Paris: Ten scams and how to avoid them

First off, Paris is a wonderful and pretty safe city, but it has its share of shady operators, as most cities do. The following are mostly ones I’ve encountered or have been made aware of. One way to stay alert is to play the ‘Spot the Scam game. It’s a bit like office bingo, but one that can save you a lot of heartache.

1. Airport taxi touts

When you arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport and clear customs, you may want to find a taxi. As you approach the taxi area you will be approached by people, some in a kind of uniform, offering to take you to a taxi. These guys will take you to an unofficial taxi and will overcharge you substantially, either by using the meter and driving a long circuitous route, or by claiming the fixed price is somewhere around 70 euros. Actually the official taxis have a fixed rate of 55 euros to anywhere in central Paris. So ignore the touts, and follow the blue line on the floor or the airport signs and head outside to the marked official taxi rank.

2. The old ring trick

This is where you are walking with your wife and either you hear a metallic tinkle or someone will pretend to find and pick up a gold ring (it isn’t gold) and will ask if you dropped it. When you say no, they will offer it to you, but for a price (finders fee). Someone did try this on us on a previous visit, and being wise to it I just laughed and called out ‘Scammer!’ And they ran off to find another mark.

3. The friendship bracelet or ring

This is where a smiling friendly looking person comes up and tries to tie a string on your wrist to make a friendship band. If they get the string on you, they won’t take no for an answer, and they will demand money for it. I’ve been fortunate so far in avoiding this one, but it seems to be a popular trick – especially on the steps of Montmartre Cathedral. Take the side steps, or just barge on up the stairs with your hands in your pockets or held against you so that they can’t get a loop on you.

4. The dodgy pedicab

Pedicabs can be a fun way to get around, but just this morning I watched police pull one over, and I overheard them explaining to the rather disturbed American passengers that the pedicab failed to display the proper fixed fares, so he was likely to overcharge them – perhaps by a substantial amount. It’s good to see that the police are looking out for this kind of thing, as it just gives the city a bad name.

5. Trinket and water sellers

Not so much a scam, but these guys hunt in packs, and run like crazy if they see a police or security officer – most likely because they are unlicensed traders. But I’ve seen them become real pests if they spot a victim. The Eiffel towers are most likely made in China – along with the selfie sticks. The latter they try to sell for 20 euros, and perhaps you can beat them down to around 15 or even 10, but at that price they are still double what you would pay in a cheapie shop. I bought mine in Australia for AUD$6 – which is about what they are worth.

6. Beggars

There may be genuine hard luck stories, but I admit I’m getting cynical about them. France has a social security system which is one of the best in Europe. I have seen the same beggar with a dog on one day, a rabbit on the next, and a small child on the third. Sometimes they seem to work in shifts, with the same signs being swapped over at shift handover. And the other trick is to have their money in a clear plastic jar and place it out in the footpath where unsuspecting people will kick it over, then feel guilty and give them some apology money. My advice is to save the guilt for Confession and walk on.

NB: Don’t confuse buskers with beggars. I’m serious about this. Most of the buskers, whether musicians or circus performers are quite highly skilled in their discipline, with many trained at the conservatoire or the national circus academy. I know via the circus professionals that those training in circus are doing a university level degree, but their third year assessment is based on them making a living doing street shows for their graduation year. Do something for the arts, and give generously if you’re enjoying their shows. And street shows are a great way to develop performance skills and skill in showmanship and working an audience. And yes, I was a full time musician for 10 years, and I learned my performance skills with street shows before working in a band. But do be aware, that pickpockets can operate among an audience while you are absorbed in the show.

7. Do you speak English? The petition scam

I’ve encountered this one a lot, four times in the last few days. A couple of young women looking harmless and holding clipboards approach you with ‘Do you speak English?’ Then they try to get you to sign a petition, perhaps about getting education for girls in Africa. While you are trying to work out what they are asking, their partner is going through your bag or pockets without you realising, because your attention is focussed elsewhere. Or, once you sign they ask for a donation to their cause. My favourite way to respond: I use the best English accent I can muster, and say ‘Do I speak English? Dreadfully sorry, I don’t speak a word of it.’ And keep walking. I do speak Australian though, but they never seem to ask me that…

8. Being asked for directions

We all get ourselves lost sometimes, but there is a sleight-of-hand trick where you are sitting at a cafe, perhaps with your phone on the table and you get approached by someone with a map looking lost. They place the map over your phone and while you are orienting them on a map, they or an accomplice are stealing your phone from underneath. It is a distract and steal method that takes several forms.

9a. ATM distract and steal

We all need to get cash out from time to time. So we find a teller machine, and start the process, but then someone comes up and engages your attention – then while you are distracted they quickly type in an amount, perhaps 300 euros and they or an accomplice snatches the money as it comes out before you are aware of what has just happened. My advice – find a bank and use the machines inside.

9b. ATM electronic skimmers

These are devices placed over the keypad or inside the card shroud to record your card’s details and your PIN number. I always -even on the indoor machines, do a wriggle test on the card shroud and the keypad. If it’s loose then don’t use it. And always cover your hand when keying your PIN.

10. Pickpockets – keep it chained.

The light fingered brigade can be found everywhere it seems these days. There are even signs inside Notre Dame Cathedral about pickpockets operating even during mass. And other services. Nowhere is sacred these days. I’ve had my backside felt up out in the street to see if I had something in my back pocket worth taking. Here’s what I do. I have my wallet AND my phone on chains attached to a belt hook on my trousers on either side. Each is long enough to enable the phone to be used as a phone or a camera while still being attached, likewise the wallet chain is long enough to permit me to take it out for a transaction. I don’t carry a backpack for day-to-day use, but if you do, wear it on your front. In a crowd it is easy for someone to unzip it on your back and reach inside for your valuables. I use a shoulder bag with a wired strap so it can’t easily be cut. Even the sight of a chain may be enough to deter a thief as they will be going after easy pickings, and you are showing that you are alert to their activities.

Other scams?

There are no doubt other scams around, it’s a good idea to read up on them before you travel, and play spot the scam to keep yourself alert – but not alarmed.

Leave a comment below regarding any others you’ve encountered, and help keep others alert and above all, have your stuff insured for travel insurance and enjoy your travels. In most cases we are dealing with petty operators, so even if they manage to sting you, just chalk it up to experience, and don’t let them ruin your amazing holiday or vacation.

Paris at Easter

Dawn, and we were up early to get to Notre Dame cathedral. Security was fairly tight, with bag searches before entering the cathedral square. Being early, we were able to get through quickly. With about an hour to go before the Gregorian mass, we perambulated slowly around the interior while the early mass was on.

Time to light a couple of candles for those we have left behind, before finding a seat.

The enormous cathedral filled quickly with probably about 2000 people. It was a little disturbing to see the ‘beware of pickpockets’ signs – but yes even inside the cathedral, and even during mass there are those who seek to take advantage of a crowd.

The music and ceremony were deeply moving. We were immersed in divine singing and bathed in the light from the stained glass windows. Everywhere wisps of incense caught the light creating shafts of colour.

On a previous stay we rented an apartment in the Marais district on the street that was built to house the workers and artisans who created the stained glass back in the C12th-C13th.

Musée Delacroix is just around the corner, so we headed up to check it out. He was a very expressive painter and a leader in the French Romantic movement. His loose brushwork and vibrant use of colour pre-figured the impressionists that came a generation later. It is a small apartment with adjoining studio and garden, and well worth an hour or so. It was interesting to see how he set up a scene with people dressed in exotic Moroccan dress and invited his fellow painters over to tackle the scene in paint. There are photos too of these scenes. To see artists like this use the latest in technology to enhance their art was well worthwhile.

When photography came along, there were real questions about the role of painters now that accurate images could be captured by camera in minutes, rather than captured over days and even months in the case of oils. From this tension -known as the ‘crisis of representation’ – came a rethinking of the role of art to capture the emotional and inner psychological reality, rather than just painting a scene or portrait. Painting and drawing is still a way of looking at and perceiving the world.

We walked up to the Tuileries gardens in the afternoon to sketch the Musée du Louvre. As the weather closed in we called it quits with the under-drawing done, to be inked later and toned in with aquarelle graphite.

It was time for dinner in the Latin quarter once again.

Paris in the Spring

It has a great ring to it, doesn’t it? The huge A380 plane lurched alarmingly and with a loud crunch we had landed in some pretty challenging weather – several passengers applauded – this is definitely where pilots earn their salaries. ‘Mesdames et monsieurs, bienvenue a Paris’ and with that we were off in search of our baggage. And here is my first Paris travel tip: when seeking a taxi, walk straight past the taxi touts that operate inside the terminal – some even look fairly official – instead, follow the blue signs and line on the ground and head for the official taxi rank. The official taxis have meters and a mandated fixed fare to anywhere in central paris EUR55.

The touts will most likely still deliver you to your destination, but with a meter running and via a circuitous route, or will try to tell you that the fixed fare is more like 70EUR. So save you money and head for the official rank.

I may do a piece later about scams in Paris, but suffice to say it is not Asia, so look out for your valuables as pickpockets are around.

Our hotel is on the left bank of the Seine river, just near Pont Neuf (the new bridge) with a view that you will only see and love in Paris. Anywhere else, this is not a view, but in Paris, it is a view that evokes gauloises and cats on roof tops or perhaps a large number of dalmations…

It was soon time for dinner in the Latin Quarter before watching the full moon rise behind Notre Dame cathedral. More soon…