Travel

Paris Tourist Scams: HiP Tips For A Hassle-Free Trip

by Maggie Battista
Flickr Esellee Esellee

I was lucky enough to live in Paris earlier this year. During my time in one of the fairest cities, I soaked up the language, tossed back (a few too) many glasses of red and practically inhaled the food. I also wandered, a lot. I’m the sort of tourist who likes to explore the nooks and crannies, those precious spots that are forgotten on a map but hold a special magic beyond the typical grand Paris sites.

Oh, I did fit in the requisite amount of “grand” though. Naturellement! I was a trooper, performing my tourist duty by visiting all of the major Parisian landmarks, leaving my gasps and wishes in the same spots you likely did. I gazed at the Eiffel Tower and marveled at the views from both Sacré-Coeur (très vaste) and the Centre Pompidou (très spécial). I even strolled down Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore, a street speckled with bright shop windows that are filled with tiny sparkling items more valuable than my not-as-tiny house in the States.

I saw it all, hoping I blended in among the fashionable locals but knowing deep down, way deep down, that I still looked like the typical tourist – wide-eyed, a bit awestruck, mouth permanently agape, cheeks flushed from all the wine, and generally feeling quite blessed and lucky.

Paris-Tourist-Scams-Eiffel-Tower-Vendors-2
Supagroova,Katifisch

Alas, all that wine blushing up my skin totally gave me away. While I was living in a dream, a few unsavory locals easily spotted my tourist moves (you know, the wide-eyes, mouth agape, flushed cheeks) and attempted to weasel me with their foolish scams. I was forewarned by local friends and, fortunately, able to avoid the embarrassment. Many of my tourist brethren were not so lucky.

Luck, however, is on your side. I watched, appalled, as each tourist, high on the city of lights, repeatedly fell for scam after scam. I’m busting out the scams I discovered here so you don’t have to succumb to their same fate.

First and foremost, you must remember this key piece of information on your next stroll through central Paris: No one would sell you a real gold ring for 10 Euros. Not in Paris. Not anywhere. Not even your real grandmother would sell you a piece of 18-karat gold for 10 Euros. Just wouldn’t happen.

So when your sweet Parisian fairy godmother or godfather finds a pretty gold ring at your very feet, they’ll explain how they’re certain it belongs to you. When you insist that it isn’t, which naturally you will, they’ll start raving about how genuine the ring is and how they’ll be only too glad to sell it to you for whatever you’re willing to pay. Two words: Don’t pay. In fact, don’t bother. Just perfect a très Parisian scowl and move right on along. If they persist, shout at them, preferably in French, and, remarkably, they will vanish.

Paris Tourist Scams: Montmartre, Sacre CoeurJturn, Soumit

Now when strolling about the streets of Montmartre, especially around the gorgeousness that is Sacré-Coeur, you’ll likely be on the hunt for a souvenir or two. Do me this favor. When the kindly gentlemen offer to help you mark your moment touristique with a simple string bracelet tied around your wrist, don’t accept. You may think it’s so cute and similar to the red strings worn all over Los Angeles, but after giving it away so sweetly, they’ll insist that you’ll now need to buy it, as the only way to remove it would be to cut the string (which damages the highly valuable product, I suppose). They’ll likely argue with you. It will turn into a désordre horrible. Keep in mind, these gallant men may not even ask permission; they may simply tie one on an outstretched arm. It’s just best to keep your arms to yourself and buy your souvenirs in a store.

My last sentence readily applies to this additional piece of advice I feel compelled to share. The vendors that dot the base of the Eiffel Tower are eager to move their miniature versions of the tallest building in Paris. In fact, they’ll follow you around as you gaze toward the sky, hoping to win your favor and your wallet. Here’s the tip: All of these eager salesmen likely paid just a few coins (on the Euro) for each.  When they start arguing about who has the best price and causing a general commotion to win your business, just move along. You can find the very same mini-statues in every corner shop in Paris. I hate to spoil your Parisian moment but the ones sold at the base of la dame de fer aren’t extra special.

Paris Tourist Scams: Mini Eiffel Tower MapDaniel_pfund

I’m returning to Paris soon and feel so far more prepared than before, hoping that I won’t look like the tourist that I truly am. Though I could probably live in Paris for 10 years and still look like a tourist. Well, better me than you, oui? Now you can enjoy the city of lights stress-free, while I continue to scout out scams. I’ll share more soon if you promise not to giggle when I walk down the street – wide-eyed, awestruck and, despite these little nuisances, still feeling quite blessed and lucky.

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Written by Maggie Battista for the Hip Paris Blog. For our amazing rentals in Paris, Provence & Tuscany check out our website Haven in Paris.

Written By

Maggie Battista

Passionate about fine dining and old-fashioned hospitality, Maggie is focused on finding hidden, authentic food gems and is absolutely in love with the creamy, salty butter sold all over Paris. She also runs an online magazine and market called Eat Boutique, where she discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers. Maggie’s based in Boston, with frequent trips to Paris, Brooklyn, Maine, and northern California. View Maggie Battista's Website

22 comments on “Paris Tourist Scams: HiP Tips For A Hassle-Free Trip

David (TravelScams.org)

Hi Maggie, thanks for sharing these very common scams in Paris/France. Do be wary of the pickpockets as well, they come in many different forms and use different techniques. Most importantly, they aim to distract you and strike from there, so it pays to be alert most of the time. Anyway, here’s 17 common scams in France which can help if you are heading back to Paris or France anytime soon! 🙂 http://travelscams.org/europe/17-common-tourist-scams-france/

Matthew Gallantry

Thanks for the tips Maggie. Seems like I’ve to be more careful for my upcoming Paris trip. Slightly disappointed to hear this negative feedbacks about Paris.

For women, have lots of pockets (some inside) and keep money and valuables distributed on the side you carry your purse on. Hang firmly onto the corner where the strap meets the purse and the zipper tab is when closed. Keep it close to your body in front or side-front at all times and your arm will automatically be protecting the pockets on that side, too. If approached by anyone who is not obviously just a tourist looking for directions, ignore them and walk briskly away. You don’t need to speak French. A swing of the other hand across the front of you like a windshield wiper sends a strong “get lost” message. “No” or “non” or “nein” can be added if you want. Walk with purpose, know where you are and where you are going. Don’t get into isolated situations. Don’t take the Metro or bus when it is crowded OR when it is nearly empty, either. The purses and backpacks with steel cables and mesh are great. Since the back side of the strap on my purse with cables in the strap can be separated from the purse (although not easily) I took a belt-and-suspenders approach and added a nice little black padlock there to secure it so nothing could be successfully cut or undone. There is nothing like a padlock on your purse to send a message. Lest you think this ridiculous, let me tell you, I saw fancy, HEAVY and STRONG brass padlocks on the clasps of $1000 and up purses for sale in the grand magazins. No kidding. Be wise and send the right vibes and you will be OK.

Le Petit Colombier, Maggie – love that place. Needless to say, the ring covered only a portion of the dinner for two 🙂

Olga: That’s the BEST story ever. So wonderful! Where did you eat!? –Maggie

I was very amused to read about the gold ring scam. My husband and I shelled out 10 Euros for a ring freshly found at our feet. The funniest part of this story is that we took it to the jeweller in the US, it turned out to be 18K gold, and we sold it for $274. We applied the money to the next dinner in Paris, bien sur 🙂

Thanks Genevieve for the detailed and wonderful reply on how not to get pickpocketed in Paris. Follow those rules and you should be on your way to a safe Paris vacation.

I would add one more; when taking photos, make sure if you take your camera out of your bag to get that amazing photo… to shut your purse before taking the photo. After 18 years in Paris, I was pickpocketed for that very reason. And boy, did I feel violated, stupid, angry etc. Grrr! – Erica

Genevieve Sandifer

Hey Caitlin! Here are a couple thoughts to minimize the possibilities of getting scammed/pick-pocketed in Paris:
– Walk with determination! And if you want to stroll and someone starts bothering you (happens to everyone: men, women, tourists, natives) don’t be afraid to be rude and brush them off. Just look away and keep walking, if you don’t feel confident responding to them. Your gut will usually be able be to tell if the person is legit or not, and if in doubt, watch out for yourself! They will get over it.
– Leave your passport at home! In France you don’t need IDs everywhere. If you have your driver’s license, carry that instead.
– Carry cash and credit card separately. Keep credit cards in a small envelope in your purse, and cash in your wallet.
– DO NOT carry traveler’s checks. They just don’t make sense anymore. Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Check your bank at home to see if they have a partnership with French banks to avoid fees when using ATMs in Paris. For ex, I believe Bank of America has a partnership with BNP
– Do not carry a purse that you can’t zip shut. That is asking for trouble.
– When in the metro or in a crowd, hug your purse to your front – don’t let it dangle behind or to the site of you.
– DO NOT keep the code to get into your apartment with your vacation rental address, and especially not your keys. If they steal your purse but you still have your keys, they might follow you home. The best tactic is just to memorize it, or put it in your phone.

Hope this helps!

I fell for the gold ring scam in Paris and now I have it sitting on top of a litte Eiffel tower key ring I found in the street – both icons of ‘porte-bonheur’!

Thank you for the kind mention in your link. Much appreciated 🙂

Claire * Lola Is Beauty

I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris and feel like I know it pretty well, can blend, walk purposefully etc…But it was only on my last visit I experienced the gold ring scam – I had never heard about it and don’t spend a lot of time hanging around the Louvre generally. I thought the woman had either lost or/and found the ring, she was asking me to look at the “mark” and I was like, oh lucky you but I don’t think it’s real. It was obviously a crappy fake ring but it took me a while to realise she was trying to scam me – meanwhile my friend who never goes to Paris totally got it in an instant and was watching the woman’s hands the whole time to make sure she wasn’t emptying my pockets. After that we saw hoards of them all doing the same thing, only feet away from each other.

Love the advice! I am studying abroad during the Spring 2011 semester in Aix-en-Provence and I plan on traveling extensively through out Europe while I have the chance. What is the best way to carry my belongings like cash, credit cards, etc to insure that they are not stolen? Thanks so much for any advice!

Jane in Australia

cool. more info for my friends list. thanks

great tips! there is one more “scam” – while walking around Tuileries, a little boy came up to me and I was sure he was lost. Upon giving him attention, a postcard was thrust in my face with a request for money in English.

But the most preventative way to keep scammers at a distance is to try to withhold that giddy tourist smile and awestruck gleaming eyes, walk with purpose and if approached, just keep walking abruptly away.

Also, while the scammers love to huddle in certain areas around main tourist sites, they aren’t swarming around at all corners. For Sacre Coeur, go around the back after a stroll through Montmartre. For the Eiffel Tower, avoid standing under it. For Notre Dame, come from Ile de St Louis after ice cream at Berthillon.

And what about the spellbound audience of bad mimes and 3-card monte? Might as well tattoo on forehead: please rob me.

One more thing about the gold ring scam: sometimes while one of them argues with you about the ring, another will try and sneak behind you to empty your bag/pockets.

So true, Parigi! The advice seems obvious but time and time again, tourists fell for each and every scam.

Yes, Elisa, a scam is a scam is a scam.

Kari, rude is the only way to go, especially in Paris!

Hazel, we’d love to hear more about your trip! Paris is great in the autumn.

Thanks for reading, all!

Maggie

Your advice is in fact telling people not to be stupid.
Buy low sell high, duh!

Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels

It seems that tourist scams are always the same, wherever you go 🙂 Thanks for the tips!

Brava, Maggie! I received both of these generous jewelry offers when I was there in February — close to the Louvre and at Sacre Coeur — and my streetwise NYC training immediately kicked in. But people not familiar with big cities (I’m thinking my parents) would likely be more reluctant to be blatantly rude. It’s not a crime to be rude when you’re approached by a stranger.

Just as you would ignore these people in Toronto or New York, you should ignore them in Paris while you’re traveling. I would never let anyone do this to me in my hometown.

Advice I hope to remember when I’m traveling frighteningly solo in Paris this autumn.

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