Subject: Re: safety in Paris
When I was in Paris, I had no problems with safety...but that may be because my boyfriend was with me. The biggest trouble we encountered was outside of the American Embassy. The sidewalks around the area were blocked off, and policemen were all around, but we had no idea where we were or why the barricades were up. Ignorant of all that, we crossed the street, passed many people dressed very nicely past a huge gated compound. The gates slammed shut as we passed with our huge backpacks on our backs and a policeman screamed at us to stop, pointing his machine gun at us. After questioning our destination in French, seeing our panicked expressions, and then asking us in English -- he not-so-kindly told us to turn around and take the Metro station in the opposite direction.

No arguments or questions from us. We turned around, walked past the now-shut gate, and crossed back to the other side of the street from whence we came. Another older policeman was standing against a barricade and we asked him if he spoke English. After receiving a friendly affirmative, Yes, we asked him what was going on. President Clinton from America is meeting Jacques Chirac at the American Embassy tonight over there. That would explain the heavy security and the threat we two teenage travelers with huge backpacks passing through looking all scruffy...

As for traveling as a single woman...any big city can be dangerous if you're unaware and setting yourself up to be a target. Don't let yourself be alone with a male...often, that may be taken as a signal that you want more than a friendly chat. Avoid direct eye contact as well. Two of my friends were accosted late at night in a Metro stop and had a very difficult time getting the guy to leave them alone. It never hurts to know phrases in French to let people think you know more French than they anticipated you knowing (and hopefully, will take you more seriously). Also, never go into a building with a strange man -- they (stupidly) did that and went into a closed bakery, were escorted upstairs, and mistaken for prostitutes. Luckily, they were able to somehow explain the situation in their limited French and the guy let them leave without further incident.

Of course, any of these suggestions would apply in any large city...I don't think (I don't know from personal experience from wide travels) that it's Parisian men in general that pose a greater risk than any others -- I encounted uncomfortable situations in Greece and was glad to have a group of girls or a guy with me at those times. Just keep your head up, be aware, and don't get singled out.

Have a great time!

Mandy Huffman Clemson, SC