We had to do a short writing exercise for one of my classes. Bam! Success!
Paris, the City of Love, also happens to be the City of Black Market Cellphones. That is not to say it is composed entirely of couples in love toting illicitly obtained iPhones, but my own recent experience would suggest that Western Civilizations fanciful obsession with Paris might not be entirely accurate.
My husband and I stayed at the Best Western in Montmartre, a neighbourhood near the Basilica and populated almost entirely by Algerian mobsters and Nigerian princes, judging by the number of individuals who had offers for us as tourists to their city. Our first night in Paris was a rainy one, but hoping to make the bests of our time we opted to explore the area and stave off the jetlag that was already settling in. Not two blocks away from the hotel we were approached by a jaunty fellow with a set of gold teeth who palmed a new smartphone towards us and asked if we were interested.
The thing with Paris is that you can either fumble your way around the language and pretend you don’t notice their aggravated looks, or you can smile like an idiot and act as if non, oui, and merci are the only three words you know. Yes, that puts a slight target on your back for potential scammers or pickpockets, which is why it is very important to align yourself with one of the various sketchy groups of people who inhibit Paris right away. We placed our alliance with the Algerian mobster who owned a brasserie and, we think, an underground gambling ring. He was a nice enough gentleman, when not whispering to the elderly man behind the counter and glancing nervously towards the brasserie on the other side of the street. We couldn’t be sure, but it’s possible that we had stopped to have a petit dejeuner in the middle of a turf war that was about to become very violent.
The Algerian mobster asked if we wanted anything else, and with dumb smiles we replied, ‘Non, merci!’
Outside of Montmartre we were on our own. Nigerian princes and the Algerian Mafioso had their territorty well protected, and they minded the boarders like ruthless bloodhounds. The Roma, on the other hand, had no such desires. One might argue they are a necessity in Paris. Your trip will not be complete unless you find a clipboard shoved into your chest by a friendly young woman who asks if you care about the deaf or the blind or puppies with only three legs.
Of course you do! Mai oui!
The minute you take the pen, however, you’re in trouble. No Algerian mobster can protect you from the determination of a tiny Roma child who demands a donation for your signature. The next thing you know you are surrounded, they have your wallet, your keys, and somehow even your shoelaces.
Uncle Vanya is going to be very upset that you fell for that. At least, he will be when he stops glaring at the owner of the café across the street.
That being said, the sketchy parts of Paris are all part of the experience. It’s understandable why Tourism France isn’t building their entire campaign around Come to France, See the Architecture, Get Plundered! Try as they might, there is no getting a Roma child to sit long enough to have their picture taken for the campaign poster. Even if they did, they’d just steal it after you’re done.
Por moi? Merci!