This is the fourth post about my Paris trip. The first post can be found here.
I guess it’s one of those classic scenarios. One of those bucket-list items you’re simply supposed to do at some point in your life: take a leisurely stroll along the River Seine during a late summer afternoon. I was approaching Notre Dame on the north side of the river. The Eiffel Tower was disappearing behind me. I was distractedly walking along while drinking in the serenity of the scene – a typical touristy frame of mind to inhabit. But besides the beauty of the surrounding famous sights, there’s also something else to look out for: The kind of people who earn a living by preying on unsuspecting tourists like you.
There I was casually walking along when a woman, approaching from the opposite direction, suddenly let out a surprised yelp and bent down in front of me. When she stood up she was holding out a gold ring that she’d apparently just found on the floor. She looked bemused. I laughed in sympathy. We exchanged surprised smiles and laughter for a few moments before I attempted to continue along my way. Before I got a chance to depart she thrust the ring towards me and said, “You have it!”
I’m not sure whether they came from nearby Notre Dame or the back of my head, but either way I could suddenly hear alarm bells ringing. My spidey senses kicked into gear. “This does not add up,” I thought. The whole scene seemed suspicious. If you found a gold ring on the floor, why would you immediately offer it to the nearest passing stranger? I politely smiled, declined the offer and attempted to leave. She moved to block my exit and began insisting that I take the ring. I continued to politely decline. She continued her protestations. She wasn’t being aggressive or anything. She was just acting as if she was being nice. Either way, the situation seemed way too odd to me. When she started talking about it being good luck I became even more suspicious. Good luck charms? Seriously? This doesn’t add up at all.
A few days earlier when I’d checked into the hostel the Aussie in my room had warned me not to leave my passport in the room. He explained that he’d caught wind of a thieves going around hostels and robbing passports. I looked at him in amazement. Why on earth would you leave your passport at a hostel? My passport never leaves my person. When you’re travelling you have to be constantly vigilant.
Anyway, I continued to decline the ring and she continued to insist. After a while she began to act offended. She kept repeating that she didn’t want any money. She even demonstrated how the ring was too big for her fingers and no use to her. Eventually I began to soften my resolve. It wasn’t that I was interested in the ring; I just didn’t want to cause a scene in the street, or offend someone’s apparent generous nature. So, for the hell of it, I eventually conceded and took the ring.
I walked away thinking how bizarre the incident was. I also inspected the ring. It appeared to have a gold stamp on it so, superficially at least, it appeared genuine. I was the best part of a minute up the road when I head some calling out behind me. I turned around and there she was. “How about giving me just five or ten Euros?” she said.
I remember hearing of a story involving an English couple sat outside a café in Spain. The husband had his wallet sat on the table. A group of children rushed up with a map apparently asking for directions. They placed the map on the table and began pointing at it while speaking in Spanish. The couple, being tourists, were unable to help. After the children gave up and moved on the couple realised the wallet had gone with them. Clearly, while the map was on the table, one of the kids had reached underneath and snatched it. Why would you leave your wallet on display in a tourist hotspot? There are people who earn their living by scamming unsuspecting tourists. They spend their days devising new and ingenious ways to pull the wool over your eyes. If you’re leaving your wallet on display, you’re just making it easy for them. And if you’re willing to believe that people find gold rings and generously hand them to the nearest stranger, likewise.
I laughed, held out the ring and told her she could have it back. She said she didn’t want it; she just wanted money. I had little sympathy. If, upon finding a gold ring, your immediate reaction is to hand it to the nearest passing stranger no wonder you’re experiencing financial difficulties. I wasn’t standing for it and demanded that she take back the ring. She initially refused, but I was adamant. If it had come down to it I would have simply dropped it and walked on. She soon got the message and resignedly took back the ring, while looking rather wounded. I turned around and continued my journey.
“So that’s the scam,” I laughed to myself, as I walked away. You get a cheap imitation gold ring, worth pennies. You drop it in front of an unsuspecting tourist. You insist they keep it because you’re nice and generous and in return they give you five or ten Euros for the worthless ring. And when they go to sell it, they realise they’ve been scammed. I could be wrong, but I’d be very surprised if I was.