The bracelet scam guys near the Sacré Coeur funicular


Let me start this post by saying that I feel perfectly safe when I'm "out and about" in Paris on my own.  As in any large city, however, there are precautions that one should take and certain things that it helps to know.  So, just in case you haven't heard about the bracelet scam guys near the Sacré Coeur funicular, here's what I learned from observing them in action.

After strolling around Montmartre, Stéphane and I decided to take a different route to go back to the Abbesses metro stop.  Having heard that the bracelet scam guys supposedly operate at the foot of the steps near the funicular but never having seen them in action, I asked Stéphane to slow down to see if there was any truth to what I had been hearing.  Nope, no suspicious looking people -- just some guys leaning against the trees with their hands in their pockets and a few other men selling Eiffel Towers made out of wire to tourists.  Hmmm, maybe the bracelet guys were just an urban legend after all.  But when one of the men under the tree saw me looking at him with a quizzical expression, he approached, greeted me in a friendly manner, and asked my nationality.  Meanwhile, his hands, which up until that point had been in his pockets, became a flurry of movement while he reached for my wrist.  Seeing the string dangling from his hands, I knew that we had found one of the bracelet guys.  When we insisted that we weren't interested, he reluctantly left with a parting piece of advice to smile and be happy.


Asking for ten minutes to conduct some sociological research, I was able to convince Stéphane to let me observe the bracelet guys while they selected their targets.  Not surprisingly, they rejected everyone who walked with an air of purpose and who had a "don't mess with me" attitude.  They zoomed in on single women, small groups of young women, and young couples.  I did not see them approach any men. 

How does the scam work?  While distracting you with a constant stream of friendly chatter, they quickly weave strings around your fingers and wrist and then brazenly demand payment for the friendship bracelet.

While reviewing the photos for this post, I was struck by the smiles on the young women's faces.  As a 47 year old woman, who has become more savvy with age, it occurred to me that I would have been just as trusting on my first trip to Europe.  The young women's facial expressions in the last photo is particularly telling.  For when the man's demeanor changed and he demanded money for the bracelet, they realized that they had misunderstood his intentions, which is an unwelcome feeling any time but even more so when you're in a foreign city.

And just in case you're wondering about the ethics of me taking pictures while the bracelet guy pulled his scam on the young women, it actually worked in their favor because he let them go without paying as soon as his friend warned him that I was taking photographs.


Comments

  1. I've not seen this myself, as I usually approach Sacre Coeur from the steps on the other side. It reminds me of the shoe shine boys of Istanbul who ask to shine your shoes. Keep on walking. But if you don't stop for them, at one time or the other, they will start walking in front of you and drop a shoe brush which they know you will stop and pick up and return to them. Then they just start shining your shoes, no questions asked. My friend did this and then they asked for money, I couldn't say it was really a demand for money. He had a small coin and gave it to the guy, and said, that's all you get, take it or leave it. The guy took it and moved along. I could just never.

    And brave of you to photograph it.

    Joseph

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    1. If your man is pushing you away and acting distant

      Or if the guy you’re after isn’t giving you the time of day...

      Then it’s time to pull out all the stops.

      Because 99% of the time, there is only 1 thing you can say to a standoffish guy that will grab him by the heartstrings-

      And get his blood pumping at just the thought of you.

      Insert subject line here and link it to <=========> Your ex won’t be able to resist?

      Once you say this to him, or even send this simple phrase in a text message...

      It will flip his world upside down and you will suddenly find him chasing you-

      And even begging to be with you.

      Here’s what I’m talking about:

      Insert subject line here and link it to <========> Is your man hiding something? He may need your help?

      Thanks again.











      .

      Delete
  2. As a middleaged solo woman traveller I find "walking with purpose" has helped me avoid most scam type encounters. I don't stop and talk to strangers at home, so I don't do it in a foriegn city either.
    When I did SC I walked up the stairs with purpose and didn't slow down,, a few young men did call out to me, but I just kept up my pace and eyes forward and really had no problems.

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  3. Great investigative journalism! After reading all the alarmist threads on tripadvisor forums warning about the bracelet guys it is nice to know that they really aren't that much of a bother if you are walking with a purpose.

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  4. Joseph, I usually take a completely different route and approach Sacre Coeur from the back through Montmartre. It's my preferred way to go and the added bonus is that I've always been able to avoid the bracelet guys. I'll have to try the other steps that you mentioned the next time that I'm there.

    Anonymous, Good for you for keeping your head down and ignoring them! It seems to be the best way to avoid their unwanted attention.

    Zona, Thanks for your comment! :-) From what I saw, different people are going to have very different experiences with the bracelet guys. A man may not even know that they're there because he isn't one of their preferred targets, while a young woman, who isn't used to dealing with such situations, may have a very different experience. Knowing that young women will have a more difficult time getting rid of them, I'm going to make sure that all of our visitors who are that age are forewarned.

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  5. I was targeted on several occassions being a woman on my own but never allowed them to touch me. Quite annoyed I said "bugger-off' and walked on. A while later when inside a shop buying a gift I asked the proprieter why the police allow these men to hassle tourists and what was the purpose of the 'bracelet'.
    He replied that the weaving of the cotton/wool thread around your wrists or fingers is a kind of voodoo good luck spell and that after casting it in the bracelet ritual they of course demand and expect payment!
    Jorgina

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  6. Jorgina,

    It sounds like you said the magic words, "bugger off!". Interestingly enough, when I put a link to this post on the TripAdvisor forum, one of the posters recognized the man in the photos from an encounter with him in 2008. It just goes to show that they must make a fairly good living from hassling tourists.

    Thanks for commenting about your experience with them. I hope that people will follow your lead and not let them touch their arms or intimidate them.

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  7. So, this is why Eli said running into them wasn't a good experience. Poor boy.

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  8. This is not limited to women. We were of the "young couple" description here, and I can tell you that being demonstrative as a young man can be both dangerous and liberating. I started saying "non" to one who approached me, and as he reached toward my arm (I, at this point, did not know this was a "bracelet" scam- my arm was safely around our bag with our belongings) I aggressively stepped away and warned him to step back. This is where things got particularly dicey; he called me a MF'er, and poked my shoulders many times. Seeing that I was completely surrounded by these men, I disregarded the fact that I could've easily handled this guy, and instead politely asked him to leave us alone. This, for some reason, prompted him to leave us be, and we took a side-way down, through throngs of other conspicuous individuals. My wife was very upset that I was so "aggressive" in my rebuttal, but I felt there was no other option. Had I kept my head down, I felt as though more would surround us and a further problem would ensue. Worse yet, neither the view nor the church itself were worth this hassle. Very unfortunate, and a poor reflection on the city of Paris.

    As an aside, if you're cornered by "deaf/mute" pre-teens asking for donations, please take a moment to notice that they are ALL of the same ethnicity, one that happens to be associated with gypsies, and if you take a moment to notice, they are all speaking with one another when not scouting their "marks".

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  9. This same thing happened to my wife and I tonight -- but we knew it was a scam from the start so we just tried to pass them. They actually got aggressive with us and pushed me with his grip on my wrist and the other guy actually hurt my wife's hand.

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  10. I was walking up the first batch of stairs and a few African men stopped me. I read about not letting these men tie a string around your fingers at Wikitravel but didn't catch what the scam in detail was about. Anyway, I said no brazenly and continued walking, the con-artists told me not to be afraid of them. I thought my husband was trailing close behind me when the same con-artist told me to look behind- my husband had no trouble with them tying a string around his finger so I shouldn't too ! My husband was several meters behind with a string already tied around his finger. His way was blocked by 4 "friendly" men. I shouted across the stairs but he didn't hear me so I hurriedly walked down towards them. Before I reached them, the group of men scattered and left my husband in peace. I think they left my husband alone because I was adamant on not letting them scam us. They weren't aggressive, in fact they were friendly and that is the confusing part. All these while they put on a smile.....until they start demanding for money.

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  11. A similar scam occurs in Savannah, except they make roses out of palm leaves.

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    1. They're not nearly as aggressive in Savannah, in my opinion. These Parisian guys targeted my brother-in-law and sister -- "young couple". I've lived in NY and now in Philly and I found these guys intimidating. They get physical and threatening until you give them some money. It was not that easy to avoid them.

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  12. I was in Paris a couple weeks ago and had the exact experience. I'm an 18 year old guy but it was my first night in Europe so I was clearly walking around rather wide-eyed. At the bottom of the steps one of the men walked up and asked where I was from. He seemed nice and I started chatting and suddenly there was a string around my finger. I was unsure of how to respond but the man kept talking and was super friendly and in my naive little brain I thought maybe he was just being welcoming. Then of course things took a turn for the worse. He finished the bracelet and his voice immediately changed tone as he asked for payment. I said I didn't have any money and he put his hand on my arm and said I needed to pay him right away. That's when I noticed about six other men had surrounded me and were watching. I took out my wallet and he grabbed roughly 250 euros in cash (I had just arrived and hadn't had a chance to stash my money elsewhere) and then led me over to the steps. The last thing the man said was "Hakuna Matata" before I shakily walked away. I know learned not to trust anyone and to carry a "don't-mess-with-me" attitude and haven't been accosted since (I've been through Italy and Spain as well) but have witnessed many other scams and thefts since then.

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    1. I'm really sorry to read tesimony. I really have to say I got so angry when I read what you wrote.That is just horrible! I'm 24 years old and the same thing happened to me some days ago: I went to Paris alone and I have to say I had not been warned about these famous scam guys. The first days I felt so comfortable in this city, I visited the most touristic places and I didn't face any trouble at all. It was not until I arrived to Sacré-Coeur when these bastards (sorry for the word) came up to me and after they finished the bracelet they also asked me for payment. My argument was that I only had some coins on my jersey pocket; obviously they didn't believe a word I had said, but I didn't care, I just kept on saying the the same thing. Finally, I gave them the money and they left me go; I fortunately could save my wallet and the 100 euros inside. Let's just be aware from now on. I apologize for my English, it is not quite good. Greetings!

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  13. err, they took 250 euros? That's not begging or buying ---- that's a mugging. I'm amazed the Paris police allow this to go on for years -- do they get a cut/bribe to stay away?

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  14. haha, I got hit by one of these guys today near the Eifffel Tower, same deal he just started talking really friendly and started tying the string around my finger. I'm a guy and was by myself and usually all the trinket sellers left me alone, but maybe this guy was braver than the rest or I had let down my leave-me-the-fuck-alone vibe for a minute.
    I immediately realized he was eventually going to ask for money for it, and when he was done and I asked him how much he muttered something and I didn't understand, and I had to have him repeat himself a few times before I realized he was saying 10 euros. I was shocked speechless for a second and then told him no way and started to untie it, and he asked how much I would pay and I said 1 or 2, and he said 3. So I said fine.
    I didn't notice any other guys around, but maybe I wasn't paying attention. Although I would think that they'd be less likely to try and strong arm you right in front of the biggest landmark in the country in a park full of people.
    I actually like the bracelet. :)

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  15. Parents be wary as well. A man at the Eiffel Tower didn't even ask before trying to grab my 10-year old daughter's wrist and place a bracelet on it. Of course, as mom, I was far more concerned about my daughter's safety than I was about getting mugged, or merely taken in a scam. I quickly pulled her away and scurried. But I was appalled that they would try this scam on a young child!

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  16. These guys are total B.S.
    Sacre Couer is littered with pieces of the bracelets. These guys are a total scam. Keep your head down and just ignore them. Put your hands in your pockets and do NOT talk to them.
    Tell your kids the same. Don't look these guys in the eye.
    They'll ask where you're from; don't answer. Just keep walking.
    Scavengers!

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  17. I don't trust this guy. No one selling products like him. I don't know why people stop to listen his selling tricks.

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  18. The day before yesterday, while on the steps ascending to Paris' 'Sacre Coeur' at Montmartre Funicular, the second hour posterior to the Meridian having not long passed its halfway point, I encountered two young men of black hue; they hailed me and motioned to trap my finger in a bundle of threads, but I gently refused in French; however, apparently knowing that I was a British tourist, they continued to address me in heavily accented English, and insisted that they were just 'artists' (that, in retrospect, was itself a clue) who were not to be feared.
    Somewhat tentatively I assented to their ploy, and the first man, who purported to be from Kenya once I had told him I lived in England, near London, had already begun to weave the multi-coloured pieces of string around the smallest finger of my left hand; crossing them over each other with an adroit hand, a pattern gradually emerged as the bracelet approached completion, while the words 'Hakuna Matata' were seldom far from his lips; although I maintained a sanguine countenance throughout, responding simply to every distracting question about my experience of the city (Eiffel Tower, the Musee D'Orsay, the marathon taking place on that day, and so forth), I knew from the first instance, less from experience than deduction, that this would not end well for me.
    Sadly, my sensitive ability to read people's intentions did not save me the burden of what the French call 'une arnaque', the like of which are particularly common in Paris. As soon as my finger had become ensnared, there was no going back without difficulty or confrontation; and indeed, after the second man had severed the loose ends of this new creation with a nail clipper, suggested I give it to my girlfriend as a present if I had one, and offered to me in jest a complimentary manicure, the motives of two aggressive vendors became clear; the façade having been broken, the insinuation that they were to be recompensed for this voluntary kindness, this cultural rite, did not have to be uttered to be oppressively real. Not expecting help from the general public, I reached for my father's travel pouch (would that I had met him earlier than I did!), hung around my neck, before swiftly changing my mind; thus, taking off my rucksack, I reached for the loose change in an outer pocket, but the men resisted any notion of a transaction consisting of coins, demanding instead that I should pay them with 'small paper money'; sensing the inevitable, I retrieved my father's wallet from the aforesaid pouch, not knowing exactly how much it contained. Twenty euros quickly changed hands, promises of change no sooner announced than forgotten; the few coins I had been able to muster were accepted; and lastly, ten British pounds were yielded to the second man, who claimed bizarrely that he had not yet received adequate restitution for his service--as if the prospect of 20 euros shared between them was insufficient.
    That was the end of the ordeal; they departed, and I hastened up the steps whence I had come, aware that other vultures were lurking, enticed by what had just taken place. Adrenaline had kept fright away until then, but that displaced energy was soon embodied in a shameful apprehension that, in almost every sense except the legal one, I had been robbed; that ambiguity and the familiar sense that such naivety was to be reproached before the crime itself made it all the worse. If I ever return, in the application of general advice, I shall ensure to be so clad as not to resemble an archetypical tourist and not to draw attention to these thoroughbred manipulators with a wavering stride.

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    1. 'not to draw attention FROM these thoroughbred manipulators'...

      Delete
  19. This happened to me and my brother today!! It was actually scary. We refused from the beginning that we didn't want anything but they would not let is pass. Next thing we know we had bracelets on our wrists and they demanded money. We said we didn't have any and that we didn't want bracelets. They got angry ans did not let us leave. My brother got angry and started to get more aggressive as they got aggressive. I couldn't believe they didn't let us leave!! It was scary and we were surrounded by four of them. I had to Google to see if this a common thing and I found this article. Thank for posting !!!! I will warm everyone! But what is most surprising is how no one helped us . We were surrounded by four men holding us back and not letting us pass it was evident that we were not comfor and afraid.

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  20. Walking up the stairs to Sacre Coeur the "string bandits" approached my 13 year old daughter attempting to tie their string. I quickly stepped in grabbing my daughters arm and pulling her away saying No No. We weren't challenged by them, but perhaps my size (just over 2 meters & 125 kg) they only said "we love Americans, don't worry, be happy. Beware

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  21. I encountered this twice on the steps going up to the Sacre Coeur. I was a lone female tourist so obviously a prime target. Luckily I'd been told about them by a friend so both times when I saw one of them coming towards me literally trying to grab my arm I just clasped my hands behind my back, said 'no thanks' and walked purposefully away and they left me alone. I had no idea they could get so aggressive, going by other people's posts. It really is shocking how they can get away with it.

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  22. Happened to us too last week. My GF and I read about them before the trip and knew what to do. The first time one of them grabbed my wrist trying to get my hand out of my pocket and failed while I shrugged him off. Then he got aggressive. No problem... was prepared to beat his broad nose a little bit broader. ;) But I was able to go my way... luckily for everyone. The last day of our trip we met the string guys again. I hoped not to meet them early morning but... no... they approached us again and this time one of them tried to grab me again. This time it was my jacket he grabbed so I shrugged him off even harder and continued walking. Then I got insulted as ASSHOLE and FUCKING WHITE MAN. Well... thankya you black racist cunt. ;) Ohhh I forgot... I said Non Mercy ten times the first encounter with this annoying fools... didnt help.

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  23. My husband and I visited Sacre-Coeur in May 2013, and as we were headed to the funicular, a man of the same general description started trying to get my husband's attention. (I was walking on the street side instead of the sidewalk side, so I was further away... I can only guess that's why he targeted my husband specifically instead of me.) We just kept walking, and then the man started trying to grab my husband's arm. Both my husband and I whirled on him and yelled at him -- my husband just said "HEY," I said, "HEY -- BACK OFF." He immediately took a step back and put his hands up, and we walked on.

    Neither one of us has ever been able to figure out what exactly the guy wanted -- until I stumbled across this post! I'm sure this is what was going on, and that was why he was trying to grab my husband's arm. My husband is one of the least aggressive people I've ever known, but we both honestly wondered if that guy was going to have someone take a swing at him at some point, especially Americans. I would have thought grabbing Americans by the arm was a terrible idea, but I guess some tourists are more susceptible to this sort of approach than others!

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  24. The very same thing happened to my boyfriend and I when we were in Paris only last weekend. My boyfriend was already aware of the scam as it had happened to him when his was in Rome earlier in the year. We weren't exactly dawdling when we were walking up to the Sacre Coeur but this didn't seem to make a lot of difference, neither did keeping our hands in our pockets, telling them we had no money and loudly telling them we really didn't want anything. They very cleverly separated us and pinned me against the railings so that I couldn't get around and forced my hand out of my pocket to begin creating the silly bit of string. Thankfully they weren't as aggressive as some of the previous experiences and they only got a two euros out of us before my boyfriend managed to get us away from them with my bracelet still unfinished. I was very glad that he was there as I think I would have had a much worse experience if I had been on my own or with another woman as they seemed to be targeting mostly women.
    I would definitely be careful around tourist areas in general and maybe carry some kind of decoy purse with only a few euros so that you can insist that you have very little money and perhaps avoid loosing something as large as the 250 euros that was previously mentioned (That sounds like a really awful experience by the way).

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  25. I just returned from Paris and these guys under the staircase are really intimidating, they somehow picked me out of everybody in a crowded area even though i am a big guy and tried they crap on me, I said "NO" multiple times but they still chased me around and were trying to grab my hand, then i got really pissed off and prepared fists to figth them the second they would dare to touch me, they grasped my intentions and let me go at the end.

    If you cannot hide that you are foreigner as i cant you are going to be under fire in 3 days i was targeted by at least 30 scammers (not counting agrresive vendoring from guys with Eiffel towers etc.), also in every second restaurant they tried to scam on me with latte instead coffey and vittel instead tap water

    All in all France is horrible country, not going to come back for sure

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  26. I wish I came across your post before my trip. - I was caught in a similar scam yesterday at the foot of Sacred Coeur Basilica. They operated in a group of 4-6.

    As we are walking up, they spilt my girlfriend and I up. 3 guys crowded around me and grabbed my hand, trying to put the strings around my wrist. I knew this was a scam and quickly try to break free from their grip. 1 guy grabbed my hand and trying to tie the strang of strings (yellow red green) on my wrist. The second guy was telling me "relax, it's free, just a blessings", the third guy walk around me (probably to check if my valuables are hanging loose) and the fourth guy was adamant and asking for money! I wanted to end it all by just by paying small amount of money in euros coins. They turned aggressive and demand for "paper money" I refused so as I only have a €100 bill in my first wallet. The demands went on and on and finally decided to give them €10 after seeing my girlfriend got harassed by them on the other side.

    So, I asked for a change of €90 if I passed them a €100 note. They assured me they will, but only gave me back €50 instead of €90! F**k! (sorry for the vulgarity) that is almost SGD $76 ripped off from me! Getting mad, I shouted at them to return be and anether guy came and shove me away.

    Feeling mad about being cheated, I came back, deliberately took out my mobile phone and snapped pictures of the group and threatened to call the police and inform the embassy. It seems to create fear on them and attracted an amount of attention from other tourists from my shouting. (I served my military with the air force so I am not afraid to speak out)

    One of the guys (a nicer one and with a good heart) came back to me and return back €20 (out of €30). I demanded back for my remaining euros. Further threat to call the police and embassy, he spoke to the leader and I came along with him to meet the group. After more scoldings to the rest of the gang members, they returned back the other amount of euros and apologised. The gang leader did so too.

    The nicer one asked me to delete the photos of them. Sure I do (but I have a back up photo and shall post it up soon). After all, I can see a few of them have a good heart but probably have to resort to scamming due other circumstances. As a result, I gave them €10 and went off.

    Point to note:

    - snap a photo of them and threaten to call the police. Show them that you are not someone who can be pushed around if confronted.

    Most importantly, show a don't-mess-around with me face when walking up (which I failed to do so, probably they may thought that asians are easy to push about.)

    France is a beautiful place but sometimes these people have to resort to such act due to their own circumstances. In short, just be careful and take precautions when visiting this places. Take my above advice.

    Maybe I'll be back again and will have a better tactics of dealing next time. :)

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  27. It happened with me twice, 2 yrs ago and now 2 days back. Last time they took 5 Euros from me. This time they took 20 Pounds and 10 Euros. I went to the nearest police station, Rue de Clignancourt but the police officer said, yes we know about this mugging but there are only 4 policemen deployed, 1/10th of the no. of these mugging guys. The officer said, when you see them, dial 112 for the police help and stay there until police arrive there. I saw, 2 surveillance officer as well standing besides these mugging guys and did nothing to them. So, either carry a pepper spray or use a lift or just call police even before you start climbing.

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  28. i was walking towards the step as a very short man approached me asking to tie a rope around my finger i knew about the scam already so i said NO very clearly and went me way he got mad so he grabbed my arm and tried to tie the string around my finger i am boxer so i pushed him off of me and puched him in the face and told him to leave he left with a bloody nose and his friends ran away

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  29. My fiancee and I have just come back from a trip to the French Open tennis. On one of our last days we decided to go to see Sacre Coeur as it is somewhere we have never been on previous visits. I had not been warned about these "string men" but suspicious of gangs of youths in general, I said to my partner "they look up to no good" as we walked past a group of men African in appearance, loitering and looking shifty on the entrance to the park.

    As we approached the staircase, a similar sort of gang in both number (maybe 6 or 7) and ethnicity lay in wait halfway up, blocking any easy way past. As we approached them I kept my hands in my pocket, my head down and wanted to get past without hassle. When all of a sudden one of the group stood in front of me staring at my wrist as if there was something on it, i assume hoping I would take it out of my pocket in order for me to see what it was that he was looking at so curiously. Due to the fact I failed to remive my hand from my pocket, another man then approached and grabbed my arm while the initial man tried to tie a string around it.

    I laughed in shock and said "no, I dont want it" and it took my partner pulling on my other arm to force me from them for them to let go of their grip. There was 3 or 4 of these gangs all strategically placed around Sacre Coeur and all targetting young women or couples. Many who we witnessed feel forced to hand over quite ridiculous money (10 or 20 euros) in order to free themselves from the gang.

    On the top of the staircase we were constantly being pestered to buy random bottles of beer (many which were sealed but yet still not full which is a quite disturbing thought as to why), fake bags, being asked to be drawn by "artists" etc etc I would say we were approached every 2-3 minutes with someone wanting our money for some sort of rubbish.

    All in all it completely ruined the experience and instead of being lost in the undoubted beauty of the place, you were left trying to plan routes where you would get approached the least. The underground journey and subsequent walk to the Eiffel Tower was not much better with scam card games every few feet and Romany Gypsies prentending to find jewellery and wanting to sell to you.

    The safe haven was when we actually reached the Eiffel tower where there was heavily armed police and army situated. Unfortunately this amazingly beautiful City is getting ruined by these con artists, muggers and scammers and I really think there should be a police presence at each place to protect the countries tourism industry which will undoubtedly start to diminish as these people continue to have carte blanche.

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  30. This scam is alive and well at the steps up to Sacré Coeur. I got in a bit of a tussle with one this morning. It turned out ok, but it was going in a bad direction They are very aggressive, be careful. There was also a team of pickpockets at the top by the entrance to the church. A vendor selling selfie sticks started yelling at them and shooed them away. In summary beware of the african men with colorful string in their hands and small women and children who are trying to get you to sign something at the top. It is a beautiful monument, too bad these social parasites are hanging around to ruin it for the good people of the world who just want to take in the scenery and make a donation to the church. I was very thankful when the french soldiers showed up and for the selfie stick guy.

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