I've only felt unsafe in Paris once. It was a bit worrying to discover that the metro closes relatively early: 12:30 on weeknights, and 1:30 on weekends, but honestly it's never been a problem. You can walk for miles in most parts of the city at any odd hour of the night, and no one will bother you.
Ironically, the one time I felt like I was in danger was at noon. Last Saturday I woke up early to check out the marché aux puces (literally flea market) in the village of St.Ouen, just north of Paris. The North suburbs of Paris are actually pretty dangerous, but Ina and Jeffery Garten frequent this market to look for chic antiques, so clearly it must be totally gentrified and pleasant and smell like lilacs from Ina's favorite gay florist in the Hamptons.
The market itself was very interesting, once you got past the people selling Nikes that fell off the back of a truck, and a whole lotta junk, you could find covered markets selling everything from vintage Chanel jewelry and sweet first-editions, to modern art and antique furniture rummaged from estate sales and royal palaces. I spent a few hours wandering around, and decided to head back towards the center of the city. The market was closest to the final metro stop on one of the lines closed for renovation, so they had a bus shuttle service to Barbes-Rochechouart, a metro stop in the 9th arrondissement. Once I got off the bus I was submerged into a huge mob of people, so I guarded my purse and headed towards the metro station entrance. Once inside, I was confronted with perhaps 12 young men, probably my age, all waving metro tickets in my face. "They're free!" they said. Obviously not, why would you be standing around a metro station giving away free tickets when you could be out making money? Opportunity costs, people. I reached in my purse to get my own metro ticket ready so I could just walk through them with a purpose and as little eye contact as possible, when I totally panicked. The next part is kind of a blur of fight or flight and tears, but I'll try to break it down for you.
They were definitely cat-calling as I came in, being alone, but whatever, that's relatively normal and doesn't phase me much. Then they started laying their hands on me, or grabbing my arm and pulling. One of them swooped in and tried to kiss me, but I managed to get away in time. All while this was happening, they were trying to get me to take one of their stupid tickets.
All I could manage to say to these people was "I have one, I have one". Not one "stop", nor "leave me alone", in French or in English. I couldn't raise my voice at all, and I didn't even consider hitting anyone. I was too petrified and my body had gone on high alert.
I manged to make my way past them to a metro turnstile, and i put my ticket through the machine. I did this too soon, because the woman in front of me was passing through, and this voided my ticket. In my state of panic and fear, I just started to cry. Some of these men tried to give me their tickets again, but I was pushing them away and crying and running to the handicap entrance and trying to get through and considering jumping over the turnstile to escape what I thought was potential bodily harm. One guy in particular kept following me and grabbing my upper arm, telling me my ticket was "finished" in English, I couldn't tell if he was trying to actually be helpful or not, but I sure didn't want him touching me. During my breakdown I somehow pulled myself together and took another ticket from my wallet and put it through the machine and ran away to the platform.
It scared me so much, and I've never felt so helpless and alone. And disappointed in myself. Why did I let them get the better of me and overreact? Why didn't I say no? This probably happens to some people every day, and I'm sure they don't freak out like I did. What if I was actually in a dangerous situation? I probably wouldn't be able to defend myself at all. I'm supposed to be a strong and independent woman, but I felt like a fool.
Next time, I'm making like the Gartens and taking a cab.
Anyway, you should all read my friend and classmate Jennie's article on North by Northwestern. It really spoke to me, and she writes in a really honest and beautiful way. Enjoy! : I like you, but... By Jennie Wong
**Funnily enough, the photo accompanying her article is a platform in Barbes-Rochechouart. Darn you, Barbes-Rochechouart!