Please sign in to post.

Paris Metro Ambush Pick-pocketing

Our family just returned from a week in Paris, and, for the most part, it was an excellent trip. It had a rough start, though, with our first RER/Metro ride from CDG to our apartment in Jules Joffrin. I want to say first of all that we are not inexperienced travelers or naive about cities. We have traveled in many major cities in Europe and Asia, and we have lived in large urban centers in the US, as well. We are cautious of our surroundings, hold our belongings closely, and walk quickly and meaningfully in cities. When we arrived in Paris, we had to go through Gare du Nord to change trains, and I was well aware that this area could pose a potential for pickpockets, so we had our guard up.

All that being said, I believe there is probably nothing we could have done that would have prevented the style of pickpocket we encountered on the train. We were boarding the carriage when we were suddenly surrounded by five men. A few closed in around my husband, putting themselves between our children and him, and one grabbed my suitcase. I yelled, "NO!" and pulled it away, and as that was happening, one standing behind my husband had unzipped his pants pocket and was reaching in for my husband's wallet. My husband shoved him away and also yelled, "HEY!", and we think we caused enough commotion that the men didn't want to stick around, so they gave up on us and jumped off the train car before the doors closed. We were fortunate that they didn't get anything, but it certainly rattled our children as our first experience in Paris. It didn't end there, though.

After exiting the Metro line to walk to our apartment, we were followed by three men on the sidewalk (one carrying a roll-aboard suitcase), and saw two more walking toward us. They appeared to be trying to close in on us. We turned and stared at the ones behind us, and they stared back at us for a moment before dropping off into the street. When we started walking again, they again started following us. We waited a few moments at a cafe where there were people outside so as not to be alone, and eventually all five men wandered off. We hailed a taxi and got our luggage up to our apartment. We took a cab to the airport at the end of the trip and certainly wish we had chosen to do so at the beginning, as well.

I want to echo a thought that I've seen a couple of people say on here before: Please, do not take the RER and Metro with your luggage. Just spring for the 50 Euro taxi from CDG to your accommodation in the city. When you are traveling with literally all of your important documents and traveling possessions on your person, as you have to for airport arrivals and departures, you are simply too vulnerable to this ambush style of pickpocketing that appears to be happening on the Metro and close to its stations. It doesn't matter how savvy or alert you are--we were suddenly surrounded and outnumbered (twice!) and things could have gone a lot worse if we hadn't been lucky enough that these guys gave up on us quickly. If you are traveling with a backpack and that's it, maybe the train method works fine. But we were a family of two parents with two children and multiple suitcases, and there is simply no way to navigate the trains and stations without looking like a target whose hands are full of luggage and worried about keeping their children in line.

We enjoyed our trip, but this made for a difficult beginning.

Get a cab from the airport. It's worth it.

Posted by
2316 posts

Alicewp, thanks for the heads up and advice! We’ve started to do cabs from airport to hotel and back too.

Posted by
7104 posts

Oh my. What an introduction to Paris. Glad you took the evasive actions you did and glad they did not get anything.

I'm not very street savvy and never feel at my best when arriving from my international flight, so have always opted to take a taxi.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Posted by
519 posts

Sorry that this happened to you. But grabbing a suitcase is not "pick-pocking", it's far worse and probably the culprit was trying to get your husband to pay attention to what was happening to you so the other guy could be more successful at getting your husband's wallet, rather than actually trying to steal your bag.

You don't say the ages of your children or how many "multiple" suitcases is, but probably with small children (to small to be capable of handling their own luggage safely) and a lot of luggage you are right to think a taxi would have been a better idea.

But for people who travel with one small (21" or less) rolling bag and one 'personal item' (tote bag or day pack) traveling on public transportation is usually safe. I always put my passport in my under the clothes money belt, along with all but one credit card and a small amount of cash - and I do that while still in the airport, after going through passport control. Having the zippers on the tote bag/purse/backpack secured (even with just a twist tie to make it hard to undo inconspicuously) is also a good idea.

Posted by
44 posts

That sounds like a scary experience. I have had to practice my "if looks could kill" stare on some metro trips including in N. Y. and Washington as well as Europe. In India I had to resort to asking my husband to give someone the evil eye. But, for the most part the pick pockets are not violent in Europe or Asia. In Madrid the metro was so pack that I got pushed up against a guy and my hand landed on his back pocket. How embarrassing. I apologized profusely-- "Lo Siento Mucho".

Posted by
3241 posts

Wow, that does sound horrible. I am one who just has a small rolling suitcase and backpack and always takes the train in, however, with a group of four, cost wise, you are so close to breakeven that a cab probably makes the most sense, anyway. Did you report the incident?

When I am arriving to a city or traveling between cities, I use a money belt/pouch for my passport, any cash and all but one credit card. The other credit card is in a wallet at the bottom of my bag. In crowded conditions, a wallet in a pants pocket is not the greatest of ideas.

Posted by
3 posts

Responding to question about whether these two groups could have been the same: It was not the same five.

Responding to the question about whether we reported it: No. We lived in Baltimore for three years and learned that petty crimes aren't taken seriously by police, and since these guys didn't get anything, we didn't even think about contacting authorities. Judging from the absolute non-response of everyone else on the train, this isn't even something that would raise an eyebrow for locals.

Posted by
6879 posts

And heaven forbid that law enforcement actually step up their game and put more officers out there in crime areas such as airport RERs. Less of those undercover metro ticket inspections and MORE of the highly visible patrolling would be a great change. But I’m definitely losing respect for the country and really go out of my way to avoid it now.

Posted by
1381 posts

I always take a taxi from and to the airport as a solo woman usually traveling alone. It’s worth every cent. A few times early in my traveling years , I took alternate transportation but I feel most comfortable with the door to door taxi service.

Posted by
6237 posts

What's so bad is that the authorities see the pickpockets in the Paris Metro system all day long causing mayhem. They see them on closed circuit television. They're bad to have one in front of a bunch of people coming down the escalators, and take a dive at the bottom causing 10 or more people to plow into one big pile. Then their associates go to work on the crowd--just looking for billfolds with cash. It's almost like pickpockets in Europe are accepted as viable members of society.
Americans have a tendency to be timid and too nice to people wanting something from them. I'm 6'3" tall and 235 pounds. My wife walks closely behind me in such crowds. And if anyone gets into my space, I turn into an aggressive jerk. I don't ask for assistance from anyone and refuse to talk to strangers trying to "help."

Posted by
1124 posts

I agreed David. Sometimes you have to be tough and let me people know not to mess with you especially when we are tourist in Europe. Well said.

Posted by
2 posts

Alice, sorry for your bad experience. I take the RER B line from CDG often with luggage and have never had a problem.

Posted by
10701 posts

Really sorry for your frightening experience! Next time? Your husband should never carry a wallet with anything in it that can't afford to be lost in an exterior pants pocket. Never. Even if that pocket zips. Credit cards, large amounts of cash, etc. should be stowed under your clothing or in a theft-resistant cross-body bag.

The other mistake people make is assuming they know what a pickpocket looks like. They very often can look like any of us on this forum, and they are very, very slick. Many victims don't even know they'd been hit until sometime after the fact. More advice from Mr Steves...who lost his own wallet to light fingers in Paris:

https://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/pickpocketed-paris/
https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/theft-scams/outsmarting-pickpockets

Posted by
2520 posts

Less of those undercover metro ticket inspections and MORE of the highly visible patrolling would be a great change.

That's something I often think about when I read something from a tourist who got nabbed on some semi-bogus ticket violation on the Metro.

Posted by
2 posts

I consider what other foreigners say sometimes you have to be tough and tell people not to mess with you especially when we are tourists in Europe. Since we get to leave currencies to each country we go.

Posted by
22750 posts

Since we get to leave currencies to each country we go.

Sorry, I don't understand that at all? What did you mean?

Posted by
11938 posts

The last time I flew into CDG from SFO was in the summer of 2015, went solo, and took the RER to Nord after collecting the checked-in luggage, the spinner. True that traveling as a group certainly makes a difference in terms of vulnerability.

Traveling solo to Paris I always take the RER, never took the taxi option. In boarding the RER to Nord, where my hotel is, I am carrying 3 pieces of luggage, a duffel looking bag in addition to moving that spinner and a small cross over sack.

Posted by
880 posts

I had a pickpocket attempt last month in Paris. I've posted about it already so I won't go into the details.
I hollered "NO!" at the guy and then followed him for a bit in the Metro station pointing at him and yelling that he was a thief and a pickpocket. No one in the station ever batted an eye -- this was clearly a non-event for the Parisians.
I was lucky in that the only thing I lost was my cool!
I'm glad that you emerged intact as well.
And I will echo the others who recommend taking a taxi to and from the airport. It's definitely worth it to me.

Posted by
5988 posts

Yeah but we have tourists get robbed strong armed on the subway from the airport and on the streets of Chicago all the time.

Posted by
3080 posts

I’ve been to Paris several times. I took the CDG RER & metros to Gare du Nord last August to head to another city. Two weeks later, my husband later took the CDG RER & metro to meet up with me at Gare d’Est. A week later we took the RER from our hotel near the Luxembourg Garden back to CDG.

Neither of us had any problems. We both carry our passport, cc, etc. in our money belts and hold onto a small wheeled carry on suitcase each.

I don’t feel like these transportation options are unsafe (& I’m risk adverse), but I do think that additional people, especially children , and extra suitcases put you at a higher risk. You’re smart to take a taxi in that situation.

Posted by
2447 posts

I am sorry that this happened to you and it did not make for an auspicious beginning for a trip to Paris. I always feel like this type of theft needs to be called something other than pickpocketing because pickpocketing has a connotation of stealth and no intimidation or even knowledge that the theft is occurring when it happens. What you described is something much more intimidating and scary. Good on you and your family for bouncing back and enjoying your trip.

Posted by
6864 posts

alice, thank you for sharing this. What an awful beginning, especially for your children. I like how you wrote this, well written and unemotional, a nice change from other posts on this subject. I know Paris well, take the RER and métro often, including to and from CDG, and have never had a problem but i always know something could easily happen at any moment. A friend of mine was held up at knife point in the Paris métro many years ago. I, too, have started taking a taxi to and from CDG more recently. I admire you and your family for not letting this ruin your time in Paris. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

Posted by
5512 posts

I appreciate it is not so straightforward when you are in a foreign country and maybe don't speak the language but you really should report this kind of thing to the authorities, if not the police then station staff. If they aren't informed of what's going on how can they do anything about it?!
About 10 years ago I saw some blatant pickpockets in action on London underground. I mentioned it to a member of staff as I was leaving the platform and they whisked me straight up to the station control room to watch the live CCTV feeds to see if I could spot them. They knew who I had seen and were keen to get hold of them. So telling people does help.

Even if nothing comes of investigating a crime that might have affected you the information you provide can be incredibly useful to inform a bigger picture. Street criminals are rarely just street criminals. They usually have links to more serious types of criminality and intelligence provided by the public can really help.

Regarding locals not responding when you shout on public transport I'm not sure what you expect them to do? If they don't respond they are ignoring a crime, if they do respond they risk an aggressive reaction from both the alleged perpetrator and the potential victim. (The people posting that the only way to survive as a tourists in cities like Paris is to act like an aggressive jerk should maybe delay their travel until they are mature enough to cope! That type of behaviour is the definition of "ugly ametican".) It is also possible that a lack of response might be due to an interpretation of "cry wolf". Rightly or wrongly (some) Americans seem to have a slightly unhealthy obsession with pickpockets in "europe", leading them to interpret every bit of odd public transport behaviour as a potential threat. The locals might just have got use to ignoring it, which is unfortunate when something really does happen. For anyone travelling to Paris I recommend the David Sedaris piece on being mistaken for a thief.

Posted by
1399 posts

I just returned from a week in Paris. I am a 50 something year-old female, 5’4” so not exactly intimidating in any way and I never had any problem. I used either a cross body purse with no special features or my Longchamp Pilage

I went through The Gare du Nord Metro connections twice just fine. I was stopped once for a ticket inspector but as I had my weekly pass they just waved me on my way after scanning it

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you to everyone offering sympathy for this situation. We appreciate it. We have worked very hard to not let this define the experience for our children, but the fact that they mention it often tells us that it did leave an impression.

In the interest of a balanced trip report and a bit of a happy ending, I will say we had many wonderful experiences in the rest of the week: We saw the da Vinci exhibit at the Louvre, spent a good long day at the Orsay, had an amazing day trip to Versailles, saw an incredible all-Ravel program with the Paris Philharmonic, took an exceptional French Revolution tour, and ate enough macarons and crepes to last us for quite some time. We also rode the Metro several times a day (after stowing our luggage at our apartment!) without incident.

*On the David Sedaris story...yes, we have already heard it. As my ten-year old said, "Here's the thing. I want to hate that guy. But after what we went through, I kind of know how he feels." It's all a bit more complex once you've been in the shoes of the person who has gone through something scary like that.

Posted by
880 posts

Hi Emma --
In response to your comment about yelling at the pickpocket, I want to say that it was a totally knee-jerk response on my part and I admit that I was a jerk to do it. (I really did lose my cool!) And I apologized to my friend in case I had embarrassed her. I didn't expect any aid from anyone in the Metro station (and nothing was taken from me) but it did surprise me that no one even looked at either one of us. Perhaps they were all scurrying to get away from that crazy lady (me!) LOL.

Posted by
5512 posts

SharYn, it was a perfectly reasonable kneejerk response if you thought you were being robbed.
I imagine the situation in Paris is the same as London. If you travel on public transport often enough you learn to block out the "shouters"! (or "bus nutters" as they are sometimes known)
Shouting never means anything good but its rarely serious so its just easier to,initially, ignore it. As I said it could also be a bit of apathy about an American tourist shouting about pickpockets again. Not great but maybe understandable.

I'm not saying it is on a par with being robbed but being mistaken for a thief is unpleasant. When it happened to me when I tried to return a dropped travel card to a nervous and basically hysterical family who had read too much about "distraction pickpickets" it was seriously embarrassing. I didn't get an apology for their mistake either.

Posted by
14879 posts

Emma, I wish you had been at the station in Glasgow when I dropped my just-purchased senior rail card on the way to the platform. I realized the problem within a couple of minutes, but the card had totally evaporated. The station wasn't very busy at the time, so I could easily see the floor; it just wasn't anywhere (including Lost and Found).

Posted by
6864 posts

alice, you all handled this so well, not letting it sour the rest of your time there.
Sounds like you went on to do some amazingly fun stuff - good job you!