic. We are always, it seems, to be in some sort of stress, frustration or state of confusion of how to get from point A to B and C. I can navigate Italy, Provence, Germany, Switzerland, UK, etc., now but we have friends here that won't go without being in a large tour group. They are begging us to show them the "real" people, driving them around to the places we like which is why our next trip will be three or four months.
Anyway, I truly do appreciate you comments. Regards,

Posted by
8291 posts

Emma, I agree with you completely. I expect to get shot down too... I have never had any negative experience in Europe (France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Belgium, The Netherlands) in all the years I have spent there. In these posts, we have only heard a couple of anecdotal bad experiences. I am sorry those bad things happened but they are rare, very rare. We are not hearing from the 100's of 1000's of Americans that travel all over Europe, all year long, who have never had a bad experience. And no bad experience is the overwhelming norm in my opinion.

This is where I will get shot down... I think some people don't have street smarts and invite negative attention by their behavior. I have an aggressive GET AWAY FROM ME or I will kill you look on my face, body language, demeanor when I am in a tourist area or on public transportation with the kind of people that have been referenced. And, for instance, I would never go up to a young guy hanging out in a Metro and ask him for help. I know why he is hanging out in the Metro, it's obvious to me why he's there. I would also understand how the Metro works before going in, know where I'm going and walk purposefully. I would do the same for SF's BART and the NYC subway.

If some people are too scared reading anecdotal bad experiences to go to Europe, then I would agree they should not go.

I would also advise people to never travel in the US because murders happen here very often, everywhere... from State Parks, National Parks, country roads, freeways, schools, Universities, in homes, small towns, small and large cities, etc. To reference my city, tourists have been murdered in San Francisco in very "safe" areas using an ATM or walking around Union Square looking for a restaurant for dinner. Lots of bad things happen in SF every single day to innocent people. Yet people still go there. Including me.

I think the anecdotal bad experiences in Europe are blown way out of proportion to the point of ridiculous. Be aware, be vigilant, don't do dumb things that invite the negative, wear a money belt, and be alert. All common sense.

Posted by
31471 posts

@jim_bird,

We, in the future, will never get within fifty miles of Milan ever again.

Milan is also not one of my favourite cities in Italy, however I seem to pass through there at least once on every trip to Europe (and sometimes more than once). I was there a few weeks ago, and noticed that there's an increased police presence around the Duomo. It seems that the authorities are trying to clean up some of the problems and make life easier for tourists.

I experienced some minor annoyances in the Metro with teenage Gypsy / Roma girls trying to "help" me buy tickets. They didn't respect a firm "NO", but I dealt with that another way so it wasn't a huge problem. There were a lot of sidewalk merchants set up in the Metro stations but they weren't a bother. On one occasion, I noticed the police "rousting" a group in the Metro, so they seem to be trying to clean that area up as well. The sidewalk performers in the streets around the Duomo were another issue. They were all using loud amplifiers, which created a cacophony of raucous noise that wasn't at all pleasant to listen to.

Of course, none of this can change the impressions you had of Milan after your last visit. I just wanted to mention that the authorities seem to be trying to address these problems.

Posted by
2939 posts

"Carry yourself with calm, confidence!!! Everyone can tell you are a foreigner, but more than that they can tell if you are a green traveler. How you might ask...because you look bewildered, overwhelmed and in awe of your surroundings. Stay in the present, save looking around for when your bags are dropped off at your hotel, only ask for advice from people who are behind counters (ie. Tourism Info Office-there is a small one in most train stations in Europe) then you know they are legit and they are paid to help (if all else fails go to a café, buy some coffee, exhale and then ask the waiter for help." (Posted by Sara, Travel Advisor With Rick Steves' Europe)

This is why I often suggest that those traveling to Europe for the first time, who seem a bit intimidated by all the planning, logistics of rail travel, and safety issues take a Rick Steves Tour instead of going alone. You don't walk around looking bewildered and overwhelmed, as Sara said. You are in a small group and there is safety in numbers. Your Rick Steves travel guide has all the bases covered as far as knowing the layout of the area you will be traveling, plus transportation is covered. Seems to me it's pretty good advice to take a Rick Steves Tour, especially if a person is not an experienced, hardened "road warrior."

Posted by
8291 posts

"Surely a valuable part of travel is interacting with the (largely non violent, non thieving, friendly but not actually particularly interested in tourists anyway) locals!"

I agree with you emma in most circumstances.... but not in a subway.

Posted by
2939 posts

Thank you, Susan! I think some of the people who come to this forum and ask their travel questions are new to travel, and some even make the comment that they are retired, over 60, and are apprehensive about traveling. For those people especially, I think the Rick Steves Tours are perfect. As an extra bonus, they make a bunch of new friends getting to know all the other travelers on the tour. The group will be watching out for each other, and the tour guide will be keeping a sharp eye out, so I should think the pickpocketers (if there are any) will stay away.

Posted by
12887 posts

"Everyone can tell you are a foreigner." Very true, but a foreigner who knows the language, at least, having the ability to read the signs, instructions, and so on still has an advantage. Since they know I'm a foreigner and an obvious tourist in Paris, I should wear an Hawaiian shirt.

Posted by
724 posts

@passmorecl, I am sorry to hear about your terrible experience on the Paris metro. I have never heard of such an experience! It certainly does sound like you were set up.

My advice for "green" travelers (and we are all green at least once!) I think we are most vulnerable when we are traveling in a new city with luggage on public transportation. We took a cab to/from the airport on our recent trip to Paris. I am comfortable in Paris, but I was with my 2 sons who are not experienced urban travelers and my husband.

But once we deposited our suitcases, I was perfectly comfortable on the metro/RER. My husband and I both used moneybelts, so there wasn't much to swipe. Don't carry around a lot when sightseeing. Rip pages out of your guidebook. Pack light and you have less to look after.

When riding the metro, I stash my map, so that I look like I know what I'm doing. When I exit a car, I walk straight towards the wall or if there is a platform, I walk straight towards a pillar. I put my back to the wall/pillar while waiting for the rush of crowds from the emptying train to go by. Then, I get my map out and figure out what to do (if I don't know already). When your back is to a wall, or you sit on a bench, you have fewer sides to watch for people coming "too close." The key is to look like you know what you're doing. You don't actually have to know what you're doing, just look like you do. It's even ok to walk along with the crowd and not know where you are going. You can always turn around and go the other way when you get your bearings.

I would give the same advice when you're lost on a busy sidewalk. Get out of the flow of pedestrians, and then look at your map, preferably with a wall behind you.

Posted by
137 posts

@Fred, My husband did wear his Hawaiian shirts on our 21 day trip to France starting at the beginning of this month! Now that I think about it, he did stand out..

Posted by
51 posts

My bottom line on this subject is this: for 35 years I walked the streets at night and day of dozens of the largest cities in the US, Canada and Mexico at business trade shows. These conventions attract large numbers of out-of-towners to the city center sights. Not once, zip-zero-nada, was I or anyone I know picked, mugged or even approached by any jerk including San Francisco around the Masconi Center where City Hall has welcomed transients. Sure you can wander into gangbanger neighborhoods if you're lost, clueless or don't ask for help.

Being hassled at major European sights is not in our DNA. We spend a ton of money and planning time for a VACATION that most of us have been waiting and saving to do for most of our adult lives. My wife and I found ourselves most mornings mentally preparing for the "annoyance battle" at the major sights. And yes, we carried nothing, wore money belts, did the stare-downs, skipped every line and walked liked we knew where we were going.
But if I observe again at the Colosseum 3 or 4 thugs circling an Asian tour group like sharks herding feeder fish, bumping, frisking and opening the purse of an eighty year old Japanese lady and her terrified husband without help from anyone including the tour guide, I will not stand there with my mouth open like I did on my last visit. I will do something like put a shoe in one of their butts or a fist in his face but, of course, I'm the Ugly American who will probably do jail time.

Posted by
17 posts

Keith, lighten up or perhaps it's true that you Brits don't have much sense of humor.

Posted by
12887 posts

@ Dee....my compliments to your husband wearing the Hawaiian shirt. Bravo! Of course, he stood out ... tourist was written all over him but so what? The message to the thieves and scammers: come at me, bring it on. If I wear the Hawaiian shirt in Paris or Italy, my intention is plainly not to blend in.

@ Jim...not at all. You're not the Ugly American in that situation, period.

Posted by
8293 posts

I have to chime in here and say that whether or not Jim would be an Ugly American in the described situation, he would probably be guilty of assault.

Posted by
51 posts

Norma, thank you for the advice. Our Italian friends said the same thing. My problem is this: If I try to separate an Octogenarian from a 25-year old punk, I will be the one getting a fist in the face. Since I'm 65 I only get one punch and it needs to be a good one. Jail wouldn't be that bad if I could eat the food the locals eat though - that would definitely be worth it!!

Posted by
12887 posts

Absolutely agree, "it needs to be a good one" to be the Good Samaritan here.

Posted by
1290 posts

Hello, First post here, but frequent reader.

I am so glad I did not read this thread when I traveled for the first time internationally to London a few years ago! I would have been scared to go. Hubby and I are very green but always super aware. We encountered no problems at all, we jsut used, what i would call normal common sense. I had my maps and guidbooks and camera out all the time. I would never block sidewalk traffic looking at a map, we always pulled ourselves off to the side to see what the next plan of attack was. My husband did Film me at the ATM getting money, now I am thinking he should always have his back to me when I take money out (new procedure will be implemented on the next trip).

When traveling we rely on each others instincts and perceptions. If he tells me to stop walking and turn the other way and walk fast, I do it without question or sass mouth. Same with me, if I tell him "guy in the black coat, hat", he knows I am sensing something not right and we need to steer clear. The guy might be 100% innocent, he never knew we singled him out, but better safe than sorry.

Hubby does the money belt, the most we carry is under 200.00 (of whatever currency), 1/2 with him and 1/2 with me. Him in a money belt, me in my smallish cross over body bag with a zipper. One credit card and one ATM. with one of each back at the Hotel/apartment. I am a "plan B" person, so I plan for the worst and would never put us in a "We lost everything" situation.

I WANT to talk to people, I find the locals very helpful and kind. I would never think someone is "hanging out" in a subway station to do harm. I guess I need to change my thinking a bit. I would be more cautious of two or more people trying to "help" me than a single individual. Plus I think it is kinda weird for someone to ask you if you need help that is not employed with the facility...usually people have places to be, trains to catch. I would usually approach someone and ask for help, not the other way around.

I can do a very good "mean mom" look (made my kids cry when they were little) and my hubby is 6 ft, bald and built and we can both be agressive when needed. Thanks for all the heads up...I am not going to change our routine much, just be hyper aware of traps.

Posted by
137 posts

@Fred, My husband wasn't trying to make a statement with his Hawaiian shirts. He just likes wearing them and I guess we were just clueless about standing out. I don't think I saw anyone else wearing them throughout our entire 21 day trip. I guess if we had gotten separated, it would have been easier for me to pick him out of the crowd. Also, good description if I needed help from others to find him. The guy in the flowery Hawaiian shirt...

Posted by
1 posts

First time posting here, although been reading for awhile. I just returned from my seventh trip to Paris in as many years, every trip as a solo female, for 3 to 4 weeks each time, and as someone else posted on here, I'm glad I didn't read these before I made that first trip, because I'd have been scared out of my wits. I'm so sad to hear that people have had these horrible experiences. I'm happy to say that I've never had a bad incident or a pickpocketing, although I've had several in my life in the midwestern US, so maybe that has made me more cautious. The best advice I got before I left from a friend was to try not to look like a tourist -- in other words, don't look lost, know where you're going and your connections before you get on the metro (which is not difficult, as there is a diagram of lines and stops on the wall of the trains); and don't walk around with a tourbook in your hand. Last time I was there, I was shocked at how many locals walked down the streets with smartphones in their hands (almost everyone!) seemingly oblivious, because there are areas where I come from where they'd be snatched out of your hand in a heartbeat. I mentioned that to someone there, and they just laughed.

When I'm out for the day or night, I carry with me one credit card, one cash card, my navigo card, and no more than 100 Euros in cash in my wallet -- zipped into the side of a small normal worn purse with a zipper closure and a flap over that. It doesn't stand out any more than the purses that other women are carrying. I don't carry my passport. I sometimes, depending on where I'm going, will carry a money belt with a zipper, that attaches around the waist and fits inside my underwear, but not very often. I sometimes carry a camera, but NOT around my neck, but in a bag that looks like a large handbag. When I need an ATM, I wait until I'm in a residential area, away from the tourist hotspots. As in the states, it's the major attractions that will bring out the people preying on tourists, so extra vigilance is always necessary, and the con games and gold ring scams and petition stops are well known enough as to avoid. As far as talking to locals, that's half the fun of traveling there! I've found people to be helpful and friendly, and really interested in talking to visitors and hearing about where they come from.

One tip that a local gave me -- if you're in a situation where you're feeling uncomfortable, pull out your phone as though it rang and you're having a conversation with someone -- and yell at them in a loud voice as though you're angry, and mention your location, as in "Yes, you $!#*@, I'm at the corner of x and y, in front of [place], and you're late!" Better if you can do it in French, but as long as you're yelling, it draws attention to you by other passersby, and possibly deters anyone who was going to approach you. No idea if that works, but it makes sense. He also told me that just because you don't see someone in uniform, does not mean there is not a cop around, and that there are far more police in plainclothes than it would appear.

Posted by
12887 posts

Very good tip on how purposely to make a scene using the cell phone plus some effective drama. That reminds me of the classic "The Women" (1939) when the movie focused on the phone conversations.

Posted by
31 posts

Let's put a bow around this and close it.
I'm glad these incidents were reported. I'll add them to my list of things to watch out for, but I won't be changing my travel plans very much.

Independent travel has it's low points. But it also has higher high points. This could could be your worst low point. But really, how much deep damage was done in these incidents? Not a lot. Unless you are clobbered (still very unlikely) this should be only a temporary setback.

But if you are permanently psychologically traumatized and emotionally damaged, then you:

1) Did not read Europe Through the Back Door and prepare your mind to have a good time - Rick says to be optimistic, upbeat. Turn lemons into lemonade. Plan for the worst, expect the best, recover quickly from problems.
2) Maybe take group tours if you are still fearful. The guide will chase off the troublemaker in their own language.
3) Maybe you are not of the "adventurous" type. It's OK. There are other ways to travel.

You wont die - unless the situation turns to real physical harm (still not very likely), its mostly emotional trauma and temporary loss of some dignity.
Always have a plan in case the worst happens - in case you lose everything but your money belts.
If you don't have a full back up plan, to salvage your trip, don't go.
If you don't have the money or credit to salvage your trip (or cards and cash back at the hotel), then don't go.
One of our backup strategies is to be able to SPEND our way out of the problem. I'm a penny pincher, but if there is one thing money is for, it is to solve problems and save the day.
If we lost our carry-on, we would buy most of our needs back. We would probably lose a day or two to recovery, but then we would be able to continue.

For most of us there are three areas of preparation:

AVOID, as much as possible, the incident: Learn to size up an area before you step too deeply into it. Don't attract crooks, avoid places where incident may occur - read all the above suggestions in the many helpful posts.

Dealing with an incident IN PROGRESS - getting away from an incident if it occurs, minimizing the extent of the abuse - more helpful posts above.

The MOST important thing is RECOVERY, to minimize the permanence of the damage and continue on triumphantly.

Have the attitude of an explorer - things may happen, but you'll triumph.

Posted by
8293 posts

Don of Fountain Alley: You are a fountain of good sense and good advice. I have long believed that there are some people who should not leave their home country. My mother was one of those. She was always shocked and appalled at how "foreign" everything was in foreign lands.

Posted by
11832 posts

In my travels, I've only lost a camera riding a bus in Munich on the first day of Oktoberfest.

After that, I thought about what I had done wrong and changed a couple of things.

I was already using a moneybelt, so nothing expensive or important was at risk but I did have two problems that compounded each other.

First I was at my wits end. I arrived without reservations. I found a place a short bus ride from the train station after probably 20 calls and an unfruitful visit to the TI, but was emotionally drained from the effort. Being drained, similar to being jetlagged or otherwise fatigued, made me less likely to pay attention to my things and my surroundings, less carefull. I still travel mostly without reservations, but I call ahead to book something rather than arriving then looking.

Second, I was traveling light but still had a handful of small things in my hands. It's harder to keep track of multiple bags, shopping bags, small items. I've since adopted what I call the "one handle" rule. Whether I have my bag on a travel day, shopping bags on a shopping day or just a daypack on a tour day, I always reduce everything to one handle. Everything inside one item so I can carry everything with one hand and only have to watch one thing. It also leaves a free hand which I put in the pocket with my walking around money any time the crowd gets thick or something raises my suspicion level.

Posted by
4 posts

Since two and a half months have passed since I made the original post, it seemed like time to make some observations.
1. You cannot know what a gift it was to have total strangers, on this message board, write such kind words expressing empathy, and concern, and outrage at what happened to us. That, and the kindness of strangers who gathered around us in Paris at the time the incident, have served to put our word back onto its' proper axis.
2. Thanks to all of you who shared experiences gleaned from your travels, of how to remain safe.
Finally, I want to pass on a wonderful tip shared with me by a Swiss Paraglider - he learned it at a workshop led by a "professional" ex-pickpocket.
a) The number one goal of any pickpocket is to successfully remove your wallet and get away before you realize what happened.
b) Only two fingers are used to reach into your pocket for the smoothest removal: the index and middle finger.
c) If instead of placing your wallet into your front pants pocket in the normal manner in which it is most easy for you to slide it in and out of your pocket (which is lengthwise), and leaving it in that position, train yourself to always do step two: rotate your wallet so that it is crosswise in your pocket with the open top where you insert paper bills, facing down in your pocket. Now the corners catch when you try to slide your wallet out of your pocket, unless you rotate it first!
Thanks again for being such a caring community.

Posted by
141 posts

Thanks for sharing the information you learned to help the rest of us be aware. I am glad you found something positive from a dreadful experience! I am visiting Paris in March, and after reading your story I bought a decent looking jacket with many interior zipped pockets (ExOfficio FlyQ trench). I bought it mainly to get more items on board the plane, but I am hoping it will also be useful to protect my valuables from thieves (I tried using a travel belt before and hated it). I am telling my fiance about the rotated wallet trick! He has some hiking pants with buttoned/zippered pockets, I wonder if those would stymie a pickpocket too?