A word of warning - keep an eye on your purse in Paris!

The things I carry: August 2011 and December 2012


Do you notice any difference between the things that I carried in my purse in August 2011 and those that I toted around with me this afternoon? Even though the piece of nougat in the picture on the left was eaten long ago and I've exchanged my sunglasses for an umbrella, the contents of my purse haven't changed significantly in the past sixteen months. There is, however, one very important item that's missing. My wallet. It was stolen while I was having lunch with my son Philippe and two friends today.

After piecing together the different bits of information gathered from the waiter and the people at our table, here's what we think happened. The thief entered the restaurant on his own and requested a table for four because he said that he was meeting friends. Absorbed by our conversation, I didn't pay any attention when the thief sat down at the previously empty table behind us and made the mistake of leaving my purse on the floor between Philippe's and my chairs. In the midst of our discussion, one of my friends noticed that the thief's jacket kept sliding off the back of the chair but didn't think much about it until I suddenly looked down and saw that my purse was wide open and my wallet was missing. By that time, the thief was long gone.

Playing detective after the fact, we suspect that the thief unzipped my purse and stole my wallet while he was ostensibly picking up his jacket from the floor. 

Instead of going Christmas shopping as I had planned this afternoon, I went to the police station in the 9th arrondissement to report the theft and to the bank to try to get a replacement debit card. Because of the holidays, there's little chance that I'll receive it before the start of the new year. I'm also going to have to get a new Swiss identification card, French drivers license, French social security card etc., etc. The good news is that the thief didn't take my phone, camera or Navigo pass.

Even though I'm very annoyed with myself for not keeping my purse on my lap as I normally do, a bomb threat at the international arrivals hall while we were picking Philippe up at Charles de Gaulle Airport on Wednesday was a vivid reminder to be thankful that our children traveled to Paris without any mishaps. Our family is together for the holidays and that's what counts. Not the material items that I carry in my purse. 

Comments

  1. I've been to Paris several times over the past 30 years or so -- & managed to have my pocket picked TWICE. First time, almost 30 years ago in the Chatelet Metro maze. A gypsy lady aggressively approached me & waved some papers in my face, distracting me while she (very efficiently) picked my wallet out of my inside coat pocket. Every visit since then, I've been especially alert in Metro stations -- to the point that, about 10 years ago, I thwarted a gypsy lady trying to pull the same stunt on an unsuspecting German tourist in a Metro car. The VERY NEXT DAY, I got my pocket picked on the Trocadero plaza. Different strategy, though. A guy walking directly in front of me came to a sudden stop, causing me to bump into him. While I was re-gathering my balance, an accomplice plucked my wallet from the front pocket of my slacks. I actually felt this attempt, & unsuccessfully tried to grab the guy. My teenage son valiantly gave chase for several blocks, but, by then, I suspect the thief had passed my wallet off to someone entirely different. On subsequent visits, I have reduced my pocket contents to a few coins: no passport, no nothing. My credit card goes into a slot in a money belt.

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    1. Sorry that you've had your wallet stolen twice in Paris but thanks for sharing some of the methods that pickpockets use to catch people off guard.

      I was with my father when he had his wallet stolen on the subway years ago. We went to the police station to report the crime but I don't remember filling out any forms. Did you? Last night I spent about 2 hours at the station waiting to talk with an officer and then reporting the theft. I had already reported it in the 9th arrondissement but they suggested that I file the official report at the police station next to our apartment.

      It's good that you've been able to reduce the contents of your pockets while visiting. Unfortunately, I need to carry a bit more with me since I live here because we're supposed to have an official id card on us at all times.

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  2. That's such a downer! Years ago when Starbucks first opened in Paris, I met some friends for a working lunch. A guy came in, sat down and started a very similar plot to your coat one only he kept needing to do up his shoelaces....which were getting closer and closer to our computer bags.

    Fingers crossed the wallet might turn up with ID/driving permits etc.

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    1. Shoelaces. That's one that I haven't seen before! Thank goodness that you were wise to his trick and didn't have your computer bag stolen.

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  3. Oh dear, what a pain! We do tend to let our guard down at home and when we're having a good time, but can never be too careful I suppose. What a horrible thing to do just before Christmas as well!

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    1. Horrible is right - and one of the items in my wallet was my Disney card! Now I have to decide if I want to spend 25 euros to replace it. I'm just happy that my wallet wasn't stolen before our day at Disneyland.

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  4. Oh you poor dear. So few days before Christmas. That's terrible. Sometimes I think the times are getting worse. In the company where I work in the office, we had a robbery at an outlet a week ago. Thanks God is without injured.

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    1. Robberies and people with weapons are really scary. I've been telling myself that it was better to have my wallet stolen the way it was than to have someone grab it from my hands.

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  5. Oh, Mary Kay, I am so saddened to hear this, and unfortunately, I know EXACTLY how you feel. In the US my wallet was taken out of my purse in the top of my shopping cart while a second person distracted me by asking my opinion on an item on the shelf. As bad as that was, I am thankful they did not also take my cell phone...because I immediately called me husband (we carry the same credit cards) and he called customer service and canceled them within 10 minutes. They did get some cash and I had to replace everything else. So now, I keep my purse on my shoulder or if I put it in the cart, I strap it in with the baby strap and make sure my purse is closed. If anyone speaks to me, I immediately put my hand on my purse before I look at them to answer. Another tip, you should not keep your checkbook in your wallet. So sorry you have had to experience this...it's a sick-to-the-stomach feeling. Enjoy Christmas with your family gathered near!!

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    1. Sorry that you've also had your wallet stolen. It really does produce a "sick-in-the-stomach" feeling that lasts for days.

      I bet that it was a relief to be able to call your husband and ask him to cancel the credit cards. That's what I did as soon as I realized that my wallet had been stolen because I didn't know the number of our bank. Thanks for the tip about not keeping my checkbook in my wallet!

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  6. Sorry to hear that, MK. That's a horrible thing to happen - especially when you were having a happy time with Philippe. You are looking on the bright side, as you usually do, so it will not spoil your Christmas, I'm sure! GM x

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    1. I didn't start out looking on the bright side of things! I was fairly angry and let out a few choice words when I noticed that my wallet was gone. Thankfully, Philippe kept reminding me that it wasn't that big of a deal and Stephane reinforced the message when I got home. Still, I'm not happy about not having my own bank card right now - it means that I have to keep asking Stephane for money!

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  7. Quelle horreur!:(

    I had my coin purse stolen from my mini backpack in Madrid in 2009. Someone saw the thieves and alerted me, but they were long gone. However, seconds after I was alerted, someone came and handed me back my coin purse, whose contents were intact (I was only carrying my driver's license, a credit card, a 50-euro note and some loose change). We always leave everything important in the hotel safe, and I make sure to travel light even in my everyday life. But you know, even though that incident ended well, it ruined my last day in Madrid and left a bitter taste in my mouth. After the theft, I replaced the little backpack with a purse slung across the shoulder. I've even found a really nice one from Bree.com that opens from the back and that has an inside keyfob to which I attach my wallet. And I've learned to keep my purse on me when I eat (it's a small one). It's too bad that we should be reduced to that, but better safe than sorry.

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    1. Thank goodness that you were able to get your coin purse back with the contents intact. We checked the garbage bins around the restaurant in the hopes that the thief would have tossed my wallet after he removed the money.

      I'll be sure to keep my purse on my lap in the future - as you say, it's better to be safe than sorry.

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  8. Like you I was annoyed with myself last Sunday when I managed to lose my wallet with credit cards on the Transilien. I was pretty sure that they hadn't been stolen as there no-one had been near us on the train. I knew that the wallet probably had slipped out when I sat down. I was so cross with myself! I should have known better and been more careful. I am fortunate and was able to collect my wallet intact a couple of days later from 'Objets trouvés' at the railway station. I had to pay to have them release the wallet to me. Even though the cards had been cancelled it was good to have the rest of the items back. As usual MK you have put things in perspective and are looking at the bright side. You are to be congratulated on your positive attitude!

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    1. Oh! I can imagine exactly how you must have felt! I'm still annoyed with myself for putting my purse on the floor. It's great that you were able to get the rest of your items back! When I was listing the contents of my wallet at the police station last night, I suddenly realized that all of the tickets that I had pre-purchased to go ice skating at the Grand Palais were in my wallet and I'm fairly sure that the thief isn't going to use them. What a waste!

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  9. Oh NO!! So sorry to hear that you went through this. An unfortunate reminder that we must always stay vigilant........Happy that your children are with you for the holidays!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. In spite of having my wallet stolen, I'm a happy woman this holiday season!

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  10. Thank you for sharing this, your warning may save others!

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    1. I hope so - I wasn't familiar with the falling jacket approach but it didn't seem to surprise the police when I told them what happened.

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  11. What a bummer! Man, that's just the worst. I hope you're able to put it behind you quickly. Things like this just tick me off.

    On a happier note, I love your bright orange umbrella! And isn't it great to use an old map of Paris--the streets never change, my maps are 15 or 20 years old.

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    1. I loved seeing the vintage map that you brought with you to Paris, Joseph! We still use some old books about Paris from Stephane's grandparents.

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  12. Beware if Roma children as well. They "swarmed me" at the métro stop, rue de Rivoli and stole my iPhone last year. Luckily it was a large purse and they did not get anything else.
    Mary Kay, you have dne us a great service by talking about the methods of this thief. I knew about the "ring trick" ( from Rick Steve's ) and know to never hang my purse on the back of my chair. But the falling jacket and cover the purse trick is a new one for me. And it can happen in Boston as easily as in Paris. I become very aware on the T and after that, unfortunately, I am not always paying attention.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that your iPhone was stolen. Wouldn't it be great if we could walk around Paris, Boston and other cities without having to worry about pickpockets!

      The falling jacket trick was a new one for me (obviously), as was tying the shoelaces trick mentioned by Carina above.

      When I reported the crime to the police, they told me that a lot of people have things stolen out of their coat/jacket pockets when they hang them on the back of chairs in restaurants so you're wise not to hang your purse on the back of your chair.

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  13. Oh gosh, I'm so sorry to hear that! My best friend and I were dining on a terrace at a café in Paris (we both live here) and she had left her iPhone on the table right in front of her as she was waiting for a text from her boyfriend. A "beggar" came up to us with a sign on a piece of paper and he kept waving it in front of our faces whilst we told him that we were not going to give him any money, and 5 seconds after he left, we realised that her iPhone was gone. He had used the paper simply as a cover under which he took the iPhone. You really have to be careful in Paris, I think! I've definitely come across more personal stories of theft from my close friends in Paris vs. my close friends in London. And as much as I am really careful about being racist (I am a product of 2 races, and have experienced racism myself!) - I have to say that I really do think that a lot of it has to do with the ease of immigration to France vs. the UK (being out of the Schengen area). And yes, often my friends have pointed out Romas in their stories, but we can never be sure. I'm sorry for the huge inconvenience before Christmas, but I love the way you are looking at it. It's true: what matters is that your children are home. The wallet and its contents are always replaceable.

    xx Milsters

    (http://www.littlepiecesoflight.com/)

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    1. Thanks for telling me about what happened to your friend. It's a good reminder that it's not safe to leave valuable objects on the table. I occasionally leave my iPhone on the table when I'm expecting a text message/call because I don't always hear it when it's in my purse. In the future, I'll put it in a pocket or on my lap.

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  14. I was so sorry to hear that you wallet was stolen, but I am thrilled they didn't get your Navigo!!!
    Not sure what's happening at CDG, but E had a bomb alert there on Monday, too. Made her an hour late getting in from the airport. I wasn't pacing hte house and climbing the walls, or anything like that.
    On a more important note... what's the Manor bag I see in the photos?

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    1. I'm also thrilled that they didn't get my Navigo because I have no idea how I would have gotten home! I already had to ask M and E if they would front me the money for Philippe's and my lunch.

      The Manor bag is from Switzerland - it's a department store that also sells groceries.

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  15. So sorry to hear about this Mary Kay. In Paris I am pretty vigilant, but in Manchester my nearest city I tend to get complacent. It is easily done.

    In Paris, Michael has been targeted and my friend Lizzie, whilst they were with me. In both cases the method was the same. They were jostled as they got on the metro and the thieves were working in threes. One to jostle, or stop suddenly in front of them, one to pick the pocket whilst the were distracted and the other to pass the wallet to. All three were dressed differently and you wouldn't know they were together. It was all very cleverly done.

    The first lot, some men, only got a bunch of paper from Michael and the second, a group of young girls, were foiled because Lizzie rudely pushed the girl who jostled her, hard, in annoyance, into the other one who had got the zipper open on her bag, but failed to get her purse.

    Sometimes, being rude pays off!

    Love Denise

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    1. Good for Lizzie for thwarting the group of young girls and hanging on to her purse! The jostling method seems to be the preferred method of pickpockets on the metro.

      Familiarity does breed complacency - I'm going to have to be more vigilant in Paris and hope that you will be in Manchester!

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  16. Mary Kay, I am so sorry to hear about this. I'm glad to posted this though, because I always forget about pick pockets and don't want to become a victim. Good reminder for us all.

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    1. Thanks, Jacki! Be careful while you're traveling around Paris. I wouldn't want this to happen to you either!

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  17. By strange coincidence, this letter was in today's Washington Post....

    "Roberto Loiederman’s account of being pickpocketed in Paris was right on the money (so to speak) [“Oh, the joy of being broke in Paris,” Travel, Dec. 16]. My wife and I have traveled all over the world, but the only place we have been robbed was Paris — twice.

    The first time was in the airport shuttle to the metro, where my wife noticed her wallet was on the floor behind her. A teenage girl had slipped it from my wife’s purse, taken out the euros and left it there.

    A few years later, we spent a few days in Paris, then boarded the same transit system to catch an overnight train to Italy. The metro car was crowded, and we had to stand. A couple of guys were sitting on the floor behind me, and some in front were bumping into me — clearly, in hindsight, to distract me. They all got off at the next stop, and I found that my wallet was gone. We canceled both my credit cards, but since my wife carried only the same two cards, we had to get money wired to us.
    Now when I travel, I carry a fake wallet in my back pocket and hide the real one. My wife carries one credit card, and I carry the other. And we carry information separately on how to cancel them."

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    1. The fake decoy wallet in the back pocket is a good idea. I also like the suggestion for spouses to carry two different credit cards. Fortunately, even though my French credit/debit card is connected with my husband's card, they didn't need to cancel his card when they cancelled mine. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been much on the table for Christmas dinner!

      Thank you for posting this timely letter from the Washington Post!

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  18. How horrible! The worst is getting the cards redone. It's so time-consuming. I've never had a problem of theft (or attempted theft) when I'm with French speakers but I've learnt to be extra careful when I'm speaking English. I'll never forgot walking down rue de Rivoli with an Australian friend and realising someone had their hand in my handbag. I turned round and yelled at him in French and he disappeared of course. We also divide up our money and have separate credit cards as well when we're travelling.
    If I see the gypsy girls in the metro on line 1, I warn the passengers in English because I've seen it happen so often.

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