Con Artists


Paris is a city of many things. Monuments that exist in an offhand way, relics of a former regime or way of thinking that become institutions. Paris even exports its monuments – the Statue of Liberty comes to mind.

Paris is full of food and wine and works of art. The museums of Paris are matched by few cities for their breadth and depth of culture.

Paris is also full of con artists. Some of the cons involve art; some mere artifice. Let me describe a few of the classics.

You will be walking along a city sidewalk or a path in a park. A woman (almost always a woman, usually dark complexioned and poorly dressed) will suddenly bend down and come up with a gold ring. Well, it looks gold and when she presses it into your hand it feels heavy. Did you drop this? No, you say. Well, it is too big for me (or, I have no way to sell it), why don’t you keep it for good luck? A souvenir of Paris. You hesitate but then agree. Now comes the ask – could you help me out? I’ve given you good luck, could you give me 5 Euros so I can buy lunch? You, out of guilt or gullibility, hand over some cash. Really almost anything will do, as the ring is worthless and she has a pocketful of them. Well, at least you have a souvenir of Paris.

In another, a large man, almost always African, will greet you and offer you his hand. You shake it, a bit perplexed and the next thing you know he is braiding colorful threads around your fingers – a charm to increase your fertility. You say, no thanks I have all the children I want but it is too late. You would need to yank your hand back, breaking the thread and the good will. Pretty soon a bracelet has been woven and the ask is made. 20 Euros for the art work. There are several of the men now, all smiling. No threat is made but you feel it nonetheless. Another souvenir of Paris.

You are drinking in a bar. An older man approaches – very French, with beret or leather cap, a weathered face, an artistic haircut. He chats you up in a mix of his broken English, your broken French. He asks if he can draw your picture – for his collection. You sit and pose, flattered perhaps but suspicion begins to grow. The drawing is finished – a passable likeness. The ask is made. 50 Euros. Another souvenir.

Ah, Paris.

But that’s ten minutes.



2 thoughts on “Con Artists

  1. Did these really all happen to you in a week? They sound more or less familiar, but it must be years since anyone tried one of these on me, if ever. (More often in other cities where I was perhaps easier to spot as a tourist.) Of course, the solution is most often to dare to be rude, even when you’re surrounded by gypsy women in the heart of Granada…


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