Entering onto the platform for eastbound trains of metro line 7 at the Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre station, one can often see groups of girls of slight stature – young teenagers – milling about. Their behavior is strangely childlike for girls of their ages. They move about playfully and noisily, and roughhouse as they grab each other by the necks as if to whisper secrets. They move in circles or move erratically making it difficult for passersby to walk through the group. Sometimes one of them freezes in her tracks when a person tries to pass by, forming a temporary impediment to the traveler’s forward motion.
I encountered such a group just a few days ago when my wife and I entered onto the platform to take the metro. I recognized the girls, not individually, but by their comportment and appearance. I said to my wife, “Here are the thieves.” We passed through the group and my wife later told me that one of the girls froze in front of her, hindering her passage.
As we moved mid-way down the platform, I thought that that would be the last I would see of them. However, when the train came into the station, the girls moved toward us and made a movement as if to board the car behind the car that we were about to board. Then, they collectively changed their minds and rushed to the door that we were about to step through, boarding ahead of us. A man who accompanied them boarded, too.
I sensed trouble, but my wife had already stepped aboard, so I followed. She walked to the other side of the car and stood with her back to the far door, a vigilant posture when riding the train. I followed to fill up the space next to her, but as I tried to enter the space, the man who accompanied the girls stood in the middle of the car, partially blocking my way. He stiffened his body as I tried to pass by. It was an obvious attempt to force me to stand in the middle of the car in front of him where, as soon as the train doors closed, I would be an easy target for the girls.
I forcefully pushed by the man and took the space between him and my wife. He seemed interested in the bag and camera that I was carrying, both of which were slung over my shoulder and which I gripped tightly with my right hand. I looked like a tourist with my baseball cap, my camera, and my bag, and I suspected that he and his gang of girls had targeted me for robbery.
The girls entered into a nearby space at the back of the car and made a lot of giggling noises. Whether they robbed anyone there, I don’t know, but when they emerged from the space one of them was carrying a purse that she passed to one of her cohorts. No one in the space protested, so I suppose that the purse belonged to one of the girls.
The girls and the man exited the train at Pont Neuf, the next station down the line.
I was lucky to have been able to squeeze into the space between my wife and the man, because this is what I believe would have happened if I had stayed in the middle of the car: the girls would have emerged from the back of the car and surrounded me, playing their “innocent” games, running around me, bumping into me, distracting me, and finally robbing me. I would not have been able to retreat from them, because the man or one of the girls would surely have blocked me.
Although I have never seen this technique of thievery in action, I have heard about it. I remember the words of a dazed man who stepped from a train at the Pyramides station with his companion saying, “They cleaned me out!” At the time, I remember hoping that that would never happen to me.
I’ve also encountered the following over the years:
• A girl with another group once tried to pick my pocket on the same metro line at the same station.
• A distraught American man in the Pont Neuf metro station cried out to some girls, whose cohort apparently had stolen a camera from his young son. He tried to elicit their support to find the culprit to get the camera back, and succeeded in getting them to follow him out of the station.
• Once, when I was riding metro line 6, a group of girls entered the train. As they entered, I wondered to which adult they belonged, and I wondered why they all had blank stares on their faces. They got off at the next station, the doors closed, and a woman shouted, “They got my passport!” She and her companion got off at the following station, but it was too late to do anything but report the incident to the police.
• Once, when riding metro line 1, a group of about ten girls got on the last car and then walked rapidly in single file to the front car. (Line 1 trains are designed to allow free access from one car to the next.) They brushed people as they walked by, and brushed me even though I had allowed sufficient space for them to pass. One of the girls feigned interest in looking out the window every few feet. At the next station, the girls got out and, laughing and giggling, ran down the platform to the last car to begin their game again.
Paris, alas, has become a den of thieves, and tourists and residents alike are victims of this scourge.
For more information on this increasingly worrisome phenomenon, consult these articles:
17 Paris Scams Gypsies and Thieves Revealed
The Art of the Scam: The ‘Artsy’ Side of Paris You Don’t Want to See
Caught on camera: Moment brazen cashpoint thieves swarm around tourist near Notre Dame cathedral in Paris