Sliding doors: Beware the tiny thieves on the Paris Metro

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Sliding doors: Beware the tiny thieves on the Paris Metro
Photo: Chris Sampson/Flickr

Never mind the adult pickpockets on the Paris Metro, it's the pint-sized artful dodgers you've got to keep an eye out for, writes The Local's Evie Burrows-Taylor who was the victim of theft on Wednesday.


Everyone tells you that when you're travelling on the Paris Metro it's wise to keep your eyes out for pickpockets and thieves.
But in practice, when you're commuting every day, using your smartphone to listen to podcasts and check your emails on your way to and from the office, it's the kind of warning that goes in one ear and out the other. As it does for most other commuters with whom I share the Metro.
And with smartphones increasingly becoming akin to an extra limb especially during moments of boredom, rush hours are full of people distracting themselves by busily clicking between different apps. 
However as I found out this rainy, spring morning, it's a warning that really should be heeded.
As I was sitting on the flip down seats by the doors, scrolling through emails with my earphones in, a young boy got on the train at the same time as a father and daughter. 
I hardly paid any attention and carried on scrolling.
Photo: Thomas Ulrich/Flickr
But just as the long noise sounded that warns people that the Metro doors were about to close, quick as a flash, the boy who could have only been about eight, ripped the phone from my hands. 
Running to the doors, he just managed to squeeze himself through them as they closed on him before he bolted down the platform. 
After making an embarrassingly high pitched noise in shock, I jumped up just in time to catch a glimpse of a group of men who were waiting for him at the end of the platform. 
I sat down in my seat again and there were a lot of glances in my direction from other passengers. The guy who had been sitting next to me the whole time was almost as outraged as I was. So at least I had a companion in my state of shock. 
"Salle gosse!" he said, meaning "Brat!" while shaking his head. 
He then told me that he'd seen the exact same thing happen before at the same Metro station, told me to report it to the police and asked if I was ok.
Obviously nowadays having your phone stolen is a much (much) bigger pain than it would have been pre-iPhones. 
Having one stolen or losing one means the inevitable worry over online banking, photos, messages and contacts, among many other things. 
If anything having your phone stolen reminds you of the perils of relying so much on one tiny device to do almost everything. 
Then there's the strange mix of embarrassment, frustration and the horrible feeling that your personal space has been invaded that comes with every theft of belongings. 
Photo: El Pocho la pantera/Flickr
Once I was thinking properly, I got on the phone to my service provider, deactivated the sim and ran off to my bank, in the pouring rain, to make sure that there would be no chance of accessing my accounts. 
Now, it's important to remember that I have taken the same route to work every day in Paris for almost a year and not experienced anything like this before. I also haven't seen it happen to anyone else. 
But for anyone living in Paris or who knows the city, it probably won't come as too much of a shock to know that all of this happened at Barbès-Rochechouart, where the 9th, 10th, and 18th arrondissements all meet. Barbès is one of Paris' more down and out areas which is known for its pickpockets. 
Like the rest of the capital it's being gentrified, albeit at a slower pace than elsewhere. But there are still petty criminals on the streets and in fact this wasn't the first time I'd come up against phone thieves in the same area. 
Just last year I had come out of the Metro and was on my way to a restaurant when a group of guys stood in front of me to block my path while someone put his hand in my pocket and tried to slide my phone out without my noticing.
That time, my hand was covering my phone, and I managed to shout something insulting in his direction before running away. 
Now I'm fairly careful, keeping my phone in a handbag slung across my shoulders to protect myself against pickpockets but this time, I would never have suspected this little boy. Even if I had properly noticed him in my early morning haze. 
And obviously that's the trick. If a grown man had been standing that close to me, I would have moved or at least put my phone away. 
Really I should have been alert to the fact that there are young children in Paris who are used by adults to steal phones, handbags and other valuables often from unsuspecting tourists or foreigners. 
But instead this little artful dodger completely fooled me and be aware, he might fool you next time.
Perhaps think about keeping your phone in your bag or your pocket, especially when the Metro is stationary. And it also might be wise to keep an eye out for anyone acting suspiciously, young or old, who might lurk next to the Metro doors ready to snatch and run.
Or just don't have a smartphone.
But don't be paranoid. Although there are many stories like mine, the Metro is generally a safe place.


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