When my friends and family got wind of my study abroad trip to Paris, France, they were excited that I was capitalizing on this once and a lifetime opportunity, but at the same time they bombarded me with cautionary tales of people who had been the target of crimes in Paris. Of course they obtained some of this information from the media, since the media has often features stories of terrorism throughout Europe. Other stories that they told me were of the crime and violence in Paris—especially from pickpockets and the Gypies by Notredame. I am sure I am not the only person to have been told this, or the only person who had certain apprehensions about whether or not these stories were true. What later became clear to me, once I began my study abroad experience, is that when studying abroad in Paris, it is extremely important to be informed and learn to avoid situations where you can become a target of a crime or feel unsafe.
I have been studying abroad in Paris for roughly three weeks now, and during this time I have not had many negative encounters as a non-Parisian. I have also not really seen it happen to other people around me—it appears as though everyone goes about their business day in and day out. However, there are little signs around the city that are a reminder that a darker reality does indeed exist in Paris, like in many ultra urban cities. While riding on the subway you may here a voice coming from the speaker above warning you to “Beware of Pickpockets,” a few classmates have disclosed they had been harassed, there are military personas at tourist hot spots, and even my friend and I had one unfortunate late night incident. So while danger does not appear to be lurking around every corner, I do think that there are certain variables which can make a tourist a target, and if you are aware of these factors when you come to Paris, your trip can possibly be even more seamless than my own.
First and foremost, the biggest issue is to try not to act like a tourist. I know this is difficult, because in theory, you are a tourist. For example, if you are lost-try not to wander around confused, try to stand to the side and casually take out your Paris Pratique and get your bearings. I do not mean that you should not enjoy your time here, or visit famous tourist spots, and fine restaurants, but caution you to be aware that certain behaviors can make you a target. Nevertheless, if you do specific things or refrain from particular actions or behaviors, you can easily avoid placing yourself in dangerous situations.
- Try to familiarize yourself with your route before leaving. Any time you visit the sights, or go anywhere for that matter, becoming familiar with your route will make you less vulnerable.
- Obtain emergency numbers for the city you visit. 911 is not a universal concept.
- Make a copy of your passport to carry around, instead of carrying the real thing.
- Keep your belongings safe and close to you at all times.
- Download an offline version of Google maps or the equivalent. This will be your best friend while you wander the confusing Parisian streets.
- Obtain a Paris Pratique from the airport once you arrive. This handy dandy little book is a map of the whole metro system of Paris.
- Speak loudly on the metro, or anywhere for that matter.
- Do not travel in large groups (nothing screams I am a tourist more than a group of four or more people)!
- If you are a woman, carry your purse in front of you are all times.
- Do not get too wasted (believe me nothing is worse than getting lost in a strange city in a drunken stupor).
- Do not stay out too late. Nothing good can come after twelve pm when all the belligerent drunks come out to play, and getting harassed or berated in a language you do not understand is no fun. They could be saying a simple hello, or asking for all of your money.
While this list might seem daunting, from my experience it does not appear that there is eminent danger present everywhere you look in Paris. However, it should be treated like visiting any new place where the culture, place, or language is unfamiliar, and just like in any other new place it is wise be mindful and aware of yourself and your surroundings. When in Paris please do eat, live, laugh, and love- but you can do it all while being safe!