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Paris theft attempt?

My 20 yr old daughter and I (well seasoned travelers) were leaving the Odeon metro last night after 11pm pulling our carryon size bags. At the last series of steps as we were starting up a man suddenly appeared, put his hand on my daughter's suitcase handle with the pretense of helping out, but he was so fast and didn't ask if he could help us. I immediately shouted no! and he walked away quickly saying 'sorry'. I felt like a rude American, but at the same time think this could have been a bad situation, esp. considering the contents included a computer. Am I too paranoid, or was I quick on my feet?

Posted by
1129 posts

Christina, Don't feel guilty. You felt you did what you had to do. People here like to give each other a rough time because they have nothing better to do with their time and act as if they're picking on the new kid at recess. I find it incredibly odd that he didn't say a word to you to offer help. You did what you felt was right. Yelling "no" is not a crime. It's not as if you kneed him where the sun doesn't shine. I'm sure many people would react the same way. Bottom line, nobody here knows what you were feeling or how you assessed the situation the way you did, but all turned out fine in the end.

Posted by
206 posts

Christina, I would have done the same thing. It is important to be aware of your surroundings. Now, enjoy your time with your daughter in beautiful Paris! :-)

Posted by
9110 posts

Boy, I hope nobody ever though that about me when I've snagged a suitcase or the front end of a baby stroller when somebody was trying to go up or down a set of steps. You were pulling a hunk of luggage. Could the dude have picked it up and outrun a twenty year old? Did you check to see that he was wearing his Mighty Mouse X-Ray Glasses so he knew that he was getting a computer and not a bunch of dirty socks? Did you check to see if he had a Cross-Dresser Lapel Pin and was probably interested in some really spiffy wimmins clothes? Do most would-be thieves apologise rather than go into the acute haul-butt mode when thwarted?

Posted by
922 posts

I'm trying to imagine what the situation must have been like and how I would have reacted. I mean there are beggars who just sit and wait for others to give them something. Then beggars who more assertively approach people and ask for money without offering any reason or service. Then beggars who ask for charity money. Then buskers who perform in some way for money. And now there are people who try to act as porters and offer luggage help as a small service in return for a Euro. And then there are the outright thieves. If the man wanted to steal the suitcase, it seems he would have just grabbed it and made off with it. Were there other people around? Was he well dressed or shabby? Did he seem French or ...? It's so odd to reach out and touch someone else's belongings like that without first politely offering assistance. It would naturally arouse a defensive reaction of fear and trepidation. The man may have not had a totally sinister motivation, but I think I would have reacted the same way. If you let him help you and then he wanted money, you would have more seriously exposed yourself had you then stopped to engage with him and revealed the position of your cash or wallet. There could have been others lurking in the shadows who were with him. It doesn't feel right and I think you acted wisely.

Posted by
922 posts

Afterthought: This made me remember something that happened to me long, long ago. I was coming out of a supermarket (in the U.S.) late at night with my arms full of grocery bags (in the days before they had handles). A man and a woman approached me and asked me a question that I didn't fully hear. I stopped and looked at them and said 'Pardon me' or some such thing, thinking they needed some type of help. They didn't look particularly sinister. As quick as a flash the woman reached into my shoulder bag (which unfortunately I had left unzipped in a hurry to get out of the store after paying), took my wallet, and they both dashed off before I could react effectively. I instinctively called out after them and for help, but it was too late. Obviously I learned a hard lesson.

Posted by
517 posts

No point in second-guessing it. You went with your gut reaction. I have a law enforcement friend who's always telling me that in such cases your instincts are usually right.

Posted by
3936 posts

Honestly - you can never be too careful. Same thing happened to me. Only with a carry-on size...heading up the steps from the subway and a young fellow grabbed ahold of my bag to 'help' me carry it. I very firmly said 'No thanks' a few times...I wasn't struggling with my luggage. So don't feel bad. Now, we were chatting with an elderly couple while in Paris from the UK, and they had giant suitcases and the gentleman had to take one down the stairs and then go back up for the next one at one of the subway stops (another reason to travel light). My husband took it down for him. No bad intentions (but we never would have done that had we not been chatting with them)...and in a few places on the London Tube (and prob a few other places) I helped people with baby strollers down stairs (and was refused help by someone - I didn't get miffed about it).

Posted by
3936 posts

Now - another incident - this was a not busy Sun morning in Paris (just after the guy tried to 'help') and we were getting on an escalator, my husband in front. I turned back and was watching behind me (trying to keep my suitcase on the steps) and saw two girls behind (prob 16/17). I noticed one bend down as soon as she hit the escalator...then the esca stops...and the girls crowded around me very fast to 'help' me with my bag. I processed very fast that they had hit the emergency stop button. I struggled with them a bit trying to keep my bag in front of me and telling them no, no help. My husband is already off the esca watching. When I got to the top, they kinda scurried away, and the top zipper on the front of my bag was open (one of the outside pockets). Now, there was nothing impt in there, and I may have left it open myself, but I checked it and my jacket pockets and nothing obvious was gone. This was our 2nd visit to Paris and our first experience with this. I don't think you should feel bad at all, you have to trust your instincts... (Sorry - wouldn't let me post all of this in one posting)

Posted by
2349 posts

I agree-no point in second guessing. You did what felt right. If he was completely innocent then he probably learned that he should not just grab a bag. If he wanted to offer help to two women with luggage, wouldn't the polite man help the older woman first?

Posted by
11450 posts

I kind of think you over reacted myself its a lot more common to see people helping with luggage then stealing it actually , most thiefs would let you haul the luggage and use your hands being busy to pickpocket your purse or wallet,, not take a bunch of your clothes. Sorry I do think you were a bit paranoid. Lets also remember running with a suitcase would be difficult even for a man,,, a wallet or purse would have been easy. As to why he helped the younger woman,, duh, is she cute?

Posted by
4535 posts

Over-reaction. A thief is not going to run off with a suitcase. They are after purses and small bags and rely on outrunning you to get away. At worst, it could have been a beggar that "helps" in exchange for some change - not uncommon in Europe. That he walked away with a "sorry" means that he wasn't a beggar as they can be very persistent. On the other hand, he didn't offer to help, just took the bag so I can understand your over-reaction. I've helped many a people in Europe and the US with luggage. I'm not sure if I always ask before and honestly it is often partially self-serving - if I'm caught behind someone struggling up stairs with their bag, I can move along faster by carrying it up for them. Or if it's a cute 20 year-old...

Posted by
8866 posts

You will never know. That said, I always go with my gut feeling. Doing so got me through a dangerous job for 25+ years unscathed, as opposed to coworkers who didn't listen to their guts and ended up with guns to their heads and other fun things. Women in particular are taught to be nice and not hurt others feelings. That can end up backfiring when somewhen else has other intentions than doing something honorable.

Posted by
6877 posts

Unless you are physically harmed or in danger of it, there's no reason to shout at anyone. You can simply say "no thank you, we don't need any help" - that will do the trick. No one knows that particular guy's intentions - the only important thing is how you're going to react going forward, and that really depends on your outlook and philosophy toward strangers. I don't think gut feelings are always right (for example highly anxious people are always on alert when they don't need to be) and they can change/adapt over time to different circumstances - but they do serve a good purpose overall, although sometimes at the expense of someone else.

Posted by
672 posts

Christina, Was he trying to steal the suitcase? Who knows. But what you do know is that you have the suitcase and you and your daughter are safe, which is the best possible outcome. No one here has a crystal ball and can tell you with 100% certainty that he was just trying to be nice. You were faced with a situation that required a very quick decision and you trusted your gut. Try not to worry about it or let it impact your vacation – you and your daughter are in PARIS!!!!! Have a wonderful time.

Posted by
922 posts

I'm still thinking a bit about this and there are a few things that don't compute. 1. The word 'reserved' is often used to describe the French and Parisians in particular. A reserved person doesn't just come up upon strangers in public and touch them or their belongings without first saying something. 2. In all my European travels I've rarely seen anyone help others with their luggage - except obvious tourists offering to help one another because they happened to be standing near one another on an escalator or staircase, or someone helping because the individual was struggling with a very large suitcase, or their own path forward was blocked and they offered help to clear the access more quickly. This incident occurred late at night when most tourists are probably already in their hotels dead tired from their long day. It doesn't sound like it was crowded, and your bags were manageable size. 3. The man walked away quickly. If he was sincerely wanting to help with no ulterior motive, it seems he would have not been so quick to get away. 4. Helping a mother struggling with a stroller in the Metro or Underground is more understandable and commendable. I've seen that many times and have even pitched in and helped occasionally, but never before asking the Mom if she wanted help. Just saying...

Posted by
4739 posts

A reserved person doesn't just come up upon strangers in public and touch them or their belongings without first saying something. Maybe that is true in the U.S., but I wouldn't assume that for other places. I was in a Paris metro station last month and tripped on the last step. I went sprawling, landing on my hands and knees. Within seconds, two gentlemen were on either side of me. They grabbed me under the arms and helped me up. They did not say a single word ... not before they helped me or after. As soon as I was up and said Merci, they continued quickly on their way. I myself was kind of startled when they grabbed my arms, but it all happened so fast I didn't have time to react. I think in the U.S., people would generally start with a "Are you o.k.?" or "Can I help?" before picking someone up. I wouldn't assume that the same thing would happen in another country. Christina, I wouldn't worry about your reaction. If you find yourself in a situation like this in the future, start with a polite "No, Thank you". If they persist, then yell. Chivalry is not dead. Odds are this man was just trying to be helpful. I've been offered help with my luggage in Europe on many occasions. Usually they ask or gesture first, but sometimes they just reach for the handle. A polite "no thank you" has always worked.

Posted by
8866 posts

Rose, you are incorrect that no one is Europe would help someone with a bag without saying something. It happened to me in Paris trying to get on a very crowded RER train to get to the airport. A man already on the train grabbed my bag from me as I was getting on. When I say the train was crowded, I was on my tiptoes because there wasn't enough room to put my feet flat. My husband had to pull someone's leg out of the closing door. I was nose to nose with the man who helped me. The next stop enough people got off to relieve the overcrowding. That's when I saw my purse was open and my wallet was gone. Nice guy. Just saying that it can and does happen. I'm sure I'm not the only person it has happened to. And I'm not paranoid, just aware of my surroundings.

Posted by
922 posts

...you are incorrect that no one is Europe would help someone with a bag without saying something I didn't say that. I 'never say never'. All individual experiences and observations, including my own, are only anecdotal. Kind, generous, chivalrous people exist everywhere, as do some rogues. I've had the good fortune to almost always encounter the good guys in my travels.

Posted by
59 posts

Thanks for all of your thoughts on this. A day later I still think there was something odd about this. Surely he could have said something first rather than sneaking up on us. Also, I didn't mention that he had a friend with him. I've put this down as a wakeup call that no matter how comfortable we may feel here in Europe, we should always be watchful at the same time.

Posted by
8866 posts

Rose, you said "1. The word 'reserved' is often used to describe the French and Parisians in particular. A reserved person doesn't just come up upon strangers in public and touch them or their belongings without first saying something." Okay, you didn't say never, you just implied it. I'm just saying that it can and does happen.

Posted by
11450 posts

I have definitely seen people help someone without saying anything,, but whatever.. I agree one has to be wary, but I hope that doesn't turn us into screaming paranoids .. And Christina... if the man and his friend really wanted to steal the bag what makes you think that you simply yelling "no" was what made them stop.. I really think you are wrong about this but whatever. If the man wanted your bag it would not have mattered if you yelled no,, because if he was in fact going to steal it, and if you didn't yell no right away, you surely would have been yelling much more as he took it,, right? So why did you yelling " no " stop him,, I think its because he wasn't going to steal it at all. Think about that.

Posted by
13211 posts

"The word 'reserved' is often used to describe the French and Parisians in particular." Is that the word you would use? It is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of my interactions with Parisians. Formal, yes. Unsmiling, yes. Kind, yes. Rude? Have read of it but did not experience any rudeness on our last visit. Bossy? A little. (Thinking of the fruit-stand vendor who scolded my husband for touching the strawberries). There is no way to know if this person was even French. Could have been an American who saw a fellow American struggling with a bag and wanted to do the manly thing. No way to know, so anything said about this is just a guess.

Posted by
8505 posts

My guess is that he would have won your daughter's appreciation, a whirlwind Paris romance would have followed, with a tearful parting at the end. It's possible he didn't even notice mom until she yelled no! Odeon is a busy, lively area 24 hours a day filled with young people. I doubt he was a thief, just two buddies on the way to the movies, or bar, or the Starbucks that takes up half the sidewalk there, and he saw a cute girl dragging a suitcase up the stairs. I would have loved to have seen the look on his face when Mama Bear growled. That he said sorry says it all. Thieves get mad at you; they don't apologize.

Posted by
922 posts

Is that the word you would use? No, I don't think so, but in a few threads in recent months that word has popped up repeatedly as a descriptor. I find the culture and language very complex and no one word comes close for me. Merriam-Webster defines 'reserved' as 'to hold back'. And that's the context in which I used it. A person who tends to 'hold back' would probably not be likely to suddenly reach out unexpectedly and physically touch someone else's belongings. It goes along with always extending a polite greeting upon entering/leaving a French shop and conducting business there. Likewise, I would expect someone legitimately wanting to help to preface the action with a polite expression (or at least eye contact and a little nod or something as an expression of respectful good intention) before entering my 'space', including coming close enough to me and touching my belongings late at night in the Metro. Especially a man approaching a young woman. I'm probably a bit old-fashioned, though.

Posted by
3696 posts

I agree with Bets and really like the novel that is unfolding here about the romantic Frenchman who spotted his soul mate and when her mother got involved he sulked away broken hearted....:)) There is definitely something to be said for trusting your instincts, I do... and usually feel I am right... but there is no way to know for sure.

Posted by
922 posts

If I had the money I would give Bets an advance to begin writing the first chapters/script. I sense the next great Woody Allen movie on the horizon. Who should play the 20-year-old and her mom?

Posted by
6511 posts

"You done good - and you shouldn't give a damn how others react to protecting yourself." Obviously the OP does care what others think about her reaction to the situation, otherwise she wouldn't have posted the question "Am I too paranoid, or was I quick on my feet?" She asked for opinions and she's getting them. Personally I'm on the side that thieves (or potential thieves) don't say "sorry" when confronted. I had a couple of people try to help with my luggage when in Paris (and offered seats on the Metro too - I must look old or helpless even though I'm not), one of them asked me if I needed help the other just reached for my suitcase. I just told him "non merci" and that was that. ...to continue the story - Like all good "boy meets girl" stories, even though mama bear thwarted the first encounter the daughter later saw him again at a cafe and thus the romance and drama continued - under the watchful eye of mama of course.

Posted by
8866 posts

Of course he didn't say thank you until AFTER Christina shouted. No one can have any way of knowing if he was just interested in the daughter, was trying to be helpful, or if he wanted her bag.

Posted by
9363 posts

Andrea, of course he didn't say sorry (not thank you) until after she yelled. He wouldn't have done it before she did. If his intentions were good, he wasn't anticipating ant yelling at all.

Posted by
2349 posts

Somewhere in cyber space is a parallel thread from a young man. Maybe "I saw the girl of my dreams but was thwarted by her mother!" Or, "I tried to help some girl struggling with her luggage. She reminded me of my little sister but her mother yelled at me." Or, "Drats, foiled again in my thievery by an alert reader of the cursed Rick Steves."

Posted by
6877 posts

Potential-thief-turned-Harlequin-Romance-Novel-lead? Wow....this unknown man who uttered a single word has been psychoanalyzed to death and every possible motive has been imputed...all I want to know is what would the OP do if something like that happened again? and did these 30+ comments from complete strangers alter or confirm her pre-existing hunch?

Posted by
8866 posts

I stand corrected. He said sorry. The real point is that Christina acted by instinct, and that's not necessarily a bad thing to do.

Posted by
1878 posts

When you are in unfamiliar city known for theft, this is not an outrageous reaction at all. "Can I help you with your bag" is a known scam in train stations, in the moment it was not at all unreasonable to think there might be something amiss when the same question was asked in a different context. When you are out of your element you are going to act a little differently, so give yourself a break. I could tell you half a dozen stories where we either were actually or nearly stolen from in Europe; or observed thieves at work while traveling in Europe; or where I acted outside of my normal practice due to being out of my element and the ambiguity of the situation.

Posted by
8172 posts

"Can I help you with your bag" is a known scam? Where would this be? Shouting NO at someone who was trying to be helpful is overkill. A simple no thank you would have sufficed. If someone shouted NO at me, I am not sure what I would shout back. I help people with their bags all the time. Sometimes it is just reaching down to help someone lift their suitcase up onto the train, or down onto the platform. Yes, I do usually ask, but when a crowd is trying to get onto or off of a train, it is easier just to help lift. I help carry strollers, help at ticket machines, point out directions on maps, and help with bags. What I don't get is this huge fear that seems to pervade these forums. Not every person that offers help is a thief or scam artist. What is unbelievable is the rudeness of the tourists when help is offered. I can't tell you how many times I have watched people totally perplexed with ticket machines, their ticket, or a map, and when I offer to help, they just turn away. Occasionally, I get a no thank you, and I have then watched them get off at the wrong stop, or get on the wrong train, or spent 4 times the amount of money on a ticket then they should have. All because they are afraid. People offer to help at German train stations and airports all the time, and 99% of them are NOT thieves, just helpful people.

Posted by
1878 posts

Perhaps we should counsel the original poster to beat herself up over this endlessly then (heavy irony). The help you with your bag at the train station locker thing may be outdated, because fewer stations have lockers (if any). Nonetheless, it's no urban legend that petty theft against tourists is common in Europe. My wife has been pickpocketed twice in a dozen trips, once in Venice and once in Madrid. When we were reporting the crime in Madrid, at the insistence of the local undercover police who witnessed my wife's pickpocketing and made an arrest on the spot, new victims came through the door of the police station on Calle de Huertas about every five minutes to report a similar loss, almost all of them American. It was almost comical. (Don't let this stop you, Madrid is great!) We have also experienced a couple of near misses in Barcelona and London, also witnessed pickpockets at work on others in Lisbon and Brussels. That said, I did have a local in Barcelona point out to me right on the Ramblas that my backpack was unzipped and hanging open.. which was nice of him.

Posted by
8172 posts

There is a huge difference between getting pick-pocketed and having someone help lift a heavy suitcase into a train, or up some steps. No where in my post did I say anything about pick-pockets. All of my post was about whether or not random strangers can be helpful or not, and shouting at these helpful strangers. Back packs are so easy to get into, that wearing them makes you a target to begin with. Why I usually suggest wearing not wearing them and using a messenger bag or satchel instead.

Posted by
3580 posts

I've had men offer to help me with my luggage. In one instance (Paris Metro) I accepted the help and thanked the man. In another (Venice) I declined the help. I think the only downside to the help is that the helper may ask for money after carrying the luggage. It may be a good deal if you have a heavy bag or a physical problem. One or two euro sounds reasonable, depending on how you feel. What I find disgusting is someone (it has been women) coming up to me with hand out as though I would just hand over some money. This has happened to me a few times in Italy.

Posted by
12980 posts

"In all my European travels I've rarely seen anyone help others with their luggage...." My observations and experiences have been the exact opposite, esp when this is applied to Germany. You take enough trains, find yourself in numerous train stations going up and down the stairs to/from the floor to platform, you'll see men, young and old, offering to help carry a baby carriage, a stroller, or bulky luggage up the stairs for women. Sometimes no words are exchanged. They just do it.

Posted by
4535 posts

This isn't a thread about pickpockets (or assault - re. one of the more ridiculous posts I've seen on this site). It's about whether there are kind people in Europe that actually help strangers and whether Americans are over-indoctrinated to be on the defensive against thieves. We here and other travel writers obviously do our job very well of warning people about pickpockets, thieves and scammers. That is generally a good thing as many people have avoided being victimized by being prepared and aware. But it can also create a complete sense of mistrust of people - that everyone is potentially a thief. As Jo and others have very well pointed out, the vast majority of Europeans are polite, kind people that will help others when they need it. Only a tiny minority are thieves intent on robbing you (and almost none are going to run off with your suitcase). Christina did over-react and many of us know this because we know how different scams and thefts occur. But none of us are beating her up over it - it was a gut response to the constant advice to be on the lookout for theft that we offer here (and in guidebooks). Her post intent was to better understand how to respond to such things and there is nothing wrong with those of us that advise her to be a little less reactive next time. PS - Speaking as a man, I have little doubt that the guy and his friend were doing a nice thing for a pretty girl. A Parisian whirlwind romance was crushed ;-)

Posted by
8995 posts

IMO, a man is no position to judge the reactions of two female travelers late a night at a metro station.

Posted by
8172 posts

Well, if the man posting is of the same same opinion as many of the women, where is the problem? This isn't a man/woman problem, seeing how we have men who post about the same fears. I can handle myself in many situations as well as a man and I don't think I am alone with this ability. To write a post that gives the impression that women are frail, scaredy cats when out at night in the dark, just perpetuates this myth.

Posted by
8995 posts

If we're not allowed to put in our two-cents about female fashions, that should apply to personal security as well;)

Posted by
8505 posts

Correct: female fashion is off-limits.