I pity the poor bloody tourist visiting Paris these days. It’s not the world’s friendliest city at the best of times, however, in these, the hardest of times, many tourists are wondering if Paris isn’t becoming a « no go area. »
At the best of times, Paris is noted for its rude taxi drivers, unscrupulous restaurateurs and striking museum workers. It is not unusual for foreign tourists on a « once in a lifetime visit » to the nation’s capital to find museums and monuments closed because the workers are on strike. – Imagine picket lines of banner waving militants at the foot of the Eiffel tower or at the entrance to the Louvre – it is quite a common occurrence. As for taxi drivers, most are quite surly types, short on conversation and often quite rude. Unlike their London counterparts, Parisian taxi drivers don’t actually have to sit an exam on their knowledge of the city Streets, they simply pay an « entry fee » into the profession. Quite a few Parisian taxi drivers quite simply don’t know where they are going when the destination lies slightly off the well-beaten tourist track. However awful the Parisian taxi driver, they always expect a tip and complain vociferously when they don’t get one. Finally, those unscrupulous restaurateurs – well, you might think you’re getting freshly cooked « magret de canard (duck), chances are though it’s just been freshly microwaved after a long stint in the freezer. And in those restaurants which claim to be « gastronomic », your appetising menu choice is on the boil as I write – YES, more and more Parisian chefs are using « boil in the bag » gourmet meals. Whet the hell, we are all, or we all have been « bloody tourists » – being conned, insulted or just plain ignored, is something that we take in our globetrotting stride.
In Paris at the moment though, there is a serious crime problem – not just pickpockets, but real violent crime with tourists getting mugged. Indeed, so bad has crime against tourists become in the French capital, that retailers and hoteliers are asking the « powers-that-be » to do come up with some serious solutions to the problem.
The call for action comes from « The Colbert Group » – a coalition of 75 retailers, hoteliers and bosses of luxury brands. The group’s members include prestigious names such as Hermés, Lacoste, Chanel, Louis Vuitton as well as the owners of 5 star hotels – the Georges V and the Crillon amongst others. The argument is simple – of the natives are beating up rich foreign tourists, the rich foreign will go elsewhere. That would be a shame, seeing as the rich foreigners spent 102 billion Euros last year in Paris.
So, what’s happening?
Pickpockets have always been a nuisance, but now their numbers have reached epidemic proportions. They are not just operating on the Streets or in the Paris metro; child pickpockets are now exercising their dipping arts right in the heart of the Louvre museum. A large proportion of these new « dippers » are Rom children. They divest tourists of their wallets as they wait in the queue, but also inside the museum as they admire the various works of art. Kids get into the Louvre for free, and the place has so many entrances and exits, it is almost impossible to control the thousands of people who visit the museum everyday. It is reckoned that pickpocketing, bag snatching and crimes of this nature in Paris are up by 40% on 2011.
A favourite target of the criminal is the Chinese. They wander round town with vast wads of ready cash. When you know that a Chinese tourist spends on average 1340 Euros on a visit to Paris (compared to a 639 Euro average for European and American visitors) – you can imagine that the Chinese (not great fans of credit cards) are walking the city Streets with pickets bulging full of Euros. – An easy target.
Such are the number of crimes where Chinese tourists are the victims that the Chinese Embassy in Paris officially complained to the city police and asked for increased security around Chinese tour groups. The problem is that not only are individual Chinese tourists being mugged, entire tour groups are being attacked.
On March 20th last, 23 Chinese tourists on their way to Roissy Charles De Gaulle airport had their bus hijacked. On May 13th, during a football riot at the Trocadero, a gang hijacked and robbed an entire coach carrying 50 Chinese tourists.
Hijacking seems to be the fashionable crime of the moment. The French media have compared it to desperadoes in the Wild West holding up the stagecoach. Recently there has been quite a lot of train-jacking around Paris and in the southern city of Marseilles on the shores of the Med.
The scenario is always pretty much the same – a group of youth throw bricks, concrete bars on the railway line to stop the train or block it in the station. Following this the criminals – usually around twenty in number will either force their way on board the train, or get an accomplice on board to hit the emergency button, and then – well in English we call it « streaming » – the criminal « steam » through all the coaches, hitting passengers and stealing cash and sundry technological gadgets such as laptop computers or mobile phones.
When we Europeans travel to exotic climes we are always told to look after our personal belongings – Thailand, India, Indonesia – the further away, the less like home, the more dangerous – such is our mindset. Paris though – you’ll be safe, or will you ??? This is the city of light, this is the setting for all those glitzy perfume adverts, this is Paris. It can’t be happening. Well it is. Don’t let this put you off though, there’s probably just as much chance of you getting robbed at the end of your own street.