A Meeting In Paris

Almost three years ago, as an excitable eighteen year old, I finally visited France’s capital for the first time, and between the icy temperatures and regular downpours of November, the sights and sounds were just as I’d hoped. Grandiose and opulent, the architecture was, as we all know, stunning. Alongside this, I always felt a sense of sadness when I saw the beggar women in their ragged clothes – of course, poverty is everywhere, but it felt all the more surreal when juxtaposed against the glamour of Paris. No-one had mentioned to expect them, least of all from the moment I stepped off my train onto the platform at Gare du Nord.

I guess it was guilt, more than anything else, but on our second morning after being approached for what must have been the twelfth or thirteenth time, I dipped into my wallet and presented a Bosnian lady with five Euros. (I only know she was Bosnian as that’s what the note said that she thrust under my nose as I was passing – her English was poor, if not non-existent. The general tone of her message was ‘I need money to feed my children’, etc.) After making my donation I carried on walking, feeling proud of my Samaritan gesture and hoping she would put it to good use, when my friend whispered to me:

“She can’t be that poor...”

“Why not?” I asked, slightly puzzled.

“The ‘note’ explaining her situation was laminated.”

I felt like a fool for the rest of the day, and read up on some of the warning tales online, back at our hotel. We also experienced the trick where a stranger pretended to find a ring in the street (having subtly dropped it himself) and thrust it onto my female friend’s finger, insisting it would bring her luck, then subsequently asking for money!

Since that day, I’ll admit, I’ve been a lot savvier when out and about, but thinking about it now I just look back and laugh. Sure, I hold my bag a little closer, and keep one eye on my wallet at all times, but it hasn’t quelled my desire for travel. It was just another little life experience, and an eye opener to my naivety. At least it was only five Euros. C’est la vie.

J. Silk

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