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Paris Scams:
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 Sacré-Coeur.

photoThe 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.

  • Before she 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.

  • The tourist, who fears retaliation by the string man and his friends if she says "no," pays the requested sum to avoid a confrontation.

photoSometimes 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.

Our advice:

  • 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 of Sacré-Coeur.

  • 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.

Related articles:
Basilica of Sacré-Coeur
Paris 'Gold Ring' Scam

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for About.com, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors (including Paris for Visitors) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

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