Do You Speak English?

Parisians seldom approach strangers in the street. Yesterday, as I was approaching Des Abbesses where the pipers were playing and the Scottish rugby fans were congregated, I heard the question being asked of a woman. " Do you speak English?" Then, I saw the inevitable large group of young girls.  Fortunately, I heard one girl remark to the others (in French) that the police were there (not exactly what she said). Someone's wallet was probably spared.

In Paris, I don't smile often at strangers nor do I reply to them.  I ignore and continue on.  My friend who is coming today was appalled at my "unfriendly" street self. Last year, when she visited, 5 people found a "gold" ring near her on the first day. I just ignored and kept going. In one case,
where someone approached her, I said in my loud language lab voice "Vas-t-en!" The woman left.

That being said, I did ask "les poules de Toulouse" and the piper if I could photograph them. But it was me approaching them. I was here for 5 months last year and I had a lot of Canadian visitors, so I have got some "street smarts." If you dress in an understated Paris fashion, you may not stand out as a tourist. My camera is kept in my bag. Today, after my friend arrives, we will be speaking English together so will probably be approached. I don't carry a lot of money, my passport or all of my cards together.

This sort of thing does not only happen in Paris.  If you read Materfamilias last week-end, a young man perpetrated a scam/robbery while she was in her own apartment with her husband in my Canadian hometown.  I am unsuspecting and helpful chez moi because I have had to rely "on the kindness of strangers. I gave $20 to a young man that I met at a Canada Line station who was" trying to get to the airport to go home to Britain", only to find later from my local paper that his distressed cellphone call was only a ploy to entice concerned ladies like me to give him money. We even talked about Torquay where he "was from." I am a mother and if my daughter were "in distress", I would like someone to help her.

The government of France initiated deportation of Romany people several years ago but this action was found to be in contravention of the right of freedom of movement of EU citizens. As all scams are not perpetrated by visible ethnic groups, the best protection is being aware of others in the street and ensuring that your valuables are secure somewhere.


  1. Good to know. I spent several months in Rome and also learned to be unfriendly in certain circumstances. I never had a problem in Paris, but in Barcelona we had an attempted pickpocket and also a complete set-up sidewalk scam. It was one of the few times we actually had much cash (we figured we had never had a problem before), but the cons got about 300 Euros. We should have known better.


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