Monday, March 9, 2009

I have been Bamboozeled!

I have been bamboozeled this week, not once, not twice but three times!! When I was working as a tour guide I had a standard speech I gave to clients about pickpockets. I taught women how to hold their purses in the urban underarm clutch, I warned men to move their wallets from their back pocket to the front and I scolded kids for leting their ipod ear-buds dangle out of their pockets. I delivered this lecture with gusto but having never been pick pocketed myself, it admittedly had a smug, only silly or careless people get pickpocketed undertone.

Well I take it back. I was totally blindsided this week and got a debit card stolen from right under my nose. My best friend Katie was in town visiting last week. This was her first trip to Paris and so as we rode in to town from the airport on the RER I gave her a quick speech about pickpockets which was followed by a philosophical conversation about frequent non-violent crime which abounds in Europe verses infrequent but disturbingly violent crime in the US.

The very next day we were looking for an ATM machine to pull out cash for Katie. The bank closest to my house didn’t work so we walked a little father a field and found another bank. This bank is in Barbès on a corner that is frequented by young Parisians with for the most part North African origins. On this particular corner you almost always see large groups of young men just hanging out. Sometimes they will try to sell you fake packs of Marlboros or faux Dolce & Gabana belts but generally speaking they leave passersby alone. With that said, there was no motivation other than race or age discrimination not to use this bank, so being the open-minded urbanite that I am, Katie and I marched on in.
The ATM machines were housed inside a bank but the bank was closed because it was Sunday, so we were in a little room off of the sidewalk but not in the bank either. A few seconds after we entered a young man came in and stood right behind us. I think, “what a nut, there are 5 other machines in this place why does he want to use this one?”. I turn around and he says to me, “Mademoiselle, these machines are broken! Your friend isn’t typing in her request the right way!”. I assume he is trying to help us poor tourists figure out how to use the machines in hopes for a tip. So I say to him in French, “Thank you, but I speak French and know how to use a cash machine.” He starts beebopping around saying, “ No no the cash machine is broken. She needs to push the buttons harder. Etc etc.” I say, “No really, we are fine so get out of here”. He jostles us and I push him away and in a flash he pushes back, reaches over my arm and touches the screen. I give him a shove and backs away looking surprised and saying, “Wow well I can see I am scaring you, so if you are scared then I’ll just leave”. His tone was indignant, implying that I was either racist or ungrateful for his help or both.

I turn to Katie, who doesn’t speak French and wasn’t sure exactly what was going on but knew it wasn’t good, to see if she still had everything. She says, “Yep. I hit cancel button and am just waiting for my card to pop back out.” I look at the screen and read Welcome to BPN, please insert your card. At that point it dawned on us that he had hit the cancel button, grabbed the card and ran. All without us seeing a thing!
At that very moment his crony comes in, overhears us cursing the machine and the situation and he says, “Hey ladies, I think these machines are broken so it’s not surprising that it ate your card.” This sneaky Pete was hoping to buy some time by convincing us the bank had our card and that we should just wait until the bank opened back up on Monday to ask for our card back. While I was royally fooled by the first guy this second one did not win me over.

So Katie and I walk back home to call her bank to cancel the card. In the 10 minutes it took us to get home the guy had already withdrawn 200 euros. He must have seen Katie enter her pin number so he was able to withdraw at will. Katie, luckily lives in a land where the customer is king so her bank canceled her card and will reimburse her for the fraudulent charges.

As Katie's visit cotinued, so did the bamboolzing. That week we were twice tailed in the metro by nerdowells. The first incident culminated in a man's hand sliding delicately into my pocket. Unfortunately for him, all he got was a used tissue and a very dirty look from me. The second incident began just like the first, a young man was following us far too closely in the metro, except this time I turned to him and told him to pass us if he is in such a hurry. He looked surprised and said he wasn’t in a hurry, and since he spent the next 15 minutes hitting on us and following us half way home I suppose he was telling the truth.

Traveling around Paris on my own or with Greg or French friends I seem blend in to the Parisian backdrop farily. Maybe it is because of my clothing, or my manner of walking or the fact that I am usually reading a French newspaper, but typically people leave me alone. Moving around the city with my beautiful friend Katie, taking pictures, giggling and talking at an American volume level we suddenly became highly prized targets. The difference was shocking.

In the end, I am sorry for the hassle it caused Katie and for the tainted view of Paris she now may have. I also feel sorry for the youths who are drawn (or pushed?) into a life of crime by the society which surrounds them but doesnt always accept them. Looking back on it I see it as a highly educational, albeit disturbing, experience.

1 comment:

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