So many things come to mind when I think about this question, but everything leads me to feel safe and say YES!
There’s a lot to think about that brought me to that statement.
I think about the Da’esh attacks around the world. I think about the treatment of women traveling alone or dressing in a hot and sexy way. I think about Fox News’s false claims of “no-go zones” in Paris. I think about Baltimore, the crime-ridden American city that is portrayed in the HBO series The Wire, and where I lived for 10 years. I also think about the gun laws in the US, where we still have not come to grips with the shocking reality of regular mass shootings. I think about the sometimes large differences between city culture and rural culture…
Let’s start with the totally false “no-go zones”
The mix-up occurred when reporters confused priority zones for urban development with unsafe zones in Paris. The truth is, police are visible and present in all arrondissements in Paris. The urban development zones are places that some government agency wishes was a little prettier or had more cafes and grocery stores. The zones have nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with commercial development. Fox News interviewed an “expert” who later admitted that Paris is perfectly safe and that the “no-go zones” don’t exist.
Thanks, Fox News…
I didn’t feel safe in Baltimore.
About three blocks from where I lived in the U.S., a pregnant woman walking home from her nursing job at the hospital was punched in order to steal her cell phone. Two blocks away from my home, a four-year old was killed by a stray bullet. Next to one of Baltimore’s most beautiful parks, a man was so severely beaten up before being robbed, he went into a coma and never recovered. A tall male friend was walking down an alley (in a neighborhood popular with wealthy college students) and two teenagers hit him with a garbage can lid and threatened him with a two-by-four (plank of wood) – only to get his cell phone.
On top of that, I witnessed a man steal a woman’s purse while she sat at a cafe in one of the fanciest and most historic areas of town. My dining partner ran after him, but it was a parking attendant who was able to catch the thief. He recovered the bag by threatening the thief with a knife!
These were frequent occurrences in Baltimore and I’ve never heard of this happening in Paris.
Pickpockets, however, are another story. Paris has them.
Most stories I’ve heard about theft in Paris involve things being stolen in secret, without any physical violence. Once, there was a group of guys who jumped into a metro car, threatened everyone with knives (hurting no one), and took everybody’s phones and wallets. Just once. This sort of thing is not common at all.
Non-violent pickpockets are common in the very touristy areas and in transportation hubs, like train stations. It may be difficult to think of Paris as a very large city, but it is!
And all over the world, large cities are places where you have watch your stuff.
“Fake it till you make it!”
When I was growing up, my mom took me to visit New York City at least once a year. We lived in a somewhat rural area (a suburb of a medium-small town), and she wanted me to feel comfortable in many different places. New York was nothing like my small town, and I’m forever grateful to my mom for showing me the beauty of architecture!
Every time we visited, she taught me how to walk with confidence, and how to hold my bag so that it was not easy to steal, and how to be vigilant of my belongings at all times.
When we walked down a dark and empty street on our way back to the car, she told me to imagine that there was a whole group of angels behind us, and that we were leading the group. To lead, we needed to act like we knew where we were going, so as a result, we walked with confidence. I found out recently that this was a truly brilliant strategy.
What criminals look for
I saw a news report in which criminals were asked to watch videos of people on a street and identify a likely target, and invariably they chose people who showed weakness in some way. The man who limped, the woman who looked fearful and only looked at the ground, the person staring dreamily at the clouds…
They would not choose people who moved their body with determination and ease, who looked around them confidently, who were aware of their surroundings, and who seemed to know where they were and where they were going.
So: do that!
I have always done that in every city I’ve lived in or visited, and I think it is what has protected me from being a victim for all these years.
Which leads me to the LADIES!
Watch yourself! There are men in all parts of the world who would have their way with you. I’ve heard stories of men on the subway feeling up women’s skirts when the subways are packed. I heard a story of a woman who was saved by a stranger from a perverted man who was threatening her and whispering all the horrible things he would do to her in her ear.
Knowing this, I regularly visualize yelling in a packed metro car. I mentally prepare for a moment when I will need to grab the man’s hand and whizz around to stare at the man with a vicious anger and hatred, and say (in French), “Don’t touch me!” (Ne me touches pas!)
Professional athletes visualize their success, so why shouldn’t I use this technique too?
Back in Baltimore, a female friend was pepper-sprayed around the corner from her house, but was able to escape any injury or theft because she began screaming immediately.
When I can, I practice yelling. Really loud. I practice saying NO really loudly and firmly. At first it didn’t feel normal. I had to do it a lot before it felt normal.
While I am walking the streets, I sometimes imagine that I need to yell. I visualize an aggressor, and mentally prepare to yell, even if it I am in a completely safe place.
I practice looking fierce and angry and determined. When I feel scared (it’s never happened in Paris), I go into Warrior Mode and imagine leading a band of angels. I take control of my emotions and put on a display that I am a force to be reckoned with.
Statistically, it has been shown that people don’t respond when a victim yells “help” but people DO respond when they hear someone yelling “fire.” So, I sometimes imagine an undesirable situation and imagine yelling “fire” to get the attention of other people who might be able to rescue me.
This is going to sound totally crazy, but I read once that if a woman is being threatened with rape, and she drops down onto her hands and knees and starts to moo like a cow, the rapist will likely lose interest. I practice mooing sometimes just in case. 😛
Also, I sometimes watch self-defense videos on YouTube. Have you seen that one about the headlock using the man’s shirt? Looks complicated, so I might have to practice with my husband. 😉 [Here’s the video. Jump to the 5:00 mark for the demonstration of three different ways to make you aggressor unconscious.]
But what about the terrorist attacks?
First, of all, my heart is with all those who lost a loved one and those who are survivors of the recent airport attacks in Turkey, and the attack at the Orlando, Florida night club. My heart melts each time there is a new attack. The grief of the victims’ families must be tremendous, and the survivors certainly have long recovery periods ahead.
In terms of traveling, it’s impossible to guess where someone will swear allegiance to Da’esch next.
Attacks have happened all over the world: in Egypt, Yemen, Belgium, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, France, Kuwait, the US…
Through their online networks, Da’esch is able to communicate, and develop strong relationships, with people in every country.
So, in my opinion, in regards to terrorist activity, Paris is not more or less safe than any other part of the world.
Another way to think about this has to do with violent crime in general.
There is another mass shooting in the US every two weeks. Gun violence is incredibly rampant there, and some urban places have a lot of violent crime.
As an American, I’m quite surprised that people from other countries still visit the US, knowing that guns are pretty much everywhere. To me, the presence of guns does not make me feel more safe.
When I compare the US statistics to those in France, the US feels much more dangerous.
In France, guns are not easy to acquire, and gun violence is significantly lower than in the US.
That is definitely a comfort to me! It certainly helps me feel more safe here.
Safety measures in Paris
First of all, get ready to open your bag!
At many stores, large commercial centers, historic monuments, and museums, you will be required to open your bag and show the contents to the security guard at the entrance.
Going to see modern art at the Centre Pompidou: open your bag! Exiting the metro at Chatelet, into the commercial center: Open your bag! About to climb the stairs to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe: Open your bag!
Sometimes you and your bag must go through a scanner. Sometimes bags are not allowed into the exhibit areas of museums, and you must leave your bag at the coat check. This is more for the safety of the art than the people, though! 😉
Military presence in Paris
From time to time you may see men and women in camouflage walking around with huge weapons. This does NOT mean there is something wrong.
This is totally normal.
Some are permanently stationed around schools and synagogues. Others simply patrol the touristy areas and the airports.
Their presence is one element of the security measures that were in place before the attacks in November 2015. After the attacks in November, there were suddenly three times as many as usual, but now the numbers are back to normal.
All in all
I personally feel safe in Paris. I walk alone in all different areas, and all times of day, and not once has someone been aggressive toward me.
But, also, I stay vigilant. I practice all of the techniques I mentioned above, and I avoid situations that could be dangerous: I avoid streets or squares that look dark and void of people. I try to stay in well-lit areas with bars and restaurants and people walking about. I keep a look out with my “resting bitch face” on, and I regularly look behind me and around me in a “I see you, and I will YELL if I have to” sort of way. If a scene looks a little dark and scary, I might even sing to myself to get my vocal chords working and warmed up in case they are needed.
I’ve always thought about taking a self-defense class, and I still might… But in retrospect, knowing how dangerous Baltimore was, I really should have taken one as soon as I moved there! Now that I’m living in Paris, it just doesn’t seem as necessary.
Do you have a technique for staying safe and vigilant?
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