While some would argue that a Paris vacation is itself a bit of a robbery anyway, I am often quick to defend the French. They are always getting a bad rap from tourists who say they are rude, snobbish, et cetera, yet I have never experienced any of that, not even from Parisians. (Mind you, I’ve only been to France twice, so mine isn’t exactly what you’d call an expert opinion.) Sometimes I think maybe tourists just do things that rub them off the wrong way — like assuming the whole world speaks English, or acting like they own the place — and at other times I suspect I look so non-threatening that they simply can’t be bothered to be rude to me.
That was actually one of the things I was worried about before my first trip to Paris: that the French would be awful and would pretend not to understand English when I try to talk to them. Instead, I was surprised when a lot of them were actually nice. An elderly French man we met on the train did not know how to speak English — for real — but he continued to smile kindly at us as he racked his brains for how to ask us where we were from. Finally, he ventured, “País?” (Spanish for country) and we managed to establish that we were from the Philippines before he realized he was in the wrong train compartment. I actually felt guilty at not having been more diligent in trying to learn French; it was his country after all, and it should have been me trying to make myself understood. (See 3 Things That Will Surprise You About Paris for more surprise!-the-French-are-nice stories.)
What I never thought to worry about was crime. I mean, I’m from a third world country. Who would be desperate enough to rob me?
There’s always someone, apparently.
We were at the Eiffel Tower last January, sharing a much needed cup of hot coffee, when a group of children approached us. They were beautiful kids: dark hair, round eyes, mostly girls, innocent-looking. They had a clipboard with a petition of some sort, which they asked us to sign. When we declined, they became pushy and they started to crowd around us, shoving the clipboard in front of our faces.
And then…I felt it. The faint brush of an inexperienced hand against the left outside pocket of my jacket. I yelped and stepped back in surprise and I think I shouted something like, “What are you doing?!” (Brilliant question, right?) The eldest kid said something in a sharp tone to my would-be robber and after a slight pause — during which I seriously contemplated throwing a punch; I hadn’t expected anything of the sort and that made me ridiculously angry — they backed off and headed for the trees.
And then the shock wore off and I started laughing.
They didn’t get anything! I was prudent enough to keep even the small coins in the zipped inside pocket of my zipped jacket. The bigger bills and my passport were in a money belt under, like, twenty layers of clothing. (I get cold easily — see my weather bloopers in Hot and Cold in Paris.) What I wasn’t prudent enough to do was read the Stay Safe section of the Paris Wikitravel; I would otherwise have known to be wary the minute those kids approached. But: all’s well that ends well, and it’s a story I always have fun telling, so I think I got the better end of that deal.
That said, a word to the wise! Even first-world countries have third-world problems. You’re never too poor to be robbed. And, oh yeah, never trust anyone who wants you to sign anything without thinking, not even in Paris.