How to be Scammed by the Deaf and Dumb in Paris
Paris is a magical city. One of light, food, art, and vagabonds. I had the privilege of spending the month of July in the city. Had the chance to get fat in the patisseries, had the chance to dance along the Siene at night, enjoy good company, and become quite the croissant snob. I also had the exclusive privilege of learning how to be scammed. This one is for the people who have been pick-pocketed already, and are ready to advance on to the next level of being scammed.
The One and Only Eiffel Tower
A friend of mine had taken the train down from Germany a few days earlier. She was going to be spending five or six days in our apartment in the 5th. We were still jazzed from the day before, Bastille Day. We had gotten into the Louvre for free because of the holiday, and had gotten to view the Mona Lisa with a manageable crowd. Only six or seven people deep, versus the normal bedlam of twenty or thirty people deep.
We wandered the city, hung with friends, ate delicious French food, and yes, saw the fireworks. Well, no, actually. That was a wild goose chase to failure. We heard them, though! It’s a long story for another post. Wanting to get out and explore some more, we hopped aboard the metro and took it to Sacre Coeur, that iconic church on the hill above Paris. From atop that hill, you can see everything and anything that is Paris.
View of Sacre Coeur from the Pompidou
From the beautiful church, we walked down a marble staircase that wound itself down a green slope. Fountains, perfect photo opps. You know the deal with that sort of thing. At the bottom of the staircase, two men came up to my friend Marie and me. The first guy just grabbed Marie’s wrist, and started weaving a bracelet from colorful yarn. The man’s friend grabbed my wrist, and did the same.
“Where you from?” He asked with a heavy accent.
“USA,” I said, somewhat nervous. Some random guy just grabbed my wrist and had started weaving a bracelet for me. What’s next? Death by yarn?
“Ah! Red, white and blue! New York City!” He started weaving the colors together, smiling. Marie was chatting with her bracelet making captor. I was chatting with mine. Apparently, he was from Kenya, so the thick accent proves.
As he weaved the cheap yarn, he said happily, “Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase! Happy, happy, USA.” He was about to tie the finishing knot, a big smile on his face. “Now make a biiiig wish! 1! 2! 3! Say it with me! Hakuna Matata!” I made the wish and played along, somewhat enjoying myself. Sadly though, the wish didn’t come true. He was still standing there. Suddenly, the air turned cold. I looked at my new Kenyan friend. The beaming smile vanished, replaced with a rigid stare. Hakuna Matata was long gone. In a low voice, he glared at me and sneered.
“Fifty Euro.” What! Fifty Euro! This cheap piece of yarn didn’t even cost one Euro! He has got to be kidding me!
“I don’t have fifty Euros.” I replied matter of factly.
“Forty!” Forty! Who does this man think he is! Yes, I have forty Euro with me. Am I going to give it to him? Uh, no. And so the bargaining began. Soon enough, we found ourselves in the single digit numbers.
“Three Euro?” I asked.
He glared at me for a long time. With quite the sneer, he replied, “Five.”
I was over him. I just wanted to get out of there. I handed him the coins, and walked over to Marie. Mr. Kenya had already run off to rip off more tourists.
“What’d you pay?”
“Three,” she replied, proud of herself. Well, so much for Hakuna Matata.
We hopped aboard the metro again, and laughed over the experience. The metro rattled over wide boulevards lined with cafes and shops and people. It then plunged down into the darkness again. After changing trains to the 6, we both felt hungry; jumping off at Pont Marie, we walked onto the little island of Île Saint-Louis. Only the best gelato in the world is sold on the island. Finding the little shop of Berthillon, we got our cones, and sauntered down the bank of the Siene, me enjoying chocolate and stracciatella, Marie raspberry. It was late afternoon by now. Water lapped up against the banks. It was a perfect summer afternoon in Paris.
Notre Dame from the Banks of the Siene
Walking up the uneven stone stairs, the two of us crossed a bridge and found ourselves behind the famous Notre Dame. Around back is a small park with a playground. Remembering back to when I visited Paris the first time when I was eight, I recalled seeing the film Julie and Julia being filmed. Ice creams in hand, we walked into the park, and under the shadows of trees.
It was peaceful. Little kids played. Parents chatted with smiles. Poodles and their owners strutted by. We ate our ice cream, patiently waiting for two boys to get off the swings. It was a nice day, cool breeze.
He popped up out of nowhere, literally. One minute, I was contemplating selling everything after university and jetting off to Paris; the next, a short man jumped in front of my train of thought and derailed it.
Well-dressed, gelled back hair, good looking. Of course. Everyone in France is good looking. He had a clipboard with a paper of a bunch of names and dates written on it. He looked at me and pointed, shoving the clipboard in my face. The heading was in English. Should have been warning number one.
Reading the headline, it said Deaf and Dumb Petition. Oh well, I couldn’t just shove him away. I’d feel bad otherwise. “I’ll sign his silly little paper,” I thought. “It’s for a good cause.” He looked impatient. I took the pen from him and scribbled my name, date of signing, and what country I was from. Scanning the other names on the list, most of them were from abroad. Warning number two. There was a donation I had to give. Already giving five of my Euro to my new best friend from Kenya, I wrote down a mere ten Euro, dug out the bill, and gave it and the clipboard to him.
He took the clipboard, glanced at it, and shoved it back in my face. No words were exchanged. He pointed at a line vigorously, and grunted. It read: minimum donation of 20 Euro. “Fine. Whatever. Would this guy stop pestering me?” I thought. Digging out a twenty, I handed it to him, and reached to grab my ten back. I can tell you now that he wasn’t deaf, and sure as hell wasn’t dumb. Before I could grab my euro, he made a quick thank you gesture, kissing his hands and blowing it to me, and took off with my 30 Euro. Out of the park, across the bridge and to God knows where.
I stood there, dumbfounded. Noooooo. That couldn’t have just happened. Nada! I had already been scammed with Hakuna Matata only hours earlier. Surely it didn’t work that way. No way. Did it really just happen? Marie looked at me. I looked at her. We burst out in laughter. I was stupid enough to let 35 euro just disappear from my wallet the way a magician does a rabbit in a hat. That takes some serious skill.
Still amazed with my stupidity, we wandered out of the park, and around to the front of the famous church. Both of us had our eyes peeled for the short, money stealing, not so deaf and dumb man. He was gone with the Parisian afternoon wind.
I still have the bracelet, though it’s falling apart at the seams. Marie lost hers within hours of getting it. To all you who have been scammed while traveling, you may now proceed to Level 2. Just a word of warning, be wary with the deaf and dumb because well, they probably aren’t. And remember. Hakuna Matata is a motto. People use it in many different shapes and forms. You’ve been warned.
Notre Dame at Night
Austin Weihmiller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.
All photos courtesy and copyright Austin Weihmiller