Monday Morning Musings on Pickpockets on the Metro in Paris
|Metro station, Arts et Metiers (Lines 3 and 11)|
After dodging holiday shoppers and having my foot run over by a renegade baby stroller while visiting the Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées yesterday, Stéphane, Sara and I decided to take metro line 1 from George V to Tuileries to have some hot chocolate. As we always seem to arrive at Angelina's just after it has closed for the night, I stood on the metro platform with my back to the wall to check their opening hours on my iPhone. Stéphane and Sara were facing me, we were speaking English and for all anyone knew we were tourists in Paris.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a group of young teenage girls with long hair and cell phones. They looked familiar because I had seen them, or girls who look exactly like them, causing a commotion on line 1 a couple of times. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I nevertheless had an instinctive feeling that something wasn't quite right, especially when they kept walking back and forth behind Sara and jostling her. Momentarily distracted from my iPhone, I thought that they were just rude teenagers who didn't have anything better to do on a Sunday afternoon.
When the metro train pulled into the station, the cluster of girls broke into small groups (strange!) and approached separate cars. By the time that one of them nudged in front of me to follow an Asian man, alarm bells were going off in my mind. Looking down, I noticed that her jacket was draped over her arm and that her hand was reaching ever so carefully into the man's jacket pocket. Without taking the time to think about French etiquette, I demanded, "Mais, qu'est-ce que tu fais?" (But, what are you doing?). Unintentionally using the impolite form of address (tu versus vous -- but how should one address a pickpocket?) in a rather loud tone caught the girl's attention because she jerked to a halt and withdrew her hand from the man's pocket. Like water slipping through your fingers, she was off of the train in an instant. Everything happened so fast that the doors hadn't even closed yet.
Meanwhile, the Asian man and the group of four women with him cast a startled glance in my direction. Realizing that they were tourists, I asked if they spoke English and explained that the girl had been trying to steal his wallet from his jacket pocket. After checking his other pockets and confirming that he still had his wallet, he said that fortunately it hadn't been in that pocket even though that's where he normally carries it. True enough, the wallet had left an imprint on the material, which is why the girl was rummaging around in that particular pocket.
Since it was over in the blink of an eye, Sara asked Stéphane and me what had happened. After telling her that the girls were pickpockets, a panicked look crossed her face as she remembered how they had been jostling her on the platform. Saying that she didn't see how they could have taken anything from the zippered purse that she was holding clenched under her arm (that's my girl!), she confirmed that everything was there. By taking the necessary precautions, the Asian man was lucky and Sara was lucky -- but don't count on luck. Here are a few things that I do while riding public transportation:
- Look as if you know where you're going, even when you don't. If you need to look at a map or your iPhone, move to an uncrowded part of the metro.
- Keep your purse close to your body. Mine is always held tightly under my arm and slightly in front of my chest.
- Pay extra attention to your belongings on routes that have more tourists, like metro line 1, and when you're entering and exiting the train. That's when the girl was busy searching the man's pocket for his wallet.
- Sit whenever possible. Otherwise, stand with your back against a wall rather than holding the pole in the middle of the car.
- Sorry to say, but I've heard from many people that racial profiling does exist as far as pickpockets are concerned. Because Asians tend to carry more cash and have the latest technological gadgets, they seem to be prime targets. This was confirmed by my Japanese friend Itsuko who told me that her wallet was stolen while riding the metro.
- Any other tips? Please leave a comment.
Let me end this post by saying that Paris is a large city and it's best to be careful, just as you would in any other metropolis. Fortunately, I've never had the misfortune of having anything stolen by a pickpocket. A thief did, however, take my father's wallet while I was with him on the metro during his first trip to Paris many years ago. It wasn't a pleasant experience.
Sorry, unlike those of the bracelet scam guys near the Sacré Coeur funicular, I wasn't able to take any photos of the pickpockets on the metro. Here's a picture to remind you that Paris is busy, beautiful city full of people.
|Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées|