5 Tourist Scams to Avoid in Paris

Being a stranger in a foreign country is one of the most vulnerable positions you can put yourself in. And because of this, the top travel destinations in the world are always accompanied by people looking to take advantage of tourists.

Paris is a traveler’s dream, which also makes it the perfect hunting grounds for scammers. But don’t let this deter you! I will explain what they are and how to avoid them. These are the most common tourist traps in Paris and how to avoid them.

Flowers for the pretty lady?

HOW IT WORKS

Most commonly this scam takes place in the street or while at a restaurant (especially in the Latin Quarter). You will be sitting down at a restaurant and a man carrying flowers will walk through the tables.

If you are a female he will approach you and offer you a rose, saying something like “flower for the pretty lady!” It is seemingly given as a gift but as soon as you take the flower he will demand payment.  If you try to give the flower back, he will refuse and continue to berate you until you pay him.

If you are a male with a female companion, he will approach you and attempt to guilt you into buying a flower for her.

Some of these people are genuinely just selling flowers, making them harmless street vendors. It’s the ones who are pretending to gift you a flower *for free* with the intention of demanding payment after that you need to look out for.

HOW TO AVOID IT

Not making eye contact is the easiest way, although that may not stop them from approaching you. Therefore saying “Non, merci” as firmly and clearly as you can is your best bet!

Either way, never accept anything that is being given to you for free in Paris, as it is never free.

Adorable Bunnies

HOW IT WORKS

This isn’t a scam and is frankly one of my favorite things in Paris, but it is something to be aware of as a tourist. The way it works is you will be walking down the street and see a man sitting on the sidewalk with a couple of adorable bunnies and a change collection tray. Sounds like a good time, right?

Exactly. It totally is a good time!

The only catch is, if you reach down to pet one of those fluffers (which you definitely will, because look at them!), he will ask you for a small donation afterwards. I usually give him a few coins, which is always gratefully received.

HOW TO AVOID IT

This one’s easy to avoid: see an adorable baby bunny, don’t pet it.

But why would you want to?!

Charity/Petition Signature

HOW IT WORKS

These people are the most infuriating, aggressive humans I have ever encountered in my life.

They will be stationed around high traffic spots, like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, and there will be a handful of them at once in one area. A person will walk up to you and say – no, scream – “SPEAK ENGLISH?” at you. If you reply in English, which you likely will if English is your first language, they begin to start pitching you on a charity for the Deaf Association of Yadda Yadda and explain why they need your signature…. the association is not real and this is just a way to distract you!

While she is speaking to you she will hold her clipboard at about chest height, covering your bag or pockets, while a second person comes around and takes your belongings right under your nose.

Now I’ve never gotten this far with them because I had heard about the scam before my first trip to Paris, so whenever they approached me (which was about 15 times during my first trip, and at least 30 on my second) I always replied “Non, je parle pas anglais!” which was enough to send them packing.

I want to warn that these people are extremely aggressive and will get right in your face asking if you speak English.

HOW TO AVOID IT

The best way to avoid this is to learn how to say “non, je parle pas anglais” as they are only targeting English speakers.

Whenever I was caught off guard and accidentally answered in English with “no thank you,” they continued to hound me, one time even blocking my way so I had to physically hip-check the lady to get away.

Please please please be cautious of these people!

Friendship Bracelet

HOW IT WORKS

This one makes me mad because I almost fell for it. Here’s how it happened for me.

I was walking up the steps to the Sacre-Coeur when a man approached me and started to engage me in conversation. He asked me if I was visiting Paris, so I politely answered that yes I was. He seemed genuinely friendly and excited that I was visiting his city and said he wanted to give me a gift as a sign of friendship between our two countries – something to remember Paris by.

As a single female traveler, my spidey-senses are always on high alert but this guy seemed genuine and I saw no harm in accepting a token of friendship… that is, util he grabbed my hand without asking and started tying string around my wrist.

This is how the conversation played out.

Me: “Will this cost money?”

Him: “No!”

Me: “Okay, because I genuinely don’t have any money to spend, so don’t ask me for money after this.”

Him: “No, it’s a gift! A gift of friendship!”

*A minute later once he’s finished his ugly string braid*

Him: “Okay now you pay me for the bracelet”

Me: “You just told me it wouldn’t cost money! I told you I don’t have any money I can spend!”

Him: “I know, I meant you don’t have to give me a lot of money. That’s okay girl. Just give me like a euro or two, whatever you have”

Me, opening my wallet like an idiot to look for a euro: “I literally don’t have a euro coin, I’m sorry!”

Him, rudely looking into my wallet and seeing the 20 euro note I have in there, the 20 euro that is supposed to last me breakfast, lunch, and dinner on my last day in Paris because I don’t know how to budget: “You have money! Look at that 20 euro! Give me that!”

Me: “DON’T LOOK IN MY WALLET! It’s none of your business, I told you I can’t spend money before you started this! And you told me it was free! You lied!”

Him: “You lied to me, you have money! Give me back my bracelet!”

Me: “FINE TAKE YOUR UGLY BRACELET I DON’T EVEN WANT IT!

From what I understand, the exchange goes almost exactly like this every time. My second time in Paris we had men walk right up to us and start grabbing our wrists without any sort of conversation first.

They can be extremely aggressive, so please be cautious!

HOW TO AVOID IT

Don’t make eye contact. Re-route your direction to avoid them if you see them coming. Firmly, loudly, and clearly say “No, thank you,” and keep your wrists guarded.

Free Portrait

Before I explain how I fell for this one, I need you to put yourself in my shoes:

You’re a naive American girl in the city of your dreams for the very first time. You’re by yourself.  It’s your second day in Paris and you’re on cloud 9. You take the train to Notre-Dame and cry happy tears when you see it. You’ve never been so excited to speak French in your life, so every man who approaches you speaking French is welcomed without question. A charming Frenchman approaches you, telling you in French how pretty your blonde hair is *blush*, and then how parfait your French is *double blush*.  He then asks you if he can draw you, for free, because you are just so lovely.

Maybe now that I’ve painted that picture you can take pity on me and my stupidity.

HOW IT WORKS

So the man approached me, complimented me, and lead me to believe he wanted to draw me “completely for free, because I am soooo beautiful,” to which I of course said “Why yes, kind man! You can draw me! Tell me again how pretty I am.”

So I sat and let him draw me. When finished he showed me the end result and asked me if I liked it. And honestly? I didn’t… it didn’t look like me and it was kind of juvenile in structure, but I was being polite so I told him I did. I’m not going to tell the nice man that his drawing is garbage!

WELL. He replies “GREAT! Well, since you like it, if you’d like to give me some money to show your gratitude that would be appreciated. But only if you like it. Which you do because you said you do!”

So in my head I’m thinking “son of a B Amanda, you let yourself fall into a tourist trap. You’re going to have to pay this man!” So I reach into my purse and take out 5 euro and he stops me and says “mademoiselle, I normally charge 100 euro for a portrait… just so you know….that’s my standard rate. But give me whatever you think is fair…. but that’s what I usually charge…. to give you an idea.”

Ugh what a line! What I think is fair is not paying you at all since you tricked me! I ended up giving him 20 euro and didn’t even keep the picture. But it made for a great photo opp!

Moral of the story:

Don’t let anyone on the street do any service for you, even if they say it’s free or a gift. It’s never free.

Voilà, the most common tourist traps I’ve encountered in Paris. The most important thing when visiting the City of Light is to be aware of your surroundings and never accept anything that appears to be free. Use your best judgment and if something seems a little fishy or too good to be true, go with your gut!

In my opinion, most people in Paris are kind and welcoming. It’s a small few who have malicious intentions, not the majority. 🙂

What other tourist scams have you encountered in your travels?

You may also like

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *