It was still about an hour train ride from Charles de Gaulle airport to the city of Paris. As we find our way to the train platform, a woman stopped us in the middle of our dash and started talking to me in French. She was showing a piece of paper with names and signatures and handing me a pen. With a big question mark painted on my face, I clearly don’t understand what she’s saying. I did try to speak to her in English and asked what it is for. She keeps answering back in French.
From what I could pick up, she was asking us to sign for a petition or something. I was excited and blessed to be in Paris, of course, I’d be happy to help! I graciously took the pen and was about to sign when a passer-by started shouting to our direction, “Pickpocket! Pickpocket!”
We did not immediately perceive that it was meant for us but the woman was shaken and suddenly reacted defensively. My eyes followed the source of the voice and saw a man who was already a few feet away from us (he was in a walkalator). He repeated, “Pickpocket! Pickpocket!” while pointing at the woman.
We were taken aback. I returned the pen and we walked away.
As soon as we found a safe spot, we stopped to check our things. Except for a broken zipper on my backpack’s pocket, thankfully, nothing was lost. I grew up in Manila; I witnessed, heard, and experienced all kinds of scam and theft. I won’t make a mistake of putting something important in a place that could easily be accessed by anyone especially when we’re traveling.
We’re relieved but it was a bit discouraging. We haven’t even been out of the airport for 5 minutes and there we were, trying to grasp what just happened. I knew that there’d be a lot of pickpockets around. We were warned. But I didn’t realize that it could be just anyone. I mean, this woman is well-dressed from head to foot; she’s clean, decent and nice. She looks no different than me and all the others out there. How could one even differentiate her from the others?
As tourists, we easily get distracted by all the new things we see, so it’s really important to be extra alert, careful and to always keep those valuables on sight. Be cautious of strangers approaching you on the streets requesting you to sign for something, or asking “Speak English?” They usually work in a group. They try to get your attention or get you busy talking or looking at something, while another person tries to steal your stuff.
We encountered more of them in Paris. We don’t want to be snob as much as possible but we also try to discern genuine queries from scams. Trust your instinct. If unsure, just politely say ‘no’ and move on. If you’re traveling with friends or a partner, look after each other.
We’re happy that we did not lose anything, even a cent! And that we learned early on how these people work. It’s sad and frustrating but we should remember that poverty is not only particular in Asia or in third world countries, even in the west. And that we’re all just human beings trying to get by in this world. Poverty doesn’t give people the right to do bad things but hey, who are we to judge?
What a way to start our day in France!
Have you had any scary, uncomfortable experiences while traveling?