A Pickpocket’s Paris-dise

We are careful when we travel. I guard my purse (always worn on front) and my husband guards his wallet (always in his front jeans pocket). I bring a Visa, Mastercard and an American Express with me but leave two of those in my hotel room when I’m out and about. In all the times we’ve traveled, we’ve only been the victims of one attempted pickpocket experience. That was before this trip to Paris/Madrid.

Back in the early 2000s I proudly wore my fanny pack across the front of my pants. We were on the chunnel train from London to Paris. When the train reached Paris and started making stops at the various stations, a man tried to open my fanny pack. I remember screaming and pushing him. I remember other people pointing and calling out, “Pickpocket!” I remember the “bad guy” getting pushed out of the train by the “good guy”, who followed the bad guy off the train. We learned later there had been no “good guy”. These two were partners.

Since then my fanny pack has been retired (but I still own for when it becomes fashionable again) and we haven’t had anymore problems with pickpockets in France or any other European country. I fancied that a result of our knowledge as experienced travelers.

When my three sisters arrived in Paris last week for a visit, we warned them about pickpockets. We told them when to be particularly vigilant and my husband and I tried to stay one of us in front and one in back in areas where we knew pickpockets would be looking for easy prey.

One night we jumped aboard a crowded metro train and a young man started to ask me a question. I didn’t understand his language so I asked him to repeat. He repeated several times when something in my brain clicked. I thought, that is neither French nor English. That is gibberish. At that precise moment I realized my purse, again on the front of my body, was being unzipped, slowly. Oh, so slowly. On reflex I grabbed the hand that was unzipping my purse, that of a young woman. Her female friend was nearby. The train stopped and the girls rapidly exited. My arm was temporarily caught in the train doors as they closed and I held on to the hand of the girl who had tried to rob me. I noticed then the young man who had been addressing me was now quiet and he got off at the next stop. This confirmed what I already suspected. He was in cahoots with the girls. Classic pickpocket scene: Cause a distraction. This time they got nothing.

A few days later when we were in Madrid, we all boarded, again, a crammed metro train car. My sisters did their best to protect their purses. They each had the Longchamp vinyl purses so popular with travelers. Each of them had their purse in front of their bellies as we had instructed them. Several stops later we disembarked only to find Judy’s purse had been slashed from the side. The thief had obviously hoped the contents of the purse would spill or that he/she would be able to reach sideways inside the purse. This time the only thing that happened was Judy’s Longchamp purse was ruined.

By now we were hyper-vigilant and even paranoid. We were back in Paris when our preferred metro line was announced out of service for the immediate future. We decided to switch our plans to ride Line 9. We boarded a ridiculously crowded train this time. It was so crowded that Judy and I almost didn’t get on. She was not carrying a purse. I was carrying a very small over the shoulder leather bag and had my raincoat covering the zipper. My husband had his arms around Dorothy and her vinyl purse. Marsha was turned inward toward the center pole protecting her purse. We thought we were bulletproof and believed we knew all the tricks by now.

When the train started to empty enough that we could move about, my husband noticed his wallet was missing from his front pocket. I realized I had been distracted again by a person speaking to me and although I felt secure knowing my purse was protected by my raincoat, what I now believe happened is the man talking to me was distracting my eyes away from my husband so his accomplice could snatch the wallet. Gads. I fell for it again.

Europe train travel is exceptionally safe if you follow these guidelines:

1. As much as it offends your American optimism, DO NOT speak to anyone on the metro/train. If someone talks to you just say, “No thank you” in your language or theirs.

2. DO NOT get on board an excessively crowded train. Opt to walk or to take a later train. If the train is so crowded that people have to be touching on all sides, this is prime ground for pickpockets.

3. DO NOT carry a vinyl purse or an oversized purse for your valuables. If you need to carry the larger purse for your extra scarves and hats do so but also carry a small money belt or similar device to contain your valuables.

4. Do your research. In all the many months we have been to Paris, we didn’t know Line 9 was a pickpocket target but a quick Google search afterward informed us that is is.

5. When you ride the trains take a seat if available. If not, keep your back against a wall or door and keep your eyes focused on your own self and surroundings.

6. Men, if you insist on carrying a wallet, move it to a zipped jacket pocket or keep your hands in your pants pockets while on the metro/train. Never carry your wallet in your back pocket.

7. Men and women: Bring more than one credit card on your trip but carry only one with you. That way, if you are the target of a theft, you will still have your other credit card safe at your hotel.

8. Carry only the amount of cash you will need for your outing.

There are a few other common theft schemes that you can avoid if you research in advance. Three that come to mind are 1. The bracelet scheme; 2. The found ring scheme; and the 3. Sign my petition scheme. Google search these for details.

Traveling abroad is wonderful and my love of Paris is not diminished. But I am writing this post to ask you to please be vigilant when traveling abroad.

And just as an aside, it seems no one takes American Express anymore! Gads.

41 Comments

  1. I always carry my wallet in the old fashioned back pocket never a problem anywhere and done some even in not so touristic areas. Just common sense will tell you not to open your back , hold it again a bar or wall in the trains etc do not know how just always fine. But good to tell folks who are visiting….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a strong sense you do not look at all like a tourist and perhaps have not been targeted as we have been. My husband and I have learned to blend in but my sisters had dropped jaws and were actively falling in love with Paris. It was hard to miss the fact that we were tourists.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The funny thing is, the gilet jaune shut the metro lines down on a number of occasions. They probably saved us a few more incidents. Really though we go to Paris every year for a month and have never had this happen. I don’t want Paris to get a bad rap.

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  2. How sad that is! And I am so sorry about your husband’s stolen wallet and your sister’s ruined purse! I have only been the victim of attempted pick-pocketing once many years ago in my own hometown of La Coruña in north west Spain and this was on one of the most popular central streets opposite the port and I too grabbed the hand of the thieving woman and threatened to call the police. She left me alone and me and my companions carried on strolling. The moral of the story is that one should always be vigilant as pick-pockets are everywhere and they can target locals as well as visitors. I always hold my bag close to me and it is slung across my shoulder and chest for safer keeping. Sad world we live in. 😭

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Three incidents in a row is harsh. Sorry you had this hassle. I have yet to experience a pickpocket, which is kind of surprising, actually. I’d be an easy target for sure.Here in Austria I often go shopping with an open basket instead of a purse. Might as well have a neon sign “Wallet For Grabs!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It must’ve been my sisters drawing attention as newcomers to the game. We’ve never had a problem before this trip (except the chunnel train and then we had luggage—also advertising easy prey).

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  4. Thanks for writing about this. This is a sad reality in Paris. And it can happen to the savviest of people. It happened to me and I lived there! I’m glad you still love Paris. So do I. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I went to Paris in August and although I didn’t carry a purse I did carry a small backpack that had my camera in it. It was kept in a camera case to not only protect it but if someone was trying to get in my bag I would notice it before they got to my expensive camera. Luckily me nor my family got pickpocketed. One tip I could suggest is getting a zipper lock or using a clip of sorts to secure two zippers together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I thought about a zipper lock. I thin when it’s just me and my husband we are safe. When we were taking care of three others who are not familiar with the metro is when we became vulnerable. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Alison – I enjoyed this helpful post – and tip 5 was my top one – but all good –
    and sorry your hubs wallet was taken – but seems you have done well overall – and now we benefit

    in 2002, I was in san francisco and was followed twice – near dusk – but I turned around both times and lifted my camera bag (so stupid to have it draped over my shoulder) and I hugged it and stopped and let them pass.
    an officer showed up a little while later – I guess there are so many snatches there (at that time – it was before all the needles were on the ground- ) so they had police there at night – and the crooks knew right when they could steal – but thankfully I am aware (or try to be) of who is in my space.
    Oh and the tips for not riding crowded trains and for not chattering will be useful
    thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you found some helpful tips. I simply let my guard down since we’ve been traveling in Europe for many years without incident. I just read an article from the French press talking about the dramatic increase in metro pickpockets this winter so I guess we were the fated victims of this trend. Be safe!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, such a huge problem. I love the advise of never talking to anyone on the train. I cannot believe I have been there three time now and have not been pick pocketed. Each time I traveled with the kids – the first time my son was pick pocketed on the Lock Bridge by the Louvre – by a bunch of girls asking him to sign a petition. He was 16 and only had $20 euros, so a good lesson if nothing else. Excellent advice!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No family. It has just always enchanted me. I retired in 2013 and have been trying to figure out how to go live there for at least a year. Darn life on this side of the pond keeps getting in the way of my dream! But I feel very lucky to visit for long stretches.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’ve never looked back. Loved my career and all the friends I made along the way but staying happy and busy in retirement. And my first grandson was born last year so the timing is great! I hope you are like me and love it. Not everyone is built for retirement!

        Liked by 1 person

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