Touring Paris is a challenge, the streets are so clogged with cars that they often seem as if they were arranged by some unseen disaster instead of by the lines and markings on the roads. At intersections, cars point at each other at precarious angles that make no sense at all- honking and maneuvering inch by painful inch down the impressive avenues. On foot, a person can often out pace the traffic but when the cars are on the move they move incredibly fast. Pedestrians should take extra care crossing streets- the light changes, and unlike most cities where the crowds flow out onto the street right away- Parisians hesitate a moment, just to be certain the cars will actually stop. The areas around the main tourist destinations are the worst for this. At the entrance to every museum, every park and garden, every historic site, there are the hangers on; the street venders, the pick-pockets, the beggars, the hustlers, and the con artists. There seems to be no shortage of people who came to Paris with a romantic vision of leading and artistic, intellectual, life, only to find themselves hustling in the streets for their next meal. Not even Paris' famous cathedrals are spared- Notre Dame is one of the most likely places to have one's wallet lifted.
Waiting for my tour to begin outside the Musee d'Orsay, I experienced a fun and creative con first hand- a woman suddenly appeared in front of me, bending down, she picked up a gold wedding band laying on the sidewalk. My first impression was one of surprise- I would normally have noticed something like that immediately. She turned to me smiling, "Did you drop this?", I said no, and she smiled again, "Please, Can you read the inside? Is there a mark? My English is not good." She spoke with a thick accent, the woman was eastern European, short, stout, with thick arms and hands, a wide face, densely curly brown hair, and looked as if she was in her late twenties. I took the ring from her and examined it closely; a hallmark reading "18K" adorned the inside along with a second that was a maker's mark. "It looks like this is your lucky day", I said cheerfully, "It says here that this is gold", and handed the ring back to her. She smiled a big broad toothy smile and attempted to put the ring onto a stubby finger. After several tries, the smile faded, "It's too small for me, I cannot wear it." She handed it back- "A gift for you, today is your lucky day." Then she disappeared into the crowd.
you need this ring much more than I do, why don't you go and sell it and keep the money for yourself?
Not certain what to expect next, I placed the ring in my pocket. The woman suddenly reappeared, "Please madame, I give you this ring, you give me a little money for it"? I told her "no". Knowing now for certain that the con was on, "Why don't you just keep it then", I said and placed it back in her hand. "No, no, no, she pleaded, it is a gift- only a small bit of money please"? "I could not", I told her, you need this ring much more than I do, why don't you go and sell it and keep the money for yourself?". The pleading went on for another minute or two until I finally placed the ring on the ground in front of me whereby the woman scooped it up while disappearing into the crowd again. I could tell by the sound of the metal when it hit the pavement, and the feel, that it was actually just brass with a light gold plate. The edges were sharp and it showed no signs of wear like a real wedding ring would have. I continued to watch the crowd for a while longer and actually saw the con in action two more times- all the same type of young woman skillfully rolling a gold ring over to someone standing or sitting alone- waiting for the ring to be noticed, much like a fishing lure. I saw someone else attempt to pick up the gold ring that had suddenly and magically appeared; the con was on once again.
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