String Men of Sacré-Coeur
ABOVE: "String men" wait for tourists by the
Montmartre carousel at the base of the stepe that lead up to the Basilica of
The Basilica of
Sacré-Coeur is Montmartre's leading tourist attraction, and it's probably
the most-visited church in Paris after the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.
Unfortunately, the steps leading up to the basilica are also a prime target for
the scam artists known as "string men," who prey on naÔve tourists and
those with slow reflexes.
Here's how the scam works:
A tourist (usually, but not always, female) enters the small fenced square below
Sacré-Coeur and proceeds toward the stairs that run up the hillside.
knows it, a "string man" has grabbed her wrist and encircled it with a homemade
bracelet of colored string.
The string man then demands payment.
who fears retaliation by the string man and his friends if she says "no," pays
the requested sum to avoid a confrontation.
the string men are more polite (they'll ask the visitor to hold a string before
they start braiding the bracelet), but the net result is the same:
a tourist who surrenders to extortion by a man who's holding a string attached
to her wrist.
How can you avoid the "string man" scam? Easy: Just keep your hands close to
your body as you pass the string men and politely say "Non, merci" if
they approach. Be courteous but firm, and the string man who's targeted you will
move on to another victim.
The string men may appear menacing, but they're con artists, not thugs. Don't
let their presence spoil your day or discourage you from visiting the Basilica
If you really want a string bracelet as a souvenir, you can easily get one free: Just
pick up strings that unhappy tourists have discarded on the steps leading up
to the basilica. (That's how we got our sample for the lower inset photo.)
Also watch out for the
"Gold Ring" Scam and the "Petition"
Scam, which occur in tourist areas throughout the city.