Sliding doors: Beware the tiny thieves on the Paris Metro

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.

Sliding doors: Beware the tiny thieves on the Paris Metro
Photo: Chris Sampson/Flickr
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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5 ways the Paris Metro catches out unwary tourists

As capital city public transport systems go, the Paris Metro is a good one - relatively cheap, it's also mostly efficient and quick. It does, however, have several quirks that can catch out unwary travellers and lead to fines from the notoriously unsympathetic transport police.

5 ways the Paris Metro catches out unwary tourists
Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

While the Paris Metro map is pretty easy to follow, some of the rules of the system are not so obvious. Agents of operator RATP regularly patrol the network checking tickets and if you are caught in contravention of the rules no amount of crying, playing the dumb foreigner or offering to buy them a beer will spare you from a fine.

Here are the some of the things that regularly catch out newcomers and visitors to the city.

Paris airports are not in Paris

You might naturally assume that Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly airports are in Paris. But you would be wrong.

Technically both airports are in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France and if you’re travelling on the Metro or RER train network this is important, because it affects the kind of ticket you buy. A single ticket for the city, or an all-day pass for Paris, is not valid for a trip out to either airport.

While a city pass will allow you to enter the network inside Paris, it won’t be valid to exit at the airport and transport police frequently patrol there to catch out unwary tourists. Travelling without a ticket valid for your entire journey nets you a fine of €35 per passenger.

Instead you need to either buy a single ticket directly to the airport or a day pass for the whole Île-de-France region.

READ ALSO The strange rules of the Metro you should know about


Buying a ticket is not enough 

But just buying your ticket is not enough, you also need to validate it.

Tickets can be bought either in paper form from machines in the station, or in digital format on passes such as the Navigo pass or phone apps such as ViaNavigo. However you buy your tickets, every time you enter the Metro, bus, tram or RER network you need to validate your ticket (in order to stop people using a single ticket for multiple journeys on multiple days).

For paper tickets this means passing it through the machines on entry, while passes and phones can be swiped.

If you see an open gateway next to a long queue for the turnstiles it can be tempting to just walk through, but this means that you are not in possession of a validated ticket for your journey, and if you are stopped you will be fined. 

One of the very few exceptions to the ticket rule is for people who have no hands (either through amputation or medical condition) – provided they are not accompanied by a carer.

Getting lost is forbidden (sort of)

Some of the larger Metro stations like Bastille, Hôtel de Ville and (the daddy of them all) Châtelet can be confusing for newcomers, with their vast warren of tunnels. But as well as signs for the exit, keep a sharp eye out for one-way signs or arrows. Many of the tunnels have a designated direction and walking the other way is actually illegal.

Several tourists have fallen foul of this rule and been slapped with a fine by RATP agents, along with a pregnant French woman who was trying to take a short cut out of Bastille (those ticket agents really can be pitiless).

RATP says this is a safety issue and one-way systems ensure the flow of movement, and to be fair at rush hour you do need everyone to be moving in the same direction to avoid jams.

Follow the rabbit’s advice

Speaking of safety, once the train is about to leave the station a long beep indicates that the doors are about to close. Technically it is forbidden to enter the train once the beep starts, but this rule is widely ignored and many people seem to enjoy taking a balletic leap into the carriage at the last possible moment.

Once the doors actually begin to close, though, don’t be tempted to try and hold them open – the doors will carry on closing and will trap your hand/skirt/baby buggy.

That’s where a rabbit named Serge comes in.


The door of every Metro carriage has a warning sign in which a cartoon rabbit warns you either Ne monte pas après le signal sonore, tu risques de te faire très mal (Do not enter after the signal sounds, you risk being badly hurt) or, in older versions of the sign, Attention, ne mets pas tes mains sur la porte, tu risques de te faire pincer très fort (Beware, do not put your hands between the doors, you risk a very hard pinch).

Created more than 40 years ago, Serge le Lapin is now a design icon and even has his own Twitter account.

Keep a close eye on your pockets 

And it’s not just the Metro police that you need to look out for – unfortunately some of your fellow passengers may be a problem.

While it is a relatively safe city, Paris does have a serious problem with pickpockets and they frequently congregate on Metro trains or in stations, so keep an eye on your pockets and bags. For women, sexual harassment and groping is unfortunately not an uncommon experience, particularly on packed trains.

READ ALSO 14 tips to avoid pickpockets and petty thieves

It’s not uncommon to also see beggars on public transport. They are very rarely aggressive and whether you give them money or not is entirely up to you.

Anyone playing music in Metro carriages or on the platform is an unlicensed busker, but the transport network does have a system of official buskers who play in the tunnels. They have to audition to get a spot and you can hear some really good music this way. 

And keep it secular

Unfortunately it’s no use asking for divine guidance to help understand the system, praying is actually illegal on the public transport network.