Paris Practique :: Safety in Paris

Ironically I had planned this post for last Friday, but didn’t get around to it – and that day my friend had her iPhone stolen (by no fault of her own). As far as I’m concerned – especially coming from Baltimore, which is home to The Wire – Paris is an incredibly safe city. Still, with all big cities, it’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and know what to expect/avoid. Really, all you need to know is how to put on your “Paris bitch face” and people in general will leave you alone (I learned it here – also known as “poker face” – and it is a skill that has helped me around the world), but here are a few notes to insure a safe and happy visit to Paris:

  • When I first arrived in Paris it was in 2001, two days before 9-11 happened. It was a different experience here, and France was not new to the threat of terrorism. That being said, it is important to understand that seeing men with machine guns in the metro is not a scary thing here, but is an act of protection. Also, while metro delays due to a “suspicious package” may be an inconvenience for you, there’s also a reason behind it.
  • There is hardly any gun violence in Europe. Drunk homeless men are harmless, so your biggest threat is pickpockets and no one is immune. However, there are ways you can deter them: always keep your bag/purse zipped and close to your body, try not to flaunt smart phones, cameras or other electronic devices, and be hyper aware in touristic surroundings (ie. Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, etc.).
  • There are scams in this city, and don’t feel like you have to “help” or be nice to everybody. Whenever I read in the Champ de Mars I often have several women come up to me and ask me, “Do you speak English?”. If they were to look at what I was reading, it’s pretty clear I do, but a simple shake of the head and “non” does the trick and they walk away. Also, the “ring scam” is something I see more and more and have witnessed it around the city. Someone pretends to find a gold ring which they have conveniently dropped themselves. Then then run up to you and asks if it’s yours. You try to be a good an honest person and say no, but then they insist it’s a gift and give it to you. They walk away, and then them come back and ask for “une petite piece [money].” The best thing is just to put that Paris bitch face on and keep walking from the get go.
  • Riding the metro can often feel like your a sardine in a giant moving tin can at times. You’re so packed in that you can hardly move, so now it’s more important than ever to have your guard up and make sure your bags are close to you (I suggest avoiding backpacks if possible as they will make you look more like a tourist… just as speaking English loudly will also draw attention). There’s one scam I’ve heard of where a family with young kids will come on the metro. The children are actually trained pickpockets and in France they are too young to be prosecuted, so even if they steal from you, there’s nothing to be done about it. It’s nothing scary, but just good to be aware of.
  • There are musicians and performers all over the streets of Paris and in the metro. Be careful if you are getting money out, or better yet, keep small change in your pocket so it’s easily accessible.
  • I admit I walk alone at night a lot, but I’ve never felt threatened. Sometimes you may just need to zig-zag across the street if you ever feel uncomfortable. But of places to be avoided at night, Chatelet Les Halles and parts of Montmartre top the list.

[Paris Practique is a series designed to provide helpful hints for your next trip to Paris. Click here for past editions, or see the full list on the column on the right]

13 comments

  • nice blog posting. You observed everything very minutely, thats really good…the article will surely helpful for the travelers..

  • Good post…and pretty true. It’s important to remain vigilant just as you would in any big city.
    I’ll be sharing this one with our students coming over this summer!

  • Thank you. I think too many people wear rose colored glasses when it comes to European cities. You wouldn’t wander around NYC with a wad of cash hanging out your pocket. Excellent advice for all destinations!

  • I’ve been in Paris for almost 2 weeks now and have already learned the “Paris bitch face.” It’s a must! Also, I was approached as I was reading in the courtyard of Le Louvre by a child asking if I spoke English and wanting money. I told her “Allez!” Life is definitely interesting here. I’m here to study French for 6 weeks and am loving it, but am wary at all times. Thanks for your blog post – it is good information!

  • Great post…someone tried the gold ring trick on us…did not work…way too big for most people’s fingers and no markings, definitely suspicious! Every city seems to have its own scams

  • Perfecting my “Paris bitch face” was one of the best things I’ve ever done! It’s so useful for so many situations no matter where you are in the world.

    Thanks for the Paris tips too!

  • after spending our first weekend in france alone with our host families, we were so happy to be reunited with our friends that we were speaking english outside notre dame, but we told off the gypsy woman with a “non, desole.” hahah it was awesome.

  • i agree with the advice given here, i think the important thing is to remain vigilant and just use some common sense and don’t be afraid to talk to local Parisians, as obviously the majority are really welcoming.

  • Living in Paris, i’m used to the ring scam but was suprised to have it practiced on me in Indonesia.
    Didnt fell for it, of course and my usual Paris Bitch Face i wear all the time got rid of the bugger but it was quite a shock for me.
    And my girlfriend didnt understand at the time why i act so seemingly rude to the scammer so i had to explain it to her. Although she was a local, she had no idea of this scam.

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