One of the most prevalent scams on the streets of Paris, which, unlike the ring droppers, continues unabated, and has been for as long as I have been coming here, is the “flock of Roma with petitions to sign” gambit.
They have been here since I first came here in 1999.
Presumably they may always have been here, maybe back to the Revolution or before.
But who knows.
Anyway, they are here now.
The gambit is for a group of varying maximum numbers of young Roma, all brandishing what appear to be clip boards, and all waving pens, giving the visual appearance of nice young people out trying to get people to sign a petition.
Since I have a semblance of political sophistication I never bought into the “signing the petition” premise.
But I had no idea what the real deal might be.
Back when I first encountered this phenomenon, I had no idea what the real deal was, but I knew it wasn’t petition signing.
I always wondered what it was that they were about, but I knew that it was not good.
So I never stopped or talked to them.
But there was another level of Roma avoidance that took time and personal discipline to get beyond.
They ALWAYS start a transaction by shouting at their mark “do you speak English”?
It took me a couple of years not to jerk to attention when I heard that.
But I don’t any more.
I just keep walking and that seems to keep me out of the scam most of the time.
What the scam is is – I only found this out a couple of years ago - when the mark stops to talk to the “nice young people with petitions” the flock descends upon him or her while he or she is talking to the lead signature gatherer and the flock picks the mark’s pocket.
Today I was walking down the left bank of La Seine.
I saw a flock heading my way and prepared myself for my denial of English demeanor.
“No problem”, I said to myself.
“Not so fast”, fate shot back.
As I broached the flock and kept to the right, brushing the wall of the quay, I heard the “do you …” and kept going.
But they surrounded me and a fat young woman took the lead.
I gave her a left swing of my arm which got her out of my way as I kept going forward.
“Get the fuck away from me”, I spit at her.
“Fuck you too” she replied as she floated left and back.
As this was occurring I was looking directly at her face; I always do that with enemies.
What I noticed during the cosmically short period of eye contact took a few microseconds to register.
She was staring with a laser intensity at my left chest area.
It took only a minute to realize why that might have been.
My Hugo Boss Paris coat has an external pocket with a vertical zipper.
That’s where I keep my iPhone.
That thought flashed; I looked; the zipper was open ( I never leave it unzipped); I felt; the phone was still there.
Apparently my near physical violence saved me my phone.
By the way, I really don’t begrudge these young Roma their way of making a living.
Everybody has to feed their kids.
I just don’t choose to be among the feeders.