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If You Like It, Don’t Let Him Put A String On It

, , , , , , | Legal | July 12, 2020

I am a French Canadian woman visiting Paris as a tourist. I am traveling by myself. I have never boarded a plane in my life before. I have never even set foot into an airport. Unfortunately, between my anxiety due to the novelty of the experience and turbulences, I’ve felt sick during most of the flight and have gotten no rest.

Adding jetlag to the equation, I’m far from my best upon arrival, so I decide to take it easy and explore the area close to my hotel on foot. I head for the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur and start climbing the long stairs in front. I try to figure out where I am supposed to enter as I am climbing, but I see no indication. A group of young men is sitting in the grass. One of them gets up and walks confidently towards me, so confidently that I’m starting to wonder if he is a volunteer for the Basilica.

He addresses me in several languages for some reason while I’m trying to figure out why he is there. He then makes a sign for me to put one hand in front of me, which I do. He gets what seems like a simple sewing thread spool out of his pocket and makes a gesture to put it around my middle finger.

As if hit by lightning, I suddenly get extremely uncomfortable at the idea of a stranger attaching anything to my body. Without thinking, I bolt away. He calls me back, but I only glance behind to make sure he is not following me while scrambling away from him as fast as I can.

The experience leaves me completely puzzled. I later ask a French friend in Paris if he has any idea what that was about and he is as clueless as I am.

Five years later, I am browsing videos at random on the Internet, from dashcam scams to tourist scams. I finally stumble on an intriguing video. It turns out that this was a variant of the “Friendship Bracelet Scam” in Montmartre, only in my case it was apparently a ring variation. If I had let him string my finger, he would have harassed me for money or one of his friends could have tried to steal from me. At last, I can make sense of what took place. As far as I can tell, this scam had yet to be widely documented at the time of my trip.

I am slightly mad at myself that I let him even approach me. I use an anti-theft bag whenever I know I might find myself distracted in a crowded area at home and take even more precautions when I travel without anyone to rely on. However, I am also very relieved that my instincts kicked in just in time to keep me out of harm’s way even if it took place in a moment I was, understandably, not as alert as usual.

The lesson I derived from the experience is that I’m likely to be most vulnerable right upon arrival. Two years later, a fake and insistent taxi driver in a New York airport also got me confused before I ever got a chance to see the multiple written warnings everywhere, but again, I escaped him and gathered my thoughts in a restroom. I’ve yet to have anything unsettling happen to me after the first day of a trip!

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