I’m sensing a pattern here, aren’t you? Failure. Literature. Paris. Oh, yes, the ridiculous saga continues, my friends.
If you read my blog, you’ve already laughed at my failure to kiss Oscar Wilde and realized that 1. research is important and 2. relying on 3 year-old information isn’t the brightest idea.
Now I like Paris a lot. I wanna revisit soon. If American Airlines or whoever gave me a free ticket tomorrow, you’d better believe I’d hop on that plane. Paris is probably the most photogenic and delicious city on the planet. I know lots of travelers dislike the French capital’s popularity, but let’s get real, folks. Paris is popular for a reason.
But, oh my god, Paris also drove me nuts.
First I didn’t kiss Oscar. Next my camera broke near Voltaire’s tomb, and I had to dig out 70 euros for a replacement. Then I failed to visit “Shakespeare and Company,” because a scammer sent my anxiety into a tailspin and as a result, I hid inside a random mall in Saint Germain.
Off To Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company is a famous bookshop in Paris. It was a gathering place for prominent authors and poets such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce. Today it functions as an independent bookstore. As a lit. nerd, of course, I felt like it was my ~duty~ to pay a visit to this legendary site.
I crossed over to the Left Bank, eager and excited about bookish things, and I was so focused on finding this literary grail that I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. … and I’d barely looked at a map ahead of time so I honestly had no clue what street this bookshop was located on. I wandered street after street with peeled eyes and zero luck.
Now I’m an anxious person. I worry about rare cancers, bumpy flights, car crashes, family members’ deaths, etc etc. However I’m not paranoid traveling alone as a woman. Honestly, hearing warnings 24/7 from family, friends, and the media pisses me off. I don’t let my “female” status stop me from living daily life on my terms.
But when I’m traveling alone, I hate strangers bugging me. I’m sociable enough in terms of hostels, couchsurfing events, and guided tours, but when I’m by myself, I wanna enjoy my surroundings without a random nobody hectoring me. Sure, I wanna meet genuine and interesting locals, but as for scammers and creeps? No thanks.
Eventually I realized that I was walking in circles and needed directions. I pulled out my phone and fussed over google maps again. Then random French words drifted into my ear. Jumping, I almost dropped my pretty pink phone into the street.
A well-dressed man stood next to me. I’d say he was in his twenties or thirties, and looked presentable enough in his sweater and casual loafers. He smiled, and then blathered more French at me.
Sadly, my four years of high school French wasn’t very helpful. Seriously, my fluency is roughly the same as a two year-old toddler’s. “Erm, je ne parle pas francais,” I stuttered, more embarrassed at my atrocious grammar than anything else.
“Oh, so you speak English, then? Perfect!”
I knew I was in trouble.
“You see,” he resumed as he waved a hand and stepped closer. I tried not to wrinkle my nose at his cologne. “I need some money for my train. Do you happen to have any euros on you?”
At home, I live roughly twenty minutes from Philadelphia and Camden. The “do you have a spare dollar for the train?” scams are not too uncommon here, either. I hate to admit it, but since I’m all about honesty, here it goes: sometimes I just hand over a few cents in the hopes that I’ll be left alone.
Yet my frustration and desire to visit my bookshop resulted in an unwilling combination. “Nope, no money,” I said quickly.
He frowned and murmured a disbelieving “oookay” under his breath. He stared at me.
Suddenly I felt very uncomfortable. What if this guy lost his temper? What if he followed me and knew I lied? What if he had friends hiding in a nearby alley ready to mug my American behind? Sometimes, unpleasant thoughts flood my mind with no intention of stopping. It sucks, but I can’t control it.
Nodding, I walked as fast as I could down many streets, and I looked over my shoulder whenever I turned a corner. Finally, after rushing along five blocks or so, I chose to duck inside a swanky shopping mall. Apparently, I’d ended up in Saint Germain. Instead of scoping for Shakespeare and Company again, I decided to eat ham and cheese on baguette for lunch and buy a gift for my mother.
Moral of the Story?
If you really and truly wanna visit a site, such as a famous bookshop, then for goodness sake, do your research and look at a map prior to roaming around the streets.
This is one of those times that I regret not listening to every travel blogger on the internet. Don’t look at a map – paper or digital – in the streets and instead walk with a purpose. In retrospect, I could’ve simply strolled into one of the shops in the Latin Quarter and re-gathered my sense of direction instead of whipping out my expensive phone in a crowd. Travel 101, guys, Travel 101.
Also, I probably should’ve listened to the rule I learned in kindergarten: do not talk to strangers. Simple enough, huh? My butchered French wasn’t enough to keep me out of trouble.
Did I overact in this situation? Maybe a little bit. I seriously doubt this guy meant me harm. Looking back, he probably wanted a few euros and nothing else. However, I also think it’s important to listen to your instincts if you’re traveling alone.
I do wanna visit Shakespeare and Company, though. Next time. If you want to prepare better than me, then be sure to read guidebooks or a Paris Bucket List or something.
How do you deal with harassment from scammers and other creepers? Do you ignore the person? Do you, yourself, feel aggressive? Do these people legitimately worry you or not? Share your scammer stories in the comments!
Note: I’m not talking about beggars in this post! That’s an entirely different and socially-charged topic.