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The Artful Dodger Strikes Again

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No one ever thinks they’re going to get pick pocketed until it happens to them. Sometimes you realize when it’s happening, and even if you can’t chase down the sticky-fingered thieves who made off with your wallet or purse, at least you got to see who it was.

The little punks who stole my phone on the Champs-Elysées on New Year’s Eve 1999 looked much like the teenage hooligans who got away with my phone and metro card at the Bal des Pompiers in 2004. In both cases, the crowds were simply too thick for me to catch them once I felt them leave my pocket (of course, once they saw the crappy seven-year-old antique of a cell phone they had ripped off, they probably wished they hadn’t bothered). In both cases I was also prepared, and ONLY carried the essentials (phone, metro card, enough cash for a taxi).

But on Wednesday I was just doing my regular thing. I gave a tour, stopped at La Poste, paid my bills, did some food shopping, met a friend for coffee. No big deal. The metro was considerably crowded and running slower than usual, for no apparent reason. It was hot and I was bored of being squashed into the small cars, so I put on my MP3 player and zoned out. But I always keep my purse under my arm. I’ve been here 13 years, after all. I’ve seen pick pockets. They’re good. Some are VERY good.

They Got Me, Again

I keep my cash in my wallet, which zips closed. It’s usually at the bottom of my purse, buried under notebooks, camera, phone, etc. Sometimes it takes me so long to find it in there that I think, “Dang, they finally got me! Good for them if they could get in there without me knowing.” But then I usually find it. After my mildly exhausting day, I stopped into a friend’s new bar in my neighborhood for a cool drink. It was then that I discovered that my cash had taken a vacation — permanently — from my wallet.

I think I sat there staring at the wallet for a good ten minutes, my brain not quite registering what was happening. There was no way I had spent it all. In fact I distinctly recall that pesky 50 euro note that no one seemed to want to take at the café that day. And my cards were all there. My phone, my camera…all there. So where was the cash? The only explanation I can think of is that, yes, they finally got me. Most likely on the crowded metro. There was no other time during the day when anyone else could have gotten that close for long enough. After all, it wasn’t a simple grab-and-run (thank god). Someone actually went into my purse, found my wallet, unzipped it, got out the cash, and then re-zipped it (I would have noticed immediately if the wallet was unzipped, because all of the coins would have fallen out).

Professional Pickpockets Look Just Like You and Me

I can only guess that someone on the metro (most likely with an accomplice to block the view from anyone else standing near me)  did it. But of course no one on the metro seemed in the least bit suspicious. The suspicious ones are bad pickpockets. They’re way too obvious. I must admit I’m almost impressed at how good the thieves are. And also very happy that they left me my credit cards, ID, Velib’ pass, metro pass, driver’s license, Carte Vitale (medical card), and telephone. It’s so much more civilized to take the cash. No bother with insurance or police reports or changing PINs or cancelling phone subscriptions.

Getting pick pocketed is not very cool, and I wouldn’t normally go around shouting to the world what a sucker I am, but I’m hoping that this message will make it more clear to all of you that ANYONE can get pick pocketed, and that you won’t always be so lucky to only lose your cash. So remember to keep those bags zipped and in front of you in crowded places, and if you’re traveling, resist the urge to carry anything but the essentials. Because even if you have photocopies of all of your documents, who wants to spend the whole day filing police and insurance reports, calling the bank, or crying about irreplaceable photos?

And if it does happen to you, don’t be too upset. It happens to everyone. The Artful Dodger has to make a living, too!

To be prepared, read this updated article: Do Yourself a Favor: Be Prepared for Pickpockets

See the most up-to-date Paris safety information here

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  • Good to know I wasn’t hallucinating! And it got me to pen this little story.This is about a magical episode I experienced in the City of Light (please, one Light!). But before I get to that, let me muse about insouciance. It’s no accident that it’s a French word, and such a French word! I can’t think of a good translation in English or Spanish, so I’m not going to try. In the days of Moliere maybe there was true insouciance in the air, mostly coming from the nobility, no doubt. Today’ s French, despite their colorful revolution, act as if they are, nevertheless, somehow connected to that nobility (after all, who wants to be descended from peasants?), and so their misguided attempts at insouciance. Misguided because it manifests itself as surliness and catty-ness, all the way to rudeness. Caveat: not all, and thank God for exceptions!Their very universal attachment to the cigarette is a pose attempting at insouciance: the flick of the ashes, the drag which says “I’m listening, but I have to do my cool thing.” Maybe “cool” is a contemporary cognate, but, no, too adolescent. Of course, we holier-than-thou Californians bid them good-bye as they head to their resting place in the Catacombs. Certainly not Pere Lachaise’s Cemetery.But I have digressed. I was robbed, I think, and therein lies the magic. Phyllis and I went to a flea market in the north of the city (St. Ouen)recommended by the Rick Steves’s ubiquitous guide book wherein he strongly cautions against pickpockets. Incidentally, this is no flea market as known in the Western World, it was more like a neighborhood of fancy antique shops, but that’s another story.Before leaving on our eagerly-hopeful shopping attempt, I am certain I put at least 100 euros in 20s, along with a separately-folded 100 euro bill in my wallet. I know this sounds boring already. But listen to the magic, which consists in this: Somehow all the smaller bills, but not the 100, disappeared from the wallet once we arrived there. I noticed it when I went to pay at the shabby bistro where we stopped for coffee before heading out to the antiquites. Phyllis swears no one came close to me at the café. Was it in the Metro? But it wasn’t crowded. Did I dream that I put that argent in the wallet? I say not. The mystery is this: How did they, he, she, manage to take those bills out and then put the wallet back in my pocket? I think it was in a jacket pocket. A pocket that I usually zipped up, but I confess I’m not sure it always was so zipped. Why not take the whole wallet? Why leave the big bill? Because it was separately folded, although in the same compartment? Was it a compassionate Houdini from Tibet? After all, with the 100 I was able to pay for our drinks, if not the chandelier at the flea market.Where is Sherlock when you need him?

  • I live in San Francisco, and it happened to me here once in my regular cafe. Someone took my wallet out of my backpack, broke it trying to open it, took the cash, and replaced the wallet all without being noticed by the dozens of people sitting around me. I had put my backpack under my chair thinking that was safer than hanging it on the back of my chair, but I was WRONG. Like you, I was very thankful that the thief took only the cash and left all the cards. It just ended up being a $60 dollar lesson–now I always make sure my bag is in sight when I’m at any cafe or restaurant.

  • Well there was a fifty, but also ten twenties. It wouldn’t have "fallen out" (because it zips closed, remember?), and I would have remembered spending that amount of money. 😉 Another explanantion…possibly it happened somewhere else, I just can’t think of where…

  • I got picked in the subway a few years ago – somehow the guy knew my cell phone was in a middle compartment of my packback – never felt a thing until a whole bunch of people started yelling at me – in French of course which I did not understand!! what good is a US phone in France?

  • I recently got pickpocketed in the metro by an old man, whose wife and friends were laughing loudly. With a big smile, and a warning to be more careful with my money, he returned the 20 euro bill that nearly was falling out of one of the back-pockets of my jeans when he took it. Suddenly I realised that maybe this is why I always have a part of the month left at the end of my salary.

  • Yeah, I don’t believe they would risk going through you wallet in front of other people, then risk putting it back in your bag. There must be another explanation.

  • It doesn’t seem likely that they would re-zip and return the wallet. I bet the 50 will turn up in a pair of jeans or some lucky soul will find it on the sidewalk and treat their friends to a cafe.

  • It isn’t very likely that a pickpocket would just take the money and return all your stuff. More likely, you spent it and don’t remember.

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