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How to Not Get Pickpocketed on the Metro (a Cautionary Tale)

The metro as seen from the station

This is embarrassing. I, the Careful. I, the Meticulous. I, the Aware, have just suffered the humiliation of the classic crime foisted on travelers. Henceforth I shall style myself; I, the Mortified.

Rushing to catch the Metro line 9 before the doors closed, my daughter and her half-sister and I chose the closest car, a car that seemed more crowded than the others and I confess, my animal brain didn't love the look of it, but my rational brain wanted to get on that train, so it made my body do it.

There was a group of people hanging on to the metal handrails; a young woman, looking at her phone, who strangely, had put her very full handbag down on the floor between her legs. I'd never seen anyone do that before. People usually hold their bags close to their bodies.

And there were three other people behind her, a group of young men in hoodies. They didn't strike me as odd, but my hackles were up. I tried to make some space for myself to hold on to the rail, but the four of them had somehow managed to block me.

I have since learned this is Pickpocketing Tactic Number One, "Make Your Mark Wobble."

And with every lurch of the train, wobble I did. So much so, that my daughter, sensing my slight discomfort, suggested I hold on to her. I tried to hold onto her, but it was awkward, and yet I didn't let go. Here's what went through my mind.

"I don't want my daughter to think I am not accepting her help. And I have missed her and I want to be close to her as much as I can."

The train lurched, and I lurched, but I didn't let go of my daughter and seek a hand rail. Had I done so, my coat pocket would have been harder to reach into, I think. I noticed my daughter's handbag was open, and I instructed her to close it. If I were a pickpocket with any sense of irony, this would have been the moment I stole the lady's wallet.

But I will never know exactly when it happened because I only noticed it was gone once we got back to the hotel. In my pretty pink travel wallet that my sweet daughter had bought me before my trip was;

1. My passport with my French visa in it (I had read online that one shouldn't leave one's passport in their hotel room because passports can get stolen from hotel rooms, and likewise, one shouldn't put it in the hotel safe because those four-digit codes are easily over-ridden. Yes, I should have asked at the front desk to use their safe, but I had traveled in five countries and twenty-six cities using this same deep-pocketed, magnetic-clasped coat without a mishap. I thought I had a good system.)

2. Credit Cards

3. My California Driver's License

4. Euros (about 150.00) Sigh.

5. My Amis du Louvre membership card

6. My pride and innocence

So if the same thing happens to you, here's what you have to do;

1. Cancel all of your credit cards. It will take about a week, but you'll have new ones soon.

2. Go to the closest Prefecture (they probably won't speak much English, so prepare yourself for that) and make a report, which is called a Compte Rendu. You need to make photocopies of this for your records and take this report to the Embassy to get a new Passport.

3. Go to the American Embassy at 2 Rue Gabriel with a new passport photo ready, and if you have it, show them the photo on your phone of your passport. (I had photos of my passport and my visa on my phone.) They told me it would take about a week, but four days and 145.00 later, I had my new passport.

4. Call the DMV, six times in my case, until you get someone who can give you the phone number of another department which is called DMV Issuance. I provide the number so you don't have to go through all of this. DMV Issuance (916) 657-7790 and choose option 4, it's not exactly the perfect option, but you'll get to someone who can send you out a replacement driver's license. Took a few days, but at least I can drive legally. It doesn't have your photo on it.

I still don't have a new French visa. It's taken four trips to three different Prefectures, lots of International Document Gathering and Official Translation Procurement, and I still don't have my visa. They did give me an appointment for the 20th of September, so there's lots of time for me to gather the necessary International Documents.

In a nutshell, here's what I've learned in watching YouTube videos on pickpockets and in talking to other people (Parisians!) who've been pickpocketed.

1. Those thieves are good at what they do, but they need and seek the moment of distraction. Don't give it to them.

2. Follow your intuition. If a metro car feels weird, don't get on it, or move. Don't stay in an awkward position.

3. Don't let anyone block you, anywhere. Their preferred method is to make you struggle for balance so they can reach into your bag or pocket.

4. Most common spot for theft? The turnstiles. Keep your bag in front of you when putting your ticket into the slot.

5. If possible, don't carry a bag at all. Keep your valuables in deep, zippered or snapped pockets arranged in front of you, and place your free hand or arm over the pockets. I don't know if this will prevent all thefts, but it's what I did when I was traveling by myself, it seemed to work then.

6. Look for groups of young people, especially young girls carrying empty-looking messenger bags. Avoid.

7. If something feels off, take the next train. There's usually another one coming in three minutes or fewer.

I hope my embarrassing experience prevents you from ever losing anything to the greedy grifters. Just call me The On-High-Alert and Humbled.

Do you have any tips to help people avoid being pickpocketed? Please post in the comments!

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