English

Introdution: what this blog is?
From amazement to disappointment
The Language Barrier
And if something go wrong? What happened with us
Do not wait for the Parisian police
Where does the Parisian police stop?
The disguised agents and the formal complaint in the police station
The revolt: who is guilty?
Decisions: your help is important to real change!
Please, Join Us!

Introdution: what this blog is?

Where do you think you would be safer? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil? Riyadh, Saudi Arabia? Or Paris, France, heart of the so-called “civilized world”? Know the answer in this blog. You will see that it is not so obvious than it appears…

Let’s be quite straight: if you are the kind of people attached more to hick chauvinist nationalisms than to reality, this article definitely is not to you.

I am a European researcher and journalist and all the events described on this text occurred during my family week spent in Paris, which included me and my wife, my two-year child and her grandparents, who were victims of violence and crime during this period. But, despite the most common in tourists that suffered the same is to try to forget due to shame and trauma, we decided to make the facts public.

This blog is dedicated to share with the entire world our experience in France during this 2012 summer and denounce the lack of care from authorities from political, judicial and, in a smaller degree, the police squares, about tourists’ safe at the most visited city of the world, Paris.

From amazement to disappointment

I’ve always thought that Henry Miller’s quote “Paris is like a whore” was a little bit exaggerated. How could such a marvelous city, unique in the world, with so magnificent buildings, architecture of all kind, museums could be a deception?

Henry Miller, American writer and painter,

Henry Miller, American writer and painter. Click on the pic to better know his bio.

Although seems to be highly improbable, the truth begin to be revealed just in the same minute you leave the place where you arrive, no matter if it is a airport, train or bus station. Yeah, Paris’s transportation infrastructures are old, like most of European cities. But old should not be synonym of dirty, filth… Many of the well know gares of Paris and metros stations have places where the air is unbreathable due to human wastes, no matter in the suburbs or in the city center.

We did visited all these unpleasant spots as we were with a baby car and always try to find elevators, located at hidden corners. Some stations are so degraded that give us the impression we’ve returned to London’s bombings during the 40’s, as the level of the destruction is frightening.

First counseling: if you are handicapped or carry a baby, give up from Paris. Most of stations elevators are out of order and just by very luck you will find someone to help climb or down stairs.

Paris fordbideen to handicapped and children

If you gonna use public transports, forget Paris if you are handicapped or carry child with you…

As my first time in Paris was in 1996, I’ve just witness now the decline of the city in many aspects, infrastructures mainly. The trains and metros are the same from 15 years ago, when they were already pretty old. Outside the city core, problematic neighborhoods are almost everywhere and graffiti rules, sometimes even on famous French icons, like TGV trains…

To go for a hike in these so called problematic neighborhoods at suburbs are a real risk, even if everything seems calm around you. It’s very common to, suddenly, a horde of disorders appears, some riding motorbikes, performing dangerous maneuvers at streets. And, be sure, nothing would happen to them as authorities seems to “close their eyes” to things like that. Curiously, this happen in contrast to the paranoid control traffic authorities uses against “normal regular” drivers, as seems in every corner of France you will find a fixed radar or a police to fine honest citizens or inattentive tourists that dare to run, let’s say, 55Km per hour somewhere the maximum speed would be 50.

Definitely, like in “Hamlet”, something is rotten, but not in Denmark…

Graffiti at the Metro in Paris

Graffiti at Metro in Paris. Not even the iconics TGV’s escape from this plague…

Last, but not least, out of the most well-known circuit, monuments show signs of deterioration and lack of maintenance. In the city center is common to find walls that were supposed to be beige, but due to pollution and no cleaning, are black. Notre Dame’s Church is some of the honorable exceptions.

The Language Barrier

For a non-francophile foreigner, language is another true barrier.

Do not fool yourself: in the main tourist attractions or restaurants people will at least try to understand you. But do not expect more.

In fact, the highly advanced French educational system would make possible that any citizen that conclude compulsory education speak and understand, even barely, the new latin, which is the English language. Unfortunately chances are you will find yourself in communicational trouble, by a question of mentalities, hick chauvinism or nostalgia for the times French were the main spoken language in Europe.

French Nationalism

Although France should be one the most multicultural countries in the world, be prepared to face French best chauvinism, even in the international stores…

In a “Carrefour” store (one of the worldwide supermarket trademarks like Wall Mart) located in a shopping center where some international stores like Galeries Lafayette and Swarovski can be found, I’ve try to look (due to stereotypes in which I wrongly believed) one of the cash payment points where I could find a young, white and pleasant employee in order to try to make the communication easier. With a price problem in one of the articles, the answer to my arguments was “talk to me in French”, while she bury her head as an ostrich in the cash computer screen. Yeah, the girl perfectly understood what the problem was and what I was arguing but did nothing to help, nor tried to call to some responsible, what would be the logical thing to do if she was unable to help. I myself had to abandon the place, look for another employee and return to the cash point.

Carrefour, International French SuperMarket

Carrefour, International French SuperMarket, where we had the “pleasure” to find the best “parisian welcome” to whom that do not speak French…

I’ve make a formal complaint in the end of first fortnight of August in Carrefour website (www.carrefour.fr ) reporting the situation. Although they promise an answer in 3 work days, just in the end of August I’ve received some feedback. Believe, in French language, no matter If I wrote to them in English. I barely understood the document sent by traditional mail, and I am sincerely in doubt if they really show their regret on it or, the other way around, the fact of answering in French is a kind of indirect support to their employee behavior.

And if something go wrong? What happened with us

That should be the first question any clever tourist should raise before put him/herself in trouble.

After all, to have a small accident or be stolen are things that may happen. Would we be able to get helped?

To visit Paris in family, I had to be prepared to a herculean task: with a baby and two senior men of almost 70 year old, I must to catch an eye on them, the weakest links and the preferable targets of pickpockets, a cancer growing in Paris.

Danger at Line 8

Metro Line 8 most dangerous course between Opera and StDennis marked in black. The fanciest look of this zone give us a false sense of security.

During the days we were in Paris we were addressed hundreds of times to sign petitions, donations claims, etc. NEVER stop if someone unknown try to aboard you, no matter in which language, because the odds are you going to be stolen.

With us, the worst happened during a rush to catch the metro in line 8, “Opera” station, one of the fanciest areas of Paris. Distracted with the baby cart, I’ve just left the seniors for some seconds, and, guess what: they were surrounded by a group of girls in the bounce of the metro carriage. Some seconds later, my father-in-law buzzed the alarm, claiming that his wallet was missing. Soon, my father perceived the same. Until I left the baby in safety with my wife and tried to understand with them what happened, we’ve already missed the girls, who everybody saw directly, but did not taken as real thieves. We abandon the carriage at Strausborg StDenis station and we started to look for help.

First of all, you do not see any multilingual signs with advice such as “beware of the pickpockets”. How could that be? Aren’t we in a kind of Babel of modern days? Wouldn’t be Paris a cosmopolitan and multicultural city? Or disguised hypocrisy to deny reality?

You do not find panic buttons in metro stations (I’ve saw some in the RER trains) and you can be in real trouble in secondary enclosures. Luckily, after several minutes in a drift in the station, we cruised with a group of three policemen, to whom we asked help. Unbelievably, one of the offices spoke English. Oddly, the very first question was: “how much was stolen?”.

Although someone can mount conspiracy theories in their heads, let’s believe it was just to know if the work they would have would be for something relevant. In our case it was almost 600€ cash in the two wallets and, of course, all the documentation.

They seemed to raise an alarm trough a telephone and we’re told to leave a contact with them. Also, we should go to “Chatelet Les Halles” police station if we were decided to present a formal complaint. Of course, you can bet we would.

Do not wait for the police

At that time we still were not aware of the cross we would have to bear. We decided to split into two groups, against my wife desire, as she was absolutely frightened with the situation and also my mother’s, that was almost needing medical assistance due to her emotional state. They would go to the police squad at “Chatelet Les Halles” and I decided to return alone to the next station from where we took the metro (Opera), which was Richelieu Drouot.

Thinking as thief, I put to myself that the first thing to do would be taking the money out and thrown away the wallet. When I reach the platform in the direction we were riding, I’ve been looking to the floor and corners when I faced the stairs that would take me out the station, the exit “Boulevard des italiens coté des numerous impares x Rue de Richelieu”. Climbing it and cross the metro tourniquets, a trash can. Hum, maybe the wallet could be discarded there. I approach and in a joy explosion, the wallet was really there! Gosh, in the first attempt! Sure, the money was stolen, but all documentation were untouched. Around the exit, not one, but two cameras recorded all images, including of me rummaging in the trash can like a fool.

Poirot

Forget the image of the perfect gentleman of Mr. Poirot detective… Most of the agents that we’ve crossed were rude or just speak french, with few exceptions…

Before I get caught accused of plant something in the trash can, I decided to go outside the station and see if, by chance, I found the girls, as I directly saw them at the carriage. But this would be tempt fate. When I returned to the station by the same stairs guess what who I found?

No, not the girls, but the policemen group that assisted us at “Strausborg StDenis”, with the other wallet, found in another trash can maybe twenty meters to the left. I explained to them where I found the first wallet and pointed very clear to the two vigilance cameras. They just gave me the other wallet and asked if I were satisfied. Just by education I answered something as “half satisfied”, but someone should sent another to hell with such a dumb question. Our vacations were already ruined.

Where does the Parisian police stop?

With the recovered wallets with no money, I went to Chatelet Les Halles to join my family, which was already a drift, as they reached a police headquarters outside the RER station, but they were told to look for another one inside it. At his time everybody was still very upset, anxious and very weakened. With some effort I was able to found the police station, a kind of aquarium in one of the corners of the RER station. The entrance glass door was locked and I knocked it. An agent opened it and his response to my difficulties to enter the tight door with the baby car, which I was pushing and to the baby cry, were in an almost understandable english: “Enter, now, I am not here to hold the door for you”.

POLICE TOURiST

Can you belive that? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has a specialized tourist police. Paris, the most visited city in the world, doesn’t. A clear sign on how all authorities do not care about you, tourist…

“What the hell is happening here?” – I thought to myself.

How could such atrocity happen in the heart of the so called civilized world? Not only we’ve been stolen we should also get insulted by whom should be helping us!

Let’s make a gap here and look into the Rio de Janeiro (second largest Brazilian city) police system, which include a special division just focused into helping tourists: “DEAT – DELEGACIA ESPECIAL DE APOIO AO TURISMO”. This police squad, specialized just to attend tourists, is opened 24h daily, at Av. Afrânio de Melo Franco, 159 at Leblon, one of the most well know Rio’s neighborhoods. They also have a web page (even if a little bit outdated): http://deat.tumblr.com/

How a third world country like Brazil can have a better police system to deal with tourists than Paris, which is the most visited city in the world (almost 16 million of tourists every year, according to Wikipedia).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism#Most-visited_cities_by_international_tourist_arrivals

While in Rio tourists have this special division at their service, in Saudi Arabia someone caught committing crimes against foreigners is in a real trouble, as their laws are extreme severe, differently than ours, which give more rights to the criminal than to the victim…

Getting back, with so many “courtesy”, I was glad when another officer approached to attend us treating us by my father-in-law name, one of the victims. This guy had a good command of English.

“We have your wallets”.

“No, you don’t. I am the one who have them.” It was pathetic to explain that I first recover the stolen wallets, even before the police, that of course, also knew thieves generally behave that way.

But there would be another surprise he revealed me! The three girls were caught and were in detention in “Saint Lazare” RER Station. I have to confess that at that time I had at least a slightest hope that the money could be recovered.

The disguised agents and the formal complaint in the police station

An undercover agent would escort my father and father-in-law, the victims, and me, the interpreter, until “Saint Lazare” Station, where they were supposed to make a visual recognition of the arrested girls. This female black agent did not seems to spoke English and when we arrive the metro platform became curious looking everywhere when, like in a “Mission Impossible” movie, she was suddenly replaced by another undercover agent, this one very tall and blond that approached us when we were boarding the metro carriage.

Secret Agents

Although police have some disguised agents, let’s be honests with ourselves: political and judicial authorities do not care at all to the problem (as the facts are denounced endless times and nothing happens) and the policemen become unmotivated to arrest criminals that are soon released.
A tourist in Paris is just a jerk for them and the only concern is their money, either for government and local economy or to the pickpockets…

Then, the first female black agent, disguised as African suburban inhabitant vanished while her colleague, disguised like a tourist, with beautiful green-eyes worth of a true femme fatale, in a perfect English command told us she was aware of the situation because she was the one who actually saw everything happening in real time through security cameras. Unbelievably, like in the movies, she took of their I-Phone and even showed us the security cameras video records in which we saw us being robbed in the metro!

She also showed us in the phone photos of the ladies that were seen surrounding my father and father in law, who we all immediately identified as the girls who stolen us. She told us they are part of a gang from east Europeans, that are spread for all over Paris. She also quoted the girl are very well know of the authorities.

The conversation stopped in this point because we’ve reached the destination and we went towards the police station in “Saint Lazare”. My expectations were high at that point, and I thought that despite the vacation day lost between police and metro stations would be the unique loss of this adventure.

Once in the squad, we wait some time until we were took to a scrivener that would register the formal complaint of my father and father-in-law, with me serving as a interpreter, as they do not speak French nor English. Although that, all the registration, with all “small quotes” beyond our declarations, were in French language, in which I have a very poor command. Nevertheless, they were supposed to sign that, hopping everything that was written was done in good faith.

That would be the minimum, but the total deception went after that: a copy of the complaint was given to each one and… ok, we were all set to go!

“What?” – I asked, in total surprise. “Weren’t they supposed to do recognition?”

No. It would be not necessary, as they have all the video cameras recordings. Two girls were in detention and were searched with no results and a third one fell sick and was taken to the hospital and would be searched later. Logically, my first thought were the third girl will pass the money, if she had it, to someone in the hospital, but the officer said that she would be monitored. Ok, I believe…

Process

After doing the formal complaint at the police squad, nothing in concrete was explicated to us and we feel like we will never know something about it and nothing will be done. During this time my family was almost mistreated at Chatelet les Hales.

Exhausted, we returned to Chatelet Les Halles Police Squad, where the rest of my family was waiting for us. My wife could report at least two Chinese couples that were victim of robbery during these few hours, beyond a five-star treatment in police squad that would include lots of laughing from agents and even left them at “half lights”, maybe to save some money shutting off lights from their public areas.

When we were preparing to return home, the Asian-like agent thartt first attended us shown up again. He asked about the girls recognition. We answered that we were not taken to do so because supposedly it would not be necessary. At that time, he was frank with us: the most certain thing to happen would be the girls stay at the jail for a day or two, but after they would be free without any consequences as they are not French and most of times, have minors at their care. And, due to this endless circle, they continue to burglarize tourists continually, being arrested time after time, just supported by a flawed justice system. According to him, a thieve revenue like them easily achieve 20 thousand euros per month, with French authorities blessing (guess if they pay income tax!).

The revolt for beign treated like junk. Who is guilty?

At that time I become pretty revolted. I think I will never have any feedback from French authorities and the criminals, even arrested and recognized, would also never pay the price of their acts.

France failed with us as fails continually with all their visitors, treating us like jerks.

French politicians failed as incompetents they are, creating flawed laws that benefits criminals.

Guilty politicians

Two of the main guilty: Monsieur Manuel Valls, Ministre de l’Intérieur and Monsieur Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris, the two top civil authorities that seems to do nothing to defy this “cancer” even after several denounces in the social communication. But let’s not forget all french congressmen…

French judicial authorities also failed as they interpret the law so blandly that one or two days in jail seems to be a good price for a high revenue at the end of the month stealing wallets.

A flawed justice system

French justice itself is another main guilty. This lady, Mrs.Christiane Taubira, currently is the face of the justice, as “ministre de la Justice”.

French police fails as this force should be, at least in Paris, prepared to (kindly) deal and help with people from different nationalities. It isn’t. Some agents, as I said, really need to make a course on how to interact with public and good manners.

Inspector gadget

Although the police caugh the thieves, many flaws were done: from most of policemen that cannot understand foreigners to pure rudeness… Find Inspector Gadget would be a dream…

Decisions: your help is important to real change!

This way I decided:

A)           First of all, share our experience with the entire world to get in touch with people who suffered with the same situation. If this is your case, do not hesitate to get in touch.

B)           To write to the French Minister of the Interior (Ministre de l’Intérieur),  as he is the responsible to the general interior security of the

Manuel Valls

Yeah, man, be worried… Not all tourists are jerks and sometimes they do claim  their rights…

country, with respect to criminal acts, chief of the major law-enforcement forces. The current minister is Mr. Manuel Valls, former mayor of Evry (a suburban Parisian city). You can find all his information by clicking here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Valls

Supposedly you can contact the minister, filling a form in the minister website:

http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/sections/contact/ministre/ministre

I will gladly report my case to the minister explaining that I will probably never be able to return to Paris with my 70 year-old father, who always dreamed to know France. His dreams and our time in the city were definitely ruined. There’s no price to it. But I will really appreciate if, at least, France, as a symbolic act of retreatment and a trace of dignity, return the stolen money from us.

Please, if you identified yourself with my experience, write to the minister too, not only quoting your case, but also referring my initiative to make public the kind of treatment offered to foreigners in France.

C)           I am also obstinate to write to Paris Mayor, Mr. Bertrand Delanoë, as Paris revealed to be an unsafe destiny to us and most certainly, to many tourists.

Paris Mayor

Someone can bet that anybody  would clean this smile from his/her face if he/she had to face danger riding Paris public transportations everyday….

I am pretty sure he would like to have a word in this discussion. Again, please, join us in this crusade contacting public authorities:

http://www.paris.fr/contacts/Portal.lut?page_id=5722&document_type_id=12&document_id=10737&portlet_id=12354

D)           RATP, the French company responsibly for trains and metros are also guilty, as they DID NOT provide any printed or sonorous multilingual advices to prevent their clients against pickpockets. Further, there are no private agents helping police to patrol stations and their employees are very few and, most of times, incapable of helping foreigner people.

RATP

RATP,the Parisian company responsable for public transports at the capital. Apparently they prefer to mantain a “low profile” behaviour: no signs advising against pickpockets and no e-mail to comunicate to the “boring” clients that dare to talk to them… Seems that they still live at middle age…

Apparently the company not only does not care for passengers safety, but also works in an old-fashioned way. No email is available, To contact them the client are supposed to call an added-value number (paying 34 cents per minute) or write a letter to:

RATP Service Clientèle, TSA 81250, 75564 Paris CEDEX 12

No problem. I would love to post them a letter, like in the old times…

Please, Join Us!

Again, If the same happened to you or if you somehow identified yourself with our cause, please, join me, either by contacting authorities, making “civic pressure” against them if you do not agree with the actual “status quo” or helping us translating the message into other languages. If you appreciate the efforts done to do all this job (believe, it was hard) due to a civic imperative to prevent the same happens to other people, you can also make a donation.

Help Wanted

Your help is fulcral to real change happens. Please, be part of it either by contacting political responsibles, help translating the message to your language or even make a donation. Thank you very much!

Please, be aware that this work, however, DOES NOT HAVE any profit intention. In behalf of my father and father in law, I will return them any quantity until the value of the stolen money and the rest will be reinvested to make a better site to prevent others to pass by the same situation.

Contact us through the e-mail unsafeparis@yahoo.com and I will be glad to know you, make a new friend and provide any information you may need.

Due to privacy issues, I decided not to identify directly any people involved in the happenings, and also myself or my family information. Of course, analyzing the veracity of each received contact, I may be able to provide you at least our details if you fell like helping.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s