Curious incident on the metro in Paris

I was in Paris last month for a few days on vacation. I speak very little French, but for the most part I got by just fine. During my stay I got around on the metro, which (once I figured out you had to open the door yourself when it arrived at a station) was fairly easy to use.

Anyway, while I was riding the metro, at one stop an older (I’d say about 50 or so) man got on, followed by a much younger (maybe around 20) woman. The guy was a bit shabbily dressed, and I’m not sure if he was drunk but he was a bit belligerent. He walked down the train talking to the other passengers, who just seemed to be ignoring him. I figured he was asking for money. When he got to me, he started talking and I couldn’t understand a word he said, so I just shook my head. This pissed him off and he started talking more angrily, but I still couldn’t make out a word so I just ignored him. He walked past me but then came back and got right in my face, said some more things, and then blew at my head. I did nothing, and finally he continued on his way.

Just a guy asking for money, right? But what was weird was the woman who was following him. As I said, she was younger, pretty, was dressed in clean clothes, carried a backpack, and didn’t say a word. At first I assumed they weren’t together at all – that she just had the misfortune of getting on after him and didn’t want to draw attention to herself. But I noticed at the next stop she got off right after him, and followed him down the platform where it looks like they were going to wait for the next train. At this point I started wondering if this was some type of scam (he’s homeless, she’s his daughter, she’s going to school, she needs money for books – I don’t know, I’m making this all up). Like how in the US if you go to a train station or bus station, you’ll run into people who say that they lost all their money and just need to buy for a ticket home, that sort of thing. I wished I spoke more French just to figure out what that guy’s story was.

Anybody run into anything like this?

Did you lose your wallet or other property after the both of them went past you? I’ve never been to Paris, or France for that matter, but it sounds like a typical two or more-person pickpocket crew: he gets you to focus your attention on him, she (or a third person you didn’t see) lifts whatever valuables off you. If you realize something’s going wrong, she feigns interest in you while the other guy or rest of the crew get away.

Otherwise, it’s a metropolitan area. Crazy people are everywhere, and a lot of them don’t speak the local language. Could be they were catching another train, and that was the platform where the two lines crossed.

Possibly. If so, I wasn’t a victim of it, and it didn’t seem like she was trying to maneuver into a position where she could pick my pocket, but perhaps if I had been standing instead of seated it would have turned out differently.

Hmm. Maybe whatever he was saying was designed to goad me into standing up, at which point I’d be more vulnerable to his partner. Since I didn’t take the bait, they just moved on.

Possibly a pick pocket scam. Possibly a daughter accompanying her mentally ill father.

To the OP, yes - the older guy & the younger woman were definitely “working” together, though it’s unclear in what capacity. If they came on the train together & left at the same time - and she followed him - then, yes, they were “in cahoots”.

I am fairly street smart, live and work in a big city, and thought I knew all the scams out there. And, I was in London & Paris several years back, and had a great time - it was definitely my best vacation (so far).

However, in Paris I especially noticed NUMEROUS scams I hadn’t seen before & also unfortunately encountered a lot of extremely belligerent & persistent panhandlers. I actually came close to getting into some physical fights a couple of times. Very irritating.

Here are some of the scams I noticed:

  • The “Gold Ring” scam - a homeless looking person (usually a gypsy) will pick up what looks like a “gold ring” (always worthless) and ask you if you dropped it. Just ignore them - because, if you take it they’ll then ask you for money.

-The “Petition” scam - gypsies will ask you to sign a petition, and then ask you for a “donation” - ignore them as well.

These fuckers were like cockroaches - they were everywhere.

My advice to anyone travelling anywhere outside of your familiarity/comfort zone (especially big cities) - before you go, do some research online so you can be prepared for the scams you’ll encounter - because, believe me - there are a lot of them!!

We were in Paris for 3 days, and we had the gold ring scam attempted on us twice, and the petition thing once. I think we were very lucky that the petition scam didn’t work on us, because these three girls kind of swarmed around my husband and after they left he found his sling bag, which contained his wallet, was unzipped. However, the wallet and everything else was intact. We never tried the Metro, I was afraid of it.

If the OP knows any French at all I would expect it to include “sorry, I don’t understand French.”

You can’t say that Gypsies were trying to rob you–Roma were trying to rob you!

Yes, you were lucky you weren’t pick-pocketed. When I was in Paris (during the aforementioned trip), a group of gypsy women swarmed me & were grabbing at my arms/coat - it was a slight struggle to get away from them - very obnoxious. They were obviously trying to pick-pocket me. Fortunately, I had my wallet in a zipped up inner jacket pocket, so they weren’t able to get to this - but I know that’s what they were trying for.

Not having a car, I took the metro everywhere. I didn’t find it any more intimidating than taking the train in the U.S. (I take it almost everyday here). Overall, I found the metro/tube in Paris & London superb & far reaching - the various trains did go to a lot of different places, and I didn’t need a car in either city. I hate driving, so wish that the train systems in the U.S. were as good as the ones in Europe.

Also, overall I did feel safer walking around (especially at night) in Paris than I do in most U.S. cities. That also being said, the pandhandlers/scammers were a lot more aggressive there than in the U.S. - though I’ve had issues with some in the U.S. as well.

Funny thing happened to me on one of my trips to Paris. I was walking along a street, when a guy came and said something to me. I replied, in French, “Sorry, I don’t speak French very well.” He then repeated what he’d said, a little louder. So I repeated that I don’t speak French, a little louder. Then he repeated what he’d said, starting to sound a little angry. I repeated myself, then something occurred to me. And I said, in English, “Do you speak English?”

Turned out, the guy was an American tourist, and we communicated just fine in English.

OP, your guy could have been talking religion to you. Maybe the girl had pamphlets in her backpack. You never know what’s going on, when you can’t understand the language.

Strange scene seen in a metro in Valencia; specifically, one of the lines which are mostly aboveground. Young man, clean, normally if shabbily dressed, looks and moves normally. Older woman, dressed about as shabbily, carrying one of those large straw bags. He’s riding the subway already by the time we get on and sit across from him; she comes on a while later, sits beside him.

They don’t talk at all for two stations, then he greets her. She greets him by name, asks how he’s doing… based on the conversation, he was a low-intelligence homeless guy who had a pending criminal case, she was his social services case worker. He would spend the day riding the subway because it’s got a/c, the seats are pretty decent and on the aboveground lines the views are good. He looked normal, but the things he said clearly indicated that he couldn’t understand that he was in Trouble or why, at all. He talked about things such as going to see the luxury car he’d been caught stealing for a criminal ring and hoping that the owner would someday let him take it after the police had shown he was going to take good care of it. My guess is that she dressed the way she did to be more-easily accepted by her clients.

Too funny! I’m curious, what did he want?

That was my first thought about this situation. And not just to be accepted by clients, but to provide some protection to their privacy by not riding around with a big honking name badge that says* DOMINIQUE L’AMOUR, MA, MENTALLY ILL HOMELESS OUTREACH COUNSELOR, HÔPITAL DES PETITS CHATS ANCIENS.

*In French

For all its flaws I like living in Thailand. I’ve dropped my wallet accidentally and had a stranger hand it back to me. I’ve felt far safer in the wee-hour alleys of Bangkok than on a main avenue in certain California cities.

I would have said, “Sorry, I don’t speak French.” It works well with telephone solicitors in Montreal.