NEW. The recent Islamist terrorist treats against France result in an increased Plan Vigipirate now reaching the level of "Rouge renforcé" (increased Red level). Just before the highest level of "Ecarlate" (crimson red level).
Paris tourists have to expect more intensive security checks in public transport and buildings.
From French media on 12/01/2013.
Often when we arrive at the Gare du Nord by the Thalys from Brussels my wife is surprised to see patrols of 3 military dressed in the French camouflage uniform and wearing the FAMAS automatic gun. She asks me: "Are there bullets in the guns"? I think so especially when the level of terrorist alert is on Red, the third level of four, as it was in August.
The "Plan Vigipirate" exists since 1978 and has been activated several times. Presently as the French army is present in Afghanistan there is a proven risk of one or more terrorist actions justifying alert Red level.
We did not only meet soldiers at the Gare du Nord but also at the RER "Les Halles-Chatelet" station. Here it were green berets, I suppose from the REI -Régiment Etranger d'Infanterie, the famous Légion Etrangère.
Is Vigipirate efficient? It seems, last terrorist attack in Paris is from 1995.
Vigipirate has also an unexpected result; it diminishes the activity of pickpockets in the stations.
My photo is of Wikipedia; I avoid taking photos of military.
PROTECTING YOUR VALUABLES:
To prevent theft, don't keep all your valuables (money, important documents) in one place. Label every piece of luggage both inside and out.
Don't put a wallet with money in your back pocket.
Never count your money in public and carry as little as possible.
If you carry a purse, buy a sturdy one with a secure clasp, and carry it crosswise on the side, away from the street with the clasp against you.
A money belt is the best way to carry cash; you can buy one at most camping supply stores. A neck pouch is equally safe, although far less accessible.
Keep some money separate from the rest to use in an emergency or in case of theft.
In city crowds, especially on public transportation, pickpockets are very good at their craft.
Rush hour is no excuse for strangers to press up against you on the métro. If someone stands uncomfortably close, move to another car and hold your bags tightly.
Be alert in public telephone booths.
If you must say your calling card number, do so quietly; when you punch it in, make sure no one can see you.
This is what could be read in the leading French paper "Le Figaro" of 24/05/2013:
"Les grands du luxe s'inquiètent de l'insécurité à Paris.
Après les émeutes du PSG, le Comité Colbert, qui regroupe les grandes enseignes, de Baccarat à Hermès, rappelle les autorités à leur devoir de protection des touristes étrangers, qui irriguent l'économie nationale".
The main companies of luxury products are worried about insecurity in Paris.
After the riots of PSG (the Paris football club), the Colbert Committee, which includes major retailers from Baccarat to Hermes reminds the authorities of their duty to protect foreign tourists, who supply the national economy.
During these two days of riots a tourist bus was looted by thugs at the Iéna Bridge.
There are countless stories of tourists being targeted by highly mobile groups of pickpockets in the capital. These facts have increased by almost 40% in one year on rail networks in the Paris area.
Repeated aggressions against Chinese tourists resulted in a protest of the Chinese embassy in Paris. A group of tourists was violently attacked leaving a restaurant in le Bourget. After being beaten, they were stripped of their passports and a large sum of money in cash.
Even a person accompanying former president Clinton visiting Paris was the victim of pickpockets when he withdrew money from an ATM on the Champs-Elysees.
I always avoided the "banlieues" but now I'm staying very alert even in the centre of Paris what was not the case years ago.
It is not "La vie en rose" in Paris or France!
As there are so many great structures and buildings to look at in Paris, you find yourself looking up a lot. Then right when you're not expecting it one of these tiny little cars gets caught under your feet and you go down for the count. So be careful and watch out for them.
Tourists and all those who live from tourism (in an honest manner) are glad that the marked insecurity for the tourists, mainly by pickpockets, received the attention of the French government and its Minister de l'Intérieur Mr. Valls. He deployed 200 policemen only for the monitoring of the main tourist areas of Paris: Notre-Dame, Champs-Élysées, Trocadéro, Champ-de-Mars, Louvre-Rivoli, Palais Royal and butte Montmartre.
The Louvre is now safer. Police in uniform is patrolling inside and outside. There were 120 criminal acts reported per month, now 30/month (but isn't that too much for a museum?).
But pickpockets have turned to other parts of the capital such as the Jardin des Tuileries, Place du Palais-Royal, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Quais de Seine and the bridges (Solferino).
The pickpockets are mostly youngsters, often girls, supervised by adults and well organized. Now the paradox of France is that if Police is active, the Minister de la Justice is lax (for ideological reasons if I listen to the French!). The Police complain that when arresting these minors they have to free them after 4 hours so that these juvenile delinquents start immediately again their activities.
The first victims of that criminality are the Asiatic and especially Chinese tourists who are supposed to have more cash on them. The things have gone so far that not only the embassy complained but that a travel agency working for Chinese groups advises his customers not to take the Metro or leave the hotel in the evening!
It is not just a feeling of insecurity and consequently a meeting is being held with the Prefecture, the mayor of Paris, trade associations and the tourist office to announce a comprehensive plan of action for the safety of tourists in Paris.
Paris is very safe and law enforcement presence is everywhere. But like any other big city, a lack of attention can result in a sudden lack of your wallet, your camera or your purse. Spending what should have been time lounging at the cafes making frantic calls to your credit card company is no way to spend a vacation so the rules of thumb are:
• Never, ever carry anything of value in your pockets. Make sure your cards/money are inaccessible and well hidden under your clothing.
• Leave all documents and cards you don't need on a daily basis - like your passport - locked up in the hotel safe
• Leave expensive jewelry and other bling at home. If you can't afford to lose it, don't pack it.
• Be careful setting purses and cameras on cafe tables or hanging them on the back of a chair where they could be quickly and easily snatched. Same goes for credit cards: give them directly to your server and don't leave them laying on the table.
• Don't even think about a fanny pack. Besides being hideous, they are a thief's best friend.
• Bring two credit cards of different type, and two ATM/debit cards in case one gets eaten in a machine. Make copies of passport, cards, plane tickets, hotel confirmations and all other important documents and keep those separate from the originals.
• Be firm with panhandlers and souvenir hawkers. They can be extremely aggressive - especially at the train stations, the Eiffel, the Sacre-Coeur and some of the other hot tourist locations. They're harmless but very persistent unless you pointedly ignore them or issue a strong "Non!" and keep moving. Beware of the "friendship bracelet" scam; once they tie one on you, you're going to be out some euros.
• Politely decline help with your luggage at train, metro and airport stations
And last but certainly not least, trip insurance with health coverage is highly recommended. Should you become very ill or injured, being hospitalized or medivaced home, if necessary, can be a financial disaster. Medical treatment in France is not free for tourists.
I'm writing this to let you know that it is not definate that you will be robbed blind, scammed and conned in Paris!
I checked through the Warnings/Dangers list before travelling and it made me paranoid to see all the bad stories. However, in reality you'll get along just fine with a bit of cop on. I was there with my girlfriend for 5 days recently (November), and experienced no incident, nor any feeling of danger.
Paris is an old city. And many of the small, cozy hotels were converted from former residences. However, the buildings themselves are usually left in their original state.
One thing you will notice is that the (stone) stairways are not always straight. In order to save space alot if not all hotels have winding staircases from top to bottom. They can be a little dangerous if you are not careful where you step.
Be sure that you take your time as the inner part of the staircase is pretty narrow. Also due to centuries of wear and tear the staircases can be worn out and uneven causing you to lose your balance if you are not careful.
Paris is not as horrible for pedestrians as it is in Italy (my observation however). Or does it take a puzzling moment or two to figure out which way to look before you cross a street as it is in the UK due to the right hand driving.
But it is a bit dangerous to cross the streets anyway. Even though there are pedestrian crosswalk signals you have to be careful. The Parisian drivers are pretty hyper and don't have much patience in waiting for pedestrians to cross and will zoom past you even if you have the right of way. However, I noticed and have experienced that they do stop in time before running into you. ;)
We happened to be in Paris when the threat of terrorism, for multiple European cities, was unusually high and the French authorities were not taking that lightly. During our week, the Eiffel was evacuated twice, the entrance to Gare du Nord station abruptly closed and ticket sales temporarily suspended, and armed military presence was evident around the Louvre and other heavily visited sites. More unsettling was an emergency clearing of a busy area accompanied by a large convoy of heavy police vehicles - sirens wailing - and escorted by seriously armed personnel on foot. The world being as it is these days, you could find yourself in a similar position.
The good news? No need to panic.
The vast majority of the time these efforts are precautionary so rather than worry about it, be reassured that the government is taking no chances with the safety of French civilians and international tourists alike. Should you be in a situation where evacuation or other safety action is necessary, just calmly follow any orders issued and assist others who may need it.
Be careful if you go to Forum Les Halles (the huge underground mall) at night. We recently went to a movie there, and as we were leaving were caught in a mob of young thugs having a brawl. There were broken bottles and ripped beer cans being used as weapons (as well as fists!)
Les Halles is the center of gang activity in Paris. Best to stay away at night!
When I took the metro to go to work, I routinely scanned the stations and cars to spot the tourists and try to guess where they came from.
Spotting tourists in Paris is really easy as they do not behave or look like parisians at all.
Here are a few things that will immediately reveal that you are a tourist
1. Carrying a guide (written in a foreign language) in your hand while walking on the street or in the metro
2. Studying maps for a long time in public places. Staring at the metro station map when travelling. Looking dumbfounded and unsure of yourself.
3. Trying to interact too much with other people. This will make parisians uneasy as they generally do not speak to someone met on the street (hence their zombie look and the MP3 player earbuds some are wearing all the time)
4. Not moving fast enough in a public place. Staying in the the way of other people
5. Carrying your camera in your hand or around your neck everywhere. Taking pictures in metro stations, restaurants and other uninteresting places.
6. Asking someone to take a picture of you and your pal in front of a picturesque place.
7. Wearing relaxed clothes while parisians do not: flower shirts, fancy T Shirts, shorts, hiking shoes. This does not apply in the holiday season.
8. In a group: staying as tight as possible not to lose anyone. For instance, trying to fit all in one crammed metro car.
9. Speaking loudly in a foreign language, especially in public places. Most parisians tend not to speak too loud in the metro.
10. Taking too much time to react when interacting with locals (taking orders in a cafe for instance).
To summarize: try to look confident, "blasé" and indifferent all the time (even if you are not), move swiftly and try to dress like a parisian.
We met two nice gentlement who offered us to carry our bags in the metro station! I was a bit reluctant at the beginning but they were in their late 30s and my friend was more than delighted to take their offer,lol..so i had to give up. They warned us not to walk as single women in late evenings especially in touristic areas. That was very true.
We lost our way back to the hotel. So I asked a french guy from where to catch the metro to our neighbourhood. It was only 8pm in the evening. The guy couldn't speak english, so we just left him. My friend a half an hour later told me, 'there's something horrible i wanna tell you'. i was too cheerful to bother with what she was saying as we met two girl friends from london:D and so i asked her to tell me later. but she couldn't put it off as she pointed out at FOUR freak youngesters who had been following us for the last half an hour!!!!!! i was terrified as this never happened to me even in london! we changed two stations and they were still following us. so we just made very clear that we were aware of them. and then they left the metro! i wasn't sure if it was a trick while there'd be someone of them remaining in the metro with us. so we just ran for our lives, praying...even my atheist friend, she prayed too,lol.
So have the emergency number ready with you (221 i think), just in case. Always have a company if you'd like to walk around at night...i know night walking is lustfully charming but do have a company.
Mona Lisa Groupies, be forewarned that your idol is encased at the Lourve in a bulletproof box with triplex glass, built-in air conditioner, 9 pounds of silica-gel and God-knows what else to foil a would-be art robber! On top of that you'll be allowed to look at your idol for only a nano-second as they've hired rude, burly African guards to usher you along in a queue..
I cannot stress this enough - Do not look for trouble. What I mean is that if you felt that a dimly-lit alley or street is not safe, then don't go there. In crowded places, take care of your personal possessions; be careful with your purse/wallet/bag, etc. Don't get easily distracted. Watch your back. Watch your friends' backs.
I guess it is many people's perception that since Paris is in Western Europe, and therefore it is generally safe, etc., etc., then they let their guard down. For me, it was my mistaken perception that Paris was generally safe (I didn't read much warnings in travel guidebooks about Paris, as compared to, say, about Barcelona or Lisbon or Rome or Romania). Don't expect the thieves to be ugly-looking, or dirty or grimy. They are usually young and well-dressed, clever to blend with the normal crowd.
During one of my trips to Paris, I was almost pick-pocketed in the underground train by a group of 4 young ladies, all trendy-dressed, and looking like a bunch of happy teenagers. The train was crowded and I was standing up. They surrounded me; one tried to distract me, while another tried to open my handbag. They all talked excitedly around me and towards me. But I sensed something was not right, and my sixth sense got the better of me. I held on tightly to my handbag and my valuables were safe. Anyway, now for me, it is "Once bitten, twice shy".
I am not saying that you should be extra careful and all tensed up during your visit to Paris, but let's be a smart tourist.