In a previous visit to Paris I was walking down Quai Voltaire one afternoon. I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on around me.
What was going on around me was that I had a small but rotund, brownish, vaguely Eastern European looking woman immediately in front of me. She was there in an eye blink, as if from nowhere, and was fluidly bending down to the pavement at my feet and picking something up. She showed me what it was, which was an apparently gold ring. It looked like a man’s yellow gold wedding band.
She said something, in French, but I don’t remember now what it was. It must have been pretty basic because whatever it was I understood it. The gist of it was she wanted me to take the ring. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to take the ring.
I had never seen anything like this in my, by then, several visits to Paris. I am not usually one to leap to conclusions, but I had the distinct feeling of a scam being initiated. The woman, I realized later, in the face of subsequent similar experiences, had done a masterful job of setting up the premise. Her physical presentation from the very beginning of appearing as if from nowhere and “finding” the ring had been totally believable.
I was so taken in that when she said something and looked more closely at the ring, said something else and then presented me with a view of the ring’s inside layer where “14k” was etched, I said “vous avez bon chance, Madame”. But she didn’t want any of the bon chance; she wanted me to take the ring.
The scam feeling grew greatly more intense.
I said or did something that got her on her way - away from me. As she left, I stayed where I was. When she was maybe fifty or sixty feet away I started walking again – walking behind her in the same direction.
Then it came to me, although I really thought that I was being more funny than realistic. What I concluded was based on remembered similarities to a scam that I had once seen documented on 60 Minutes.
As I started off, substantially behind the woman, I said to myself, “I’ve just had the ol’ pigeon drop scam tried on me”.
Just as I said that to myself, the woman turned and came back toward me at a fairly rapid, if deliberate, pace. “This is going to be interesting” I said out loud.
So she was back. And she said that the good luck was mine. She said that she had no use for such a ring but she could use some money for food. She said that since she had found the ring at my feet it was really mine anyway, and I should take it, only could she have some Euros – perhaps fifty - as a sort of finder’s fee?
It took real persistence to get rid of her and that god damned ring.
Contemplating the event later, I assumed that the woman must make her living as a professional pigeon dropper. I also assumed that the experience, for me, would be a once in a lifetime one.
So I was utterly amazed when a month later, when I was back in Paris and walking down Quai Voltaire, the same woman appeared – and you know the rest of the story.
Since then I have had the same gambit attempted on me at least once, and occasionally several times per trip. It has even been tried a few times by that same woman. But she has now been joined by quite a fleet of wannabes. I call them wannabes because they range in skill – compared to that woman of my first encounter – from not very good to ludicrous. As a manner of dealing with them, I adopted, long ago, what I call the pigeon drop demeanor. When one of them begins the shtick I keep doing what I am doing and ignore them completely. It amuses me to hear their yelps of dismay at being treated as invisible.
The disadvantage to one as curious as I of not going along with the game is that I don’t know how they play out the end game. But I am comfortable with the belief that I am probably not smart enough to outwit them if I let them get me in even the softest grasp of their clutches, so I remain ignorant of whatever the final outcome is.
This trip has been a bonanza for the pigeon drop. When I started today I didn’t have an official count, but I have been approached about ten or twelve times trip to date.
By today’s end the count was off the charts. I had seven contacts in three and a half hours. One of them was so bad that I broke my rules of engagement and said to him in loud American English “if I was as bad at this as you are I’d look for a job”. He said “sorry; sorry”. The last one, I looked at and laughed uproariously as I walked down the Quai toward the gold guys on Pont Alexandre.
In addition to the multiple encounters that I have had, I have, occasionally, passed by a victim who has been ensnared at least to the point of talking to the pigeon dropper. Today I was approaching three people who were standing at the left bank terminus of Pont Alexandre III. One was a tall middle aged woman standing so her profile was presented to me. I noticed that presentation because the expression of that profile was a look of major disquieted dismay. I couldn’t help noticing and wondering what might be the reason for her ill ease. The second person of the three was a rather tall brown man whom I might have taken for a flasher due to the overcoat in which he was encased. He had one arm on the shoulder of the third person - a man. The tall brown man was telling the man upon whom he was resting his arm something that I wasn’t able to hear. That other man who had that brown man’s arm around his shoulder was about the same height as the brown man and he was saying something that I couldn’t make out either.
But the woman spoke, in English, and it all became clear. “Why don’t you just give him back the ring?”
Apparently part of the end game is to get the ring into the hands of the mark.