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So, I guess there will be no element of suspense or surprise in this story…because I basically just told you what happens in the end. But I suppose the real reason I’m telling you this story is to give you a word of caution. I thought I was prepared for anything, but I guess this can happen to anyone…

My story begins not in Paris, but actually much, much before. I had heard about pickpockets almost as soon as I mentioned the words “trip to Europe.” Anyone who had anything to say normally warned me about pickpockets, and I, being the sage traveler that I am, heeded their warnings. Even here in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the first day of arrival, I was greeted by an ad campaign that had a giant photo of someone getting pickpocketed. My adviser here at Unil warned us to be careful with our things because even though Lausanne is a fairly safe area, thieves are still a problem.

I felt very prepared- mentally and physically. But soon I began to relax. Which is always bound to happen.

And that’s where the real story begins. My weekend trip to Paris. It was about mid-trip, and we had already ridden the metro a few times, but this time it was packed. So packed that you couldn’t avoid bumping into the people standing next to you, and already everyone was trying to avoid eye contact with anyone close. Our group of six people was all huddled around each other basically, and of course we were talking about how awkward this was and giving each other knowing glances. It even crossed my mind that it would be really easy for someone to steal something in a situation like this…which is probably what saved me, because at that moment I made sure my bag was zipped and in front of me. I distinctly remember noticing three women, one of whom was pregnant, standing amongst our group. I thought it was kind of strange that they were standing unnaturally close to us, but attributed it to the different proximity norms that people in Europe have (they tend to stand much closer together than in the US). Then, the woman who was pregnant moved right in front of me, uncomfortably close. But since I was standing right next to the pole, I assumed she just needed a little extra balance. Again, I tried to avoid eye contact (which is perhaps what these folks are counting on) because of how close she was standing. What seemed like an eternity later, I felt my bag moving. I figured it was just people bumping into me again, but looked down out of reflex (my bag was still in front of me). To my utter shock and horror, the pregnant woman had one hand unzipping my bag, and the other inside, clasped around my wallet! Without thinking, I quickly grabbed her hand and my wallet. I shoved the wallet back into my bag and zipped it closed. By this time, she was already on the move, with her two partners in crime. I looked around at my friends who were all standing around me- none of them had even noticed. My mouth was still gaping as I looked around to see if anyone else had seen- but nothing. The entire incident had taken place within a matter of seconds, and the woman was gone even quicker than that.

After getting off the metro at the next stop, we noticed the three women running to the next metro car. I felt so angry and violated, but there was nothing I could do except be grateful that I had not lost anything (that would happen on the next trip!). The entire rest of the trip I was extremely careful and even paranoid. Now, I’ve come to realize that I should use this experience to remind me that even if you think you are being careful, bad stuff can still happen- and it’s a good idea to not ever become too relaxed.

My advice to anyone would be this:

1. Backpacks are generally not a good idea on any sort of public transportation unless the compartments are locked, or if you take it off and hold it in front of you.

2. A shoulder bag that crosses in front of you is a better idea if it has a flap over the top as well as a zipper underneath that. No matter what bag you have, always make sure that it is zipped, snapped, or buttoned closed and in front of you, not behind you. Another tip that I heard from a friend of mine in Italy is to wear your bag underneath your clothes or jacket. Whichever you feel more comfortable with is your choice. I prefer to have my bag in front of me so that I can always see it.

3. I have never really been a fan of the money belts that people wear underneath their clothes, but if you need to carry important documents with you or some extra cash, then here is my advice. Never take things out of your money belt in public. It will definitely peg you as a tourist and only draw attention to you. Needless to say it will also draw attention to the fact that you have important stuff stashed in your money belt (which believe it or not, is not off limits to a professional pickpocket).

4. My final words of advice to you are this: Like I mentioned above, avoid drawing any sort of attention to yourself. My large group of loud, obvious Americans probably drew unneeded attention to us on the metro, and made us out to be easy targets. Secondly, stay vigilant. If you keep alert, and pay attention, you should be safe. I think pickpockets can tell if someone is paying attention or out to lunch (literally, a friend I met on the road had his bag and camera stolen when he was out to lunch at an outdoor cafe…)

I don’t want to scare anyone or deter anyone from traveling. In fact, I feel as though I am much more prepared for many more travels in the future, and much happier ones now that I know what to look out for. Keep traveling, keep safe, and just remember to keep on the lookout for suspicious looking pregnant ladies in crowded metros!


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