In preparing to come to Europe we heard a million times from a million people that we should watch out for pick-pockets and thieves and all their stories and experiences on such issues. Well, here’s ours.

Last night, we were trying to figure out what to do. It was 10:00pm, and the last trains from Paris came back at 12:06am, so we were considering going, but we wouldn’t have much time. We hung around for awhile and finally decided to just see what we could find in Épinay-sur-Seine.

We walked towards signs for the Centre Ville, and were surprised to see that everything was closed. We finally stumbled on a pizza place and went in… only to discover that it was closing. We walked a few seconds more and were thinking about heading back, but decided to press on one more block.

Mike & I walked by stairs that went to a little hole in the wall, but Hayley & Sam noticed people inside, and we noticed a sign for a Brasserie. We stood at the stairs for a moment, and when a man at the door saw us he urged us to “Entre!”

We walked into a oddly smelling, fairly small bar, playing Indian music. Directly to our left as we walked in, was a group of men playing dice and we walked to the other end of the bar and took some seats. The bar tender was an older guy, in his 50s or so, but incredibly nice. He didn’t speak any English, but spoke slowly so I could understand him (he actually reminded me a bit of my Dad, looks/personality wise).

We had some beer, and were completely enjoying the bar, it was an amazing find. We still hadn’t really eaten all day, though, so I asked the bartender if there was anything that we could eat. He told me everything was closed, but that a pizza place might be open… And he didn’t just stop there. He figured out what kind of pizza we wanted got the phone and tried to have it delivered to the bar for us. Unfortunately, that pizza place was also closed, but the extent people have been willing to help us since we got here is just astounding!

We had one last round, paid and headed on out. Across from the bar there was a fountain with a sculpture of two horses, so we hung out there for a little bit and then started heading back to the hostel. As we got closer to the hotel we heard a group of French kids behind us, probably about our age. They were talking behind us for awhile, and then at some point they passed by us.

I looked behind us, and saw smaller group of guys talking to each other, the way they were acting gave me a bad feeling. I half jokingly/half seriously said “I think those guys are going to mug us, we should walk faster.” No one really seemed to hear me and when I looked back again one guy seemed to be whispering to another; it was pretty dark right where they were.

I started walking faster so the others would keep pace, and when I turned around Sam was on the ground, clutching the strap of her bag fighting against a group of guys pulling it away. Suddenly we were chasing these guys down the street. Sam and Mike dissapeared behind the guys into some bushes in front of another building, so I called Hayley over to keep from separating all of us. Hayley and I got into the median of the street, which was bright and safe from the dark bushes on the other side.

We called Mike while running back to the hotel (these phones have already been worth their weight in gold) and found out that they were a few streets down, and he was breathing heavily. Hayley and I got back to the hotel, and I asked for the number of the police here. The guy on duty told me to hold on, went and made some food, got a drink came back and slowly flipped through his Rolodex. He then gracefully wrote out “POLICE” and finally wrote down the number… Which I tried many times with no success.

So Hayley and I walked around the block to where we thought Mike and Sam would be… And as we got deeper into this neighborhood things felt less and less safe. Luckily, we saw Mike up ahead with Sam, near a building. Apparently they had chased the muggers until this building, where they saw two guys who were helping them.

They introduced themselves to me as Abraham and Billy (He pronounced it Bee-yay). They were two older, probably Haitian guys, maybe around 25. Abraham was wearing a long white robe outfit, and Billy had a long beard, wearing a colorful skirt type thing. They had two younger friends and seemed genuinely concerned with trying to help us. One of their friends was “homeboys” with the kid who took her bag, and went off to try to find him and figure out where the bag was. Abraham spoke great English, Billy’s was ok. They repeatedly said if one euro was missing they would find it.

Things were still tense though. Sam was crying and we weren’t really sure if we could trust these guys. Was this some trick to get all the rest of our stuff? It was tough to tell. Abraham seemed to know every single person that walked by in the neighborhood, was that good or bad? We gave them our phone numbers, so I was hoping to all get back to the hotel and have them call us if they found it. Sam wanted to stay though, to make sure she got her bag, so we all just waited around there, alert on adrenaline but a bit unsure of things.

Ultimately though, it just didn’t seem plausible for it to all be an act, and if it was, they were dragging it on a long time just to get the rest of our stuff. Abraham got a call saying it was some 14-15 year olds that did it, and when Sam chased after them they got scared so they dumped her bag down a garbage chute.

The group of people helping us grew to around 6, and they were all trying to get the guy who would have a key to the garbage chute. Abraham ended up calling the Police Municipale to open it up. They came, but spoke only French, so the other guys did all the talking. We went into the building, and the cops discovered there was very little they could do without the key. They said they would try to do more tomorrow, took our information and we finally left to go back to the hotel.

It was a huge relief to get back safely, and we all slept deeply, but this morning we had a lot left to deal with. Hayley and Mike went to get food (the first we’d eaten since those sandwiches the day earlier), while Sam and I went to get the names of the streets things happened on the night before and locate the police station (a woman at the hotel told us roughly where it was).

The directions we got lead us to the Police Nationale, and we all went there after eating. It was pretty dead there, but a room we weren’t allowed to go in seemed pretty busy. I roughly explained in French what happened to a woman officer and she had us sit and wait. Another couple there seemed to have had one of their bags stolen, but they didn’t speak English.

We were sitting and waiting for awhile, and saw a bunch of plain-clothes officers leave with a lot of equipment… It seemed like the Police Nationale was more for carrying-out planned out missions than responding to issues like ours, so Mike and Hayley headed towards the Police Municipale building that I’d seen on a map while Sam and I kept waiting.

Eventually an officer came out that spoke some English and he took us into a room to start a police report. We explained to him what happened, and when I told him we ended up on Rue Dumas, he seemed surprised. He was confused as to why we were here if we were backpacking, and I explained we were looking for something cheap. He was trying to tell me something about Epinay sur Seine, and agreed completely when I suggested the word “unsafe”, then adding, “très dangereux.”

So, Sam and I continued the process and finally explained that we think we know where the bag is, we just can’t get to it. We asked if some police would be able to go there and try to open the garbage chute to check. The officer responded that Rue Dumas was too dangerous, and his officers probably wouldn’t want to go.

What?! You’re officers wouldn’t want to go because their scared of a dangerous street in the town they’re supposed to be protecting?! This confirmed our belief that the Police Nationale really did just carry-out planned missions rather than response. We also found out since that Epinay sur Seine has, within the past two years, had several instances were groups from gangs ambushed officers. According to the officer, they got into a large fight on Rue Dumas two days ago.

As I was giving our cell number to the officer, Mike and Hayley found us and had two Police Municipale with them. Apparently they found them on the way to the Municipale station and brought them to the building on Rue Dumas. One of the officers just kicked down the door of the garbage chute (Police Municipale are way cooler than Police Nationale, apparently). Unfortunately, behind that door was another one, that was not possible to open.

So, the Police Municipale are going to try to find the owner of the building when it isn’t a Sunday, and we will go to the Municipale Station tomorrow at Noon, after they are done. Hopefully they survive Rue Dumas.

Anyway, the whole experience has been pretty crazy, and although it is scary and unfortunate… We’re backpacking through Europe and crazy things like this are bound to happen; It’s good to know that we can handle situations like this. Although a few dumb teenagers decided to ruin our trip, many many more people generously lent us a hand when they didn’t need to.

We’re relaxing and playing cards in the room now… I think the Epinay dark is something we will not venture into again. Tonight I am going to try to figure out a good way to put all my pictures up. Tomorrow we’ll either get Sam’s stuff back, or head to the US Embassy in Paris and get her a new passport. Either way, Paris tomorrow! It’s - about - time.

À demain!



Ma on 8 July, 2007 at 3:55 pm #

Oy, Nicky, I hope this will make you careful about your little backpack! I am VERY glad you are all safe. You had quite an experience - with the French police, Rue Dumas, etc. Please be careful! And let us know if Sam gets her bag back. We love you!

NC Heikin on 10 July, 2007 at 11:38 pm #

Well Nicky, you sure had a great Welcome toFrance experience!! Malcolm usedto get mugged all the time when he was bout 14-15. Nowhe knows the ropes. (And he’s bigger!) I’m so sorry this happened to you and poor Sam, especially. Your website is fantastic. I am so impressed! If you’restill in or near Paris, you can try giving Malcolm a call. He’d be full of good suggestions. 06 70 2001 08. Lots of love to you. nc

Dave on 12 July, 2007 at 1:57 pm #

Dude, you really need to work on your inner city toughness. Tassie and I will take you to Harlem one evening.

BTW, thank you for allowing me to kill 3 hours today by reading your site…the longer the entry the better!

Have fun be safe over there


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