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Staying safe and avoiding trouble in France

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Staying safe in France

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Keeping out of harm's way in France 

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UPDATE April 2017 - Is it still safe to visit France or Paris after the terror attacks of 2015 and 2016 ?  Yes. France is as safe as any other country, and safer than most. And Paris remains a generally safe city, in spite of the murderous terror attacks of 2015
  Subsequent events have shown us – as if we did not know already – that terrorism strikes blindly: anywhere.  London - Brussels - Germany - Orlando - Stockholm. It is certainly not limited to one country or one city.   .

  But fortunately, terrorist attacks are not common occurrrences. If they were, the world's media would not make them into worldwide headline news...... any more than they do for the 2800 people who die in traffic accidents in the USA each month , or around 300 who die in traffic accidents in France each month.
  If we put these figures another way, the risk of getting killed in a traffic accident in the USA is about 50 times greater than getting killed in a terrorist attack in France.
  That doesn't make the terror attacks any less barbarous,  nor the grief for those who died or were maimed any less real. But it is a point worth reflecting on.

Check out Is France safe in 2017 ?

To be honest, France is a fairly safe country.

Yet like any country, it has its share of crooks, pickpockets, potential terrorists, thieves and even mere opportunists, who can turn a traveller's dream into a nightmare. While anyone anywhere could be the victim of an accident or a terror attack, this is highly unlikely to happen to a tourist, anywhere.  Most tales of woe and distress scattered across travel forums on the Internet relate to less serious, but nonetheless unpleasant experiences such as losing your luggage, having your passport stolen, getting mugged, or some other mishap.
    There was the story of the tourists who left their hire car by the seaside in Nice, only to come back and find that while they were down having a quick dip in the Med, some unscrupulous scoundrel had broken a window and stolen their passports, valuables, cameras, laptops and some of their luggage – without so much as a by-your-leave.
      In cases like this, one's reaction must surely be mixed,  between compassion for the victims who lost a lot of stuff, and disbelief at their stupidity for - presumably - leaving their bags, documents, cameras and valuables visible in an unattended car parked in a very public location in a Mediterranean city.
     In France, as in virtually any other country worldwide, people who are careless or stupid with their belongings, and notably with their valuables, are liable to get them nicked, stolen or otherwise removed by thieves pickpockets or con-men. Thieves and pickpockets are particularly attracted to foreign-looking tourists, notably wealthy-looking tourists, since there is a good chance that they will be carrying money, credit cards, passports or other items of value that can be sold on the black-market.

How to avoid trouble

So to avoid trouble, it is a good idea to pay attention to a few elementary truths and rules.

1. Cities with lots of wealth and lots of wealthy tourists also attract thieves and criminals. So the places in France where tourists should be most on their guard and take most precautions are Paris and Nice .  Both of these cities have seen a rise in acts of theft and aggression against tourists in recent years, notably on account of the development of organised crime networks from Eastern Europe.
    Watch out for instance for loitering groups of young teenage girls in the Paris metro. While the vast majority of people ride the metro every day with not least worry or hassle, there are organised bands of mostly east European pickpockets and snatch and grab thieves at work in Paris, looking out for unwary tourists. So keep your valuables in inside pockets, and keep a firm grip on your bags if riding the Paris metro, or even just waiting in line for a taxi.

2. Unattended cars can also attract the attention of thieves, particularly up-market models and cars left with interesting-looking items visible to the eyes of passing prowlers. This is particularly true in cities and at night. Once again, in most places in France most people have absolutely no problem; but drivers who unintentionally invite trouble by leaving valuables or documents in full view of any passer-by may pay the price of their thoughtlessness.
   In many regions of France, particularly in small towns and villages , you could leave a Rolls-Royce or a BMW on the street for a week, with the keys in the ignition, and it would still be there when you got back; but in any city, motorway service area, tourist trap or seaside resort, a lot more care is advisable. Don't leave passports and money in an unattended car, even if it is locked; and stash "interesting" looking items out of harm's way in the boot (or the trunk as Americans say), or in a locked glove compartment.

3. Cash, credit cards and passports. Keep your cash, credit cards and passports with you at all times, and do not carry unnecessary amounts of cash with you. Credit cards can be used virtually everywhere in France, so there is little need for tourists to carry rolls of banknotes on their person. Tourists brandishing 100 Euro notes (let alone anything bigger than that) can attract attention. Outside of hotspots of opulence such as Saint Tropez, Cannes and some parts of Paris, 100 Euro bills are relatively rare – and 200 € or 500 € bills are virtually unknown.

4. Mobile phones, laptops, iPods, USB sticks, expensive cameras, Rolex watches,etc.  Don't flaunt your wealth or your trendiest and valuable possessions. Smartphones in particular seem to have a magnetic attraction for all kinds of pickpockets and even just ordinary teenagers who, as Oscar Wilde once put it, "can resist anything except temptation".  As regards laptop computers and USB sticks, make sure that your operating system (Windows or whatever) is protected by a password. This won't stop anyone from stealing your computer, it won't prevent you accidentally leaving it on a train or in a hotel.... but it will mean that whoever stole it or acquires it will find it very hard to access your information and steal your passwords. For anyone except a seriously motivated computer hacker or expert, there is no way of entering into the files on a password-protected laptop, so in most cases the thief will simply reformat the hard disk and erase all your files.

5. Travel tickets / printouts. As far as is possible, leave these in your hotel room, in a suitcase or safe, unless you need them. If touring round, keep them either on your person, or else in the locked glove compartment of your car or other secret hideaway.

6. Single travellers  Travelling alone in France is generally not a risky business; millions of people travel alone in France every year, for business or for pleasure. However female travellers should take the elementary precautions that they would take anywhere outside their own home, such as not using public transport late at night, and not venturing alone into urban areas of doubtful reputation.

Obey these few basic principles, which are really just plain common sense, and it is most likely that your holiday in France will go off without any trouble. Disregard them, and you will be courting problems that could ruin your trip.

If, in spite of taking all the sensible precautions, you are the victim of theft or aggression, you should report this immediately to the nearest gendarmerie. In the event of theft of passports or identity papers, contact the nearest consulate for your country. In the event of loss of travel tickets, contact your airline or other transport company.
    One useful tip to finish with: carry colour photocopies of the essential pages of your main documents and travel papers, and keep these well separate from the originals. If you do need to declare a loss or theft, having copies of the missing documents can make life a bit easier.

Minimise the risk

Rather than visit Paris or France's main tourist sites, visit France's small towns, its regions, or its out of the way areas.  As in any country, criminality and acts of terror tend to be concentrated in places that are full of people, the cities and main lines of communication between them.  France has just a handful of popular big cities; most of France, and indeed the majority of the interesting things and places to visit, are away from the cities


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