23 Jan 2014

The shameful disappointment of Sacré-Cœur

I felt cheated out of my opportunity to visit Sacré-Cœur during my visit this week. As I made my way up the stairs from the carousel I was accosted by the infamous ‘string men’.

In brief, string men are con artists who approach unsuspecting passers by, tightly tie a coloured string around their wrist or finger and then demand payment, usually 20€.

Photo credit: Europe for Visitors website

Being the middle of the day on a Wednesday in January (when most of the residents of Paris are in work and few tourists are seen) I was almost the only person in the grounds leading up to Sacré-Cœur other than a group of about 10 of the string men.

One of the men approached me with a beaming smile, asking if I spoke English. I ignored him and kept walking. He became agitated and asked why I was walking away from him but didn’t follow.

One of his counterparts then approached me asking where I was from (in English). I kept walking, hands in my pockets, and within seconds I was surrounded by three of them.

They said their string bracelets were for the church and I had to take (buy) one. I said: ‘Non, merci’ several times, and then explained: ‘Je veux rien de toi’ (I want nothing from you).

At that point one of them aggressively tried to pull my hand out of my pocket. I realise that these are not violent people and therefore my safety was not at risk, but nevertheless I am not a small chap and it’s pretty ballsy to grab me in broad daylight.

I turned to the bloke and scowled: ‘Retire ta main maintenant’ (Remove your hand now).

They all left me alone at this point but I was so put off from the experience I had no further desire to climb the stairs to the church.

I’ve visited Paris perhaps 12 times previously and have never experienced this level of aggression with the scammers/con artists etc. I guess business is slow at this time of year.

I can imagine someone unprepared would feel extremely intimidated and vulnerable in this situation yet the authorities seem to turn a blind eye to this behaviour. What a shameful disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong—Paris is an extremely safe city and one of my favourite big cities to visit but I was really taken aback by what happened and felt it spoiled the experience of Sacré-Cœur on this occasion. I just wanted to take a few photos from the viewpoint at the top after all.