I would say yes. But the truth is that this is a very hard question to answer.
What kind of safety?
Wikipedia defines safety as: “Safety is the state of being “safe” (from French sauf), the condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, educational or other types or consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable.”
That’s a whole list of things! Let’s take accidents for example.
Paris has a lot of traffic. It’s not like in many Southeast Asian countries mind you, but driving on the périphérique, especially at rush hour, is not for the faint of heart. Yours truly has personal experience with this after getting hit by a truck changing lanes. Though as most tourists don’t drive in Paris, traffic safety is probably not what you’re thinking about.
Looking at that list again there appear to be a number of types of safety that can be measured relatively well. The police has statistics on physical and traffic safety, the government has numbers on social safety and the banks will try to convince you of financial safety. But I’m sure those things are still not what you’re looking for when you read the title of this article: is it safe to travel to Paris?
Here’s the thing
The type of safety people are thinking of is “perceived safety”. A situation that one person perceives as safe can feel unsafe to another. This all depends on the age, personal or group status, gender, ethnicity, personal physique, time of day, being alone or not, travel experience and knowledge of the city, it’s history and culture.
You’re not going to answer the question… are you?
Of course I am. I just want you to know that there is no clear answer to the question and opinions may differ.
Although it may be difficult to measure this “safety”, that doesn’t mean people don’t try. People are people and they love numbers! And so do the people at Numbeo. According to themselves they are: “the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide” and they “provide current and timely information on world living conditions including cost of living, housing indicators, health care, traffic, crime and pollution”.
They keep an updated list of the Crime Index Rate per city (not all cities in the world are included). This may not sound like what we need. But the opposite of their crime index rate is the safety index rate. And that sounds a lot closer to a number we’re looking for!
Their algorythm for calculating these numbers is of course not ideal, but probably as close to anything else we’ll get. And they base it on: the crime level, increase/decrease in crime, daytime safety, night time safety, burglaries, robberies, car theft, car robbery, attacks, insults, racism, drug issues, propety crimes, violent crimes and corruption.
That is another list that involves some personal ideas and feelings when it comes to safety. But by crowd sourcing the data things should level out.
How does Paris score on the Safety Index Rate?
The safety index rate for Paris is, at writing, 44,84.
That doesn’t sound like much does it? To put things in perspective, Rome scores lower with 44,02 on the index and Rotterdam falls down to 42,72.Brussels scores only slightly higher with 47,15, Amsterdam goes up to 66,86 but Munich seems to knock it out of the park with a safety index rating of 85,67!
Having been to all those places myself, I can say that the order of safety does seem rather correct to me but the differences are far too big. I would agree that Paris feels somewhat less safe to me than Munich, but not necessarily less than Brussels.
Again, feelings are subjective and the Numbeo index rating does not aim to be a purely objective one. So make of it what you will.
What makes Paris unsafe?
Exactly the same as what makes any other city in the world unsafe. Crime is everywhere and goes from petty theft to white collar and everything in between. Stealing, muggnig, violence, drugs, … it happens everywhere. It’s simply more noticeable in larger populations. And with about 2,5 million people living in it, Paris is a large city. A group of people that large has a bit of everything, rich, poor, sane, crazy, locals, immigrants, employed, unemployed and all of those people have different backgrounds, religions and beliefs. It makes for one interesting meting pot out of which anything can rise up. Any kind of crime but just as well great art.
And isn’t that just the issue? You don’t know. You as a tourist don’t know the situation, people, areas, … This is enough to make anyone feel somewhat unsafe already. But not to worry. Although Parisians are seen as unfriendly I have never had any problem getting help from a local. As anywhere in the world, a friendly face and a smile will get you quite far!
Unfortunately not everyone has good intentions, so …
Things to look out for
- As with all cities, it’s usually more safe in the city center than in the suburbs (banlieus). If you want to check out the suburbs you should take a local with you or if you do it alone than you should do it in the daytime
- Use common sense and don’t wear expensive jewelry, easy to snatch bags, cameras or other devices. Especially at night and in places like the subway (métro)
- If you carry a bag, keep it closed and close to your body. Don’t let it hang on one shoulder as that makes it easier to snatch. Put the strap over your head so that it runs across your chest
- If you sit down next to the door on the subway don’t put your bag right next to the door. Thieves can take the bag at the last second when the doors close and you’ll be riding off while your bag is going another way
- Be wary of people in and around the subway. Especially the ones close to you. Try to avoid letting people pass through turnstiles with you (Paris métro uses a door mechanism). It’s often a ruse to pick your pockets in the confusion
- Don’t speak loudly on the subway. You’re making it rather clear that you are a tourist. Parisians tend to speak with a somewhat lower voice while commuting.
- Using a (tourist) map is of course another way of advertising yourself as a tourist. Figure out where to go before you actually use the subway. And when you are in the subway there are maps on the walls and the stops are indicated inside the subway cars just like anywhere else. You can glance at them to check where you are but try not to look like you’re studying them
- If it’s late and you don’t feel like taking the subway (it can feel rather daunting when you’re alone on the platform and a few strange characters show up) arrange for a taxi to pick you up. More expensive but you’ll have peace of mind
- Don’t bring things you don’t need. I have heard of many tourists losing their passports for example and one of the things I keep thinking is “why did you have your passport with you in the first place?”. Leave things in the hotel safe (or another safe place). They can’t steal what you don’t bring.
- Be wary around ATM machines. Check the machine you are using for skimming equipment BEFORE putting your card in and cover the numeric pad when entering your pin code. Take out the cash and put it away quickly
- For that matter, be wary of using your debit/credit card anywhere. If you need to give your card make sure you can see how they use it to avoid your card being copied and keep a list of places where you used the card
- Stay alert at big sightseeing spots where lots of people hang around. Obviously the Eiffel tower but also inside the Louvre! You wouldn’t think it but because children get into the museum for free a lot of “little thieves” roam the place. In fact the problem became so big that in 2013 the Louvre guards went on strike in order to try and get more staff to combat the issue.
I think this covers the basics and they all fall into the “common sense” category.
There two special ruses to look out for in Paris. Perhaps they are used somewhere else too, but I know from personal experience that they are being used in Paris.
- “Sign the petition”
You know those people with clipboards, coming up to you in the street and start chatting you up, trying to convince you to sign up, usually for a good cause. Obviously Paris has them too. And though a lot of them are actually for a good cause this scheme is being abused. Mostly younger women and men. If you sign up the money will never reach the advertised good cause. Instead it will be used for illegal purposes. If the person with the clipboard is not at least wearing a jacket or t-shirt with the logo of said organisation, there’s a high chance you’re getting tricked. Keep walking, wave them away or pretend you don’t speak English (or French for that matter).
Two options here – ether someone “finds” a ring on the ground and asks you if it is your ring. You will probably say it is not. The person “finding” the ring comments on the ring, mentioning it’s beauty and quality and whatnot. Since it’s not your ring and the finder doesn’t need it or can’t return it (no inscriptions on the ring) the finder will offer it to you for a good price. Don’t be fooled, any price is too high as it’s just a cheap fake ring.
The second option is similar but the ring is offered to you for good luck. If you put the ring on your finger to try it on the finder will accuse you of stealing it.
In short: don’t accept jewelry from strangers! Just keep walking 🙂
If you are a victim of any of those or other crimes, do go to the police to report the crime. You may not ever see your stuff again but at least the future statistics will reflect a more accurate crime incidents number 😉 If you do not like to take a trip to the police station or if you don’t have the time you can file an online complaint.
Je suis Charlie
Of course this article could not be written without mentioning the terrorist attacks. I won’t write about the attacks themselves. This is not the place for that and unless you’ve been living under a rather large rock lately you will have heard about it through just about any and every media channel.
The relation to this article is safety. Do the recent attacks make Paris less safe to visit? One could argue that it makes Paris more safe to visit now in the post-attack phase as everyone and every force is on high alert. This can’t always be the case and after enough time has passed everything will be back to how things were before.
Aside from the Safety Index Rate there is the Global Terrorism Index by the Institude for Economics and Peace. You can download the 2014 report here.
Click to go to an interactive global terrorism map
This index lists France at number 56 out of 124 countries with a score of 2.76.
Terrorist attacks have happened in far more cities than most people are aware of. But we only remember the big ones, or more correctly, the ones most talked about in the media. Paris just had it’s own terrorist attacks and you may ask if it’s less safe now. You could also ask if New York (9/11, 2001), London (bombings, 2005) or Boston (marathon, 2013) are less safe. in fact you could ask that question about all the 31 places where terrorist attacks happened in 2014. 31 is a lot more than we know of, simply because most of them do not happen in the Western world. And those are the ones people were bothered to list on Wikipedia. The Global Terrorism Index 2014 report states that in 2014 there were 2.491 attacks and that 80% of all terrorisk attacks happen in just 5 countries.
What’s important to remember is that terrorist attacks are carried out by terrorists. These days many people are quick to say it’s muslims who are the terrorists. But just like the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t represent all white or catholic people, Islamic terrorists do not represent all Arabs or Muslims. Terrorists abuse their religion as an excuse to murder others in order to force their ideas onto the world.
You may or may not have seen this image going around, but it sums it up nicely :
By far most people, of any faith, are just normal people trying to make a life. Don’t let the small minority who gets the attention in a negative way fool you into thinking otherwise 🙂
My opinion has remained the same. Paris is, like any other regular city and if you travel there with some common sense, a safe destination. There is no reason why you should not go there. The food is good, the atmosphere is romantic, the people helpful (well, most of them anyway 😉 ) and there are a lot of cultural and sightseeing activities! You won’t be bored or regret your visit to this beautiful city and go home with fond memories 🙂
By far the worst thing about Paris … are the prices 😉