Paris day 2: watch the gang of thieves in action

I may just be one of tens of millions of tourists who’ll visit Paris this year, but maybe if enough of them complain about the gangs of thieves roving the popular spots of this great city, something will finally get done.

Day 2.

I went back to Montmartre by myself the morning of my second day to catch the views now that the sky had cleared to an impossible blue.  I also went there to try to film the gang of thieves that had harassed us the day before.  My camera doesn’t take the greatest video, but the clip below will give you a good impression about what tourists have to deal with here.  Not just at Montmartre, but in front of Notre Dame cathedral and the Tuileries gardens to name just two places my friend has been forced to yell at them this trip just to keep the herd at bay.

Watch how they swarm around these Asian tourists, who are forced to flee in fear:

They carry these clipboards they thrust under your nose to distract you while the rest of them – having failed the courses in the finer arts of pick-pocketing – start patting you down like some TSA officer on too much coffee.

I hung around a bit hoping to get a closer shot of them, but by that time three of Paris’ finest flics ambled past and the gang had disappeared.

As the police trio strolled toward the grand staircase leading up to Sacré-Coeur, I approached one of them and said, “Bonjour Messieurs, I’m sure you’re aware of that gang of young women accosting tourists up here.”

Ah, oui,” said the tallest one.  “You mean the Romanians.”

“Yeah, the Romanians,” I said.  “They are SO AGGRESSIVE!  Yesterday I had to yell at them in English to get their paws off me.”

“That’s what you have to do,” he replied.  “You have to get rid of them.”

“That’s what you have to do on the street,” I said, “but don’t you think that’s trying to take care of the problem at the wrong end?  It’s like drug trafficking.  Can’t something be done to stop them before they even get out here?”

He gave me a Gallic shrug, sighed, turned toward the stairs and said, “Yeah, well, you know….”

13 Responses to “Paris day 2: watch the gang of thieves in action”

  1. 1 hmunro
    February 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I love [she wrote sarcastically] the flics’ attitude in Paris. It was while reporting a similar incident that I learned my favorite French phrase from an equally nonplussed cop: “Qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?” (“What are ya gonna do?”) It was a fascinating lesson in our cultural differences.

    Hope you had a great rest of the day, in spite of your second run-in with the roving, aggressive gangs of thieves.

  2. February 9, 2012 at 8:19 am

    I’ve noticed a couple of Romanians with clipboards in Berlin. I wonder whether we are in for the same thing😦

  3. 4 G
    February 9, 2012 at 9:10 am

    We have the same thing here in Berlin, although without the groping (as I am a woman- I think they may be afraid?). On my street there is a woman stationed with a clipboard outside a small market. At Hackesche Markt, at Zoo, at the corner by the Messe where I am every single day: gangs of “Romanians”. I have discussed the “squeegee” gang by the Messe with the police multiple times, as has my husband. After the police told him that there was nothing to do, he called higher up the line and was given some better answers, that they will be attempting to control this because of both its obvious danger (people- in the 4 line per side street!Blocking traffic! Males harassing females!) and what our rights are as they touch our property- but it’s still bad. They harass me regularly, but the German reamed them out so severely they avoid the car when he is in it. They aren’t here now, of course- I assume they are somewhere warmer. I was very pleased when NY controlled this but in Germany (and I guess France) the issue is the lack of papers and that most of these gangs are underage. I saw a documentary showing the kids being arrested and released over and over, as the authorities didn’t know what to do.– My idea? Since they are in Germany where education is a duty, shove them in school and arrest the parents who don’t put them there.

    • February 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

      Hi G, Hi Fiona,
      The problem is so bad with them here, I wonder what it’s going to take before something is done. I wonder if putting them in schools is the answer. Who is properly equipped to deal with them?

  4. February 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    This really is distressing – but at least I have your post to send on to a small assortment of friends who are heading for Paris in the medium future. Forewarned, forearmed, and all that.

    When I see a bunch with clipboards here, the only reason to run is that they’re political activists who’ll try to harangue you to death re: their particular cause or candidate. On the other hand, we have the squeegee armies, and they are a very real danger – their aggressiveness can be frightening.

    • 7 Marielouise
      April 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      These people have no morals or qualms about hurting someone else, they are street people. They have a toughness and meaness that most people do not have.

  5. 8 C T
    February 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    What happened to you, Ian, is bothersome, I agree. But so is the talk of “these people.” I’m sorry you’ve had this experience and hope it doesn’t taint your view of Romanians or lead readers here of both the blog and comments to believe that “these” people with clipboards are out to harass and pickpocket everyone.

    Cologne’s got its share of pickpockets and beggars (mostly alcoholic Germans) and clipboard-shovers (Greenpeace is the worst) and this not-new, just-revamped police attitude of only the Roma being the pickpockets has been getting quite a bit of leverage in Cologne, lately, too, with the police chief citing Romania’s entry into the Schengen as the reason for it. I’m disturbed by this, to say the least, especially considering that the Roma have been in Cologne (in a newly-gentrified area which is, surprise, seeing an uptick in crime; as if gentrification had nothing to do with the uptick, of course it’s the Roma being blamed).

    As it is the law in Germany that kids have to go school, I’m surprised there aren’t more like the Amaro Kher school here in Cologne, which was established specifically to help these migrant families (school is difficult for Roma because previous generations are not educated and do not understand the concept of sending your child away, even for a few hours each day) and has been very successful in helping Roma to integrate into the community.

    I’ve been to Paris many times and have never experienced this harassment so I can’t relate to it but on the other hand, whenever I’ve been there, I’ve avoided those crowds of tourists who walk ten abreast on the sidewalk and stop to take pictures in random places and otherwise annoy the piss out of everyone around them. I’m sorry that this happened to you, and I’m sure you were as kind and polite a tourist as you are a person. I’m just saying that perhaps these pickpockets were drawn to the crowds who stood out, much as what happens in Times Square. Not Parisian-specific, but the way of the world in major cities everywhere.

    We were in Paris once to witness a horribly violent assault on a homeless man, being beaten unconscious in the Metro station. It was by far the worst thing I have ever seen in my life and when we ran to get help were told by security authorities to stay out of it, for the man likely deserved it. Sounds similar to the police reaction you got, sadly. I guess what I’m saying is this: awful things happen, in Paris, and elsewhere, and I hope you’re enjoying the rest of your stay, regardless, though I also hope that more perspective can be placed on preventing the stereotyping from seeping into the situation.

    • February 14, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      A long and thoughtful comment, CT. I can only report what I heard the cop say, and that’s how I it went. Like it or not, that’s who these people in Paris are, and if it serves to perpetuate a negative stereotype, it can’t be helped. The clipboards I saw them carry are a mere distraction to the main event of trying to rob you. They are no relation, I’m sure, to the clipboards the Greenpeace people are holding. Greenpeace might want to fleece you too, but at least they ask you first and keep their hands to themselves.

      That said – you’re right. Paris being the major city it is, the best and worst elements attracted to it and the best you can hope for is to survive a day out there not running into the hassles that will inevitably occur. God, it must have been horrific to witness that beating.

  6. February 18, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to take over your comments. Just getting flustered by a plethora of people who’ve gotten down on “the gypsies” lately and took it out on your blog🙂

  7. 11 Orkide
    August 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Ha. THATS WHAT HAPPENED TO ME TWO DAYS AGO IN PARIS. There was a huge crowd of tanned boys with bright green eyes and each had clipboards. I noticed they all looked at me and of course i was freaked out by that. Then they all came towards me and one of the little boys shoved the clipboard in my face and kept saying ‘Please, please sign this please’ i shouted ‘NO’ and pushed him to the side. After me and my family went pass them, about 5 minutes after i reached in my front pocket from my shorts to check the time on my iPhone4. Guess what? It wasnt there. Yep. It was not there. My heart sank and i shouted to my mum and dad and sister ‘WHERES MY PHONE?’ They didnt have it. Guess who had it. The romanian thieves. Me and my dad ran to the place they were standing and shoving their clipboards in our faces. GUESS WHAT. THEY WERENT THERE. They had ran away so we wouldnt find them. Police werent there obviously. Their never around when you need them right? haha. What the thieves did was they distracted me with the clipboards while one of them reached into my pocket and took my iPhone. I feel so stupid and dumb. How could i have let something like this happen? I’ve really learnt my lesson. Worst experience EVER.
    It could happen to anyone at anytime.So what im saying is be VERY VERY careful.

    • August 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm

      They have the same schtick wherever you go: divert the victim so that an accomplice can rifle through his belongings. It’s as old as the ages.

      What pisses me off is how long they have been allowed to get away with it in a city like Paris. It stinks of corruption. I mean, come on. The police know about the problem, but do nothing about it. How much are the ringleaders paying them?

      • 13 Marielouise
        April 23, 2013 at 8:47 pm

        Bingo,Ian. I agree with you, there is corruption somewhere. Someone is being paid big money to look the other way. Or perhaps politicians in France are too scared!

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