[00:00] This is Join Us in France Episode 194. Bonjour, I’m Annie and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, its many quirks, its history, its language, and of course, destinations in France you want to learn about because, hopefully, you’ll be visiting soon.
[00:19] On today’s episode, let’s talk about Paris neighborhoods where I would rather NOT stay, or book a hotel, or rent an apartment. There aren’t so many such places, so it’ll be a short episode. I get asked all the time: is this a safe neighborhood? So yeah, let’s talk about it!
[00:40] Show notes and photos for this episode are on joinusinfrance.com/194 You will want to see those names in writing and you’ll see some maps too if you visit the website.
[00:56] Folks who are subscribed to the mailing list will get the Extra having to do with this episode in a few days also, and that’s another way to get the written list.
[01:06] Join Us in France is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France, the small group tour company for people who want to enjoy France to the fullest with zero stress.
[01:18] Join Us in France needs your support, to see all the ways you can support the show, visit joinusinfrance.com/support
Intro Music: Style Musette
[01:57] Last summer, our family went on vacation to the US. We live in France, so we vacation in the US, you know, it’s the opposite of what most of you do. We stopped to get some food really late one night at a gas station in Southern Utah near Bryce Canyon. We stopped there because there was a Subway inside of the gas station and everything else was closed. I’m pretty sure the town was called Panguitch, which is a cute name.
[02:26] The young man who served us asked where we were from. My husband said we’re from France. He likes to say “France” because being American, born and raised, he gets a reaction when he says he’s from France, because he certainly doesn’t sound French when he speaks English!
[02:45] The kid behind the counter didn’t give us the normal retort “really, you don’t sound French!”, but instead he surprised us by asking us a really serious question: “Is it true that in France some places are so dangerous that even the police can’t go there?”
[03:04] I had heard of the “no-go zones” starting in 2015, so I guess that’s where he got it from. Conservative media in America likes to make France sound like a scary socialist ghetto. And I’ll let you in on a secret: French left-wing media likes to make America sound like a pretty nasty place to live too. So, I guess we’re even or something!
[03:33] “SAFE” is a loaded word and it means different things to different people. So let me try to narrow it down: I’m going to talk about places where I wouldn’t be comfortable booking a hotel or renting an apartment in Paris specifically.
[03:51] I might still want to go in broad daylight. But not a place where I’d go back after dark, at the end of a day. When I get back to my hotel at night after a long day of touring, I don’t want to be walking through areas where I feel tense and where my brain is telling me that that’s a place where bad things could happen.
[04:14] Of course, my comfort level is probably different than yours, but I bet we have more in common than not. Fear reactions are not based on actual danger most of the time. They are based on what our brain tells us. I’ve had huge fear reactions to plastic spiders at Halloween! No real danger, but I got really scared all the same.
[04:41] So, I do know that some of the places I will list are safer than I make them sound. But I think feeling unsafe is not a good way to spend a vacation, so I will advise that you avoid them anyway.
[04:55] There aren’t too many neighborhoods where I wouldn’t want to stay in Paris. But it’s a big city, not all of it is unicorns and rainbows. I know, that’s a shock, but it’s the truth! I give you the names, and you can look into it and decide for yourself what you want to do.
[05:13] And of course, feeling safe depends on what you’re used to at home. If you live in a big American city, you’ve probably seen your fair share of dicey neighborhoods, you’re used to them. I mean, graffiti, groups of guys standing around doing nothing in particular (other than possibly conducting funny business), that’s nothing new to you. People acting nervous, people looking angry, drunks and people being down and out, you’ve seen it all.
[05:41] But if you live in a rural area, as I do, we’re used to a predictable and controlled environment and all that grime and roughness may be unsettling to you. I get that. It may or may not be dangerous in reality, but it can make you, and me, nervous, and I don’t want that.
[06:03] It also depends on who you are. I’m a 50 something female, I often go places alone. My risk isn’t the same as yours. I can’t out-run or out-punch anyone, that’s a fact.
[06:16] Generally speaking, younger women are at the highest risk, even if they can run off. And the younger males are at the least risk besides getting pickpocketed. When I read comments online of people who say “it’s perfectly safe, you’re exaggerating”, it’s always some buff male saying that. Dudes going places alone don’t get near as much grief as women do, that’s also a sad fact.
No-Go Zones in Paris Are Not a Thing
[06:45] But, to go back to my opening story, I do have to tell you that “No-go” zones in Paris are NOT a thing. I won’t lie and pretend that everyone is welcomed with open arms in every neighborhood in France. France has public housing projects, as does America. They are densely populated, poverty stricken, unpleasant, and sometimes, especially at night, dangerous. But calling them “no-go zones” is an exaggeration.
[07:18] Most of these scary areas are outside of the Paris belt road. That’s the ring road for cars around Paris. The worst ones are in a department called Seine-Saint-Denis. There are also projects around Paris that are not so scary.
[07:37] When you’re French and you listen to the news every day, you know the names of the nasty ones because they keep coming up. Shootings, stabbings, gang wars, drug busts, prostitution, cars burned, we hear about them all the time. But you are NOT French and you don’t listen to French news.
[07:54] So, what can I tell you that will be helpful and not so complicated that you’ll tune me out? There are 160 or so housing projects scattered all over the outside of Paris. We call them “Zone Urbaine Sensible” or ZUS. We also call them “les banlieues”. I could name them all, but you’d fall asleep. And, so, I will give you an official map in the show notes (https://joinusinfrance.com/194), but you don’t need to know all the details. I think this is an area where a blunt overly general piece of advice is warranted.
[08:36] You should NOT venture into housing projects. Not in the daytime and definitely not to go back to at the end of a day of touring. They are not a good place to be for tourists in any country. Would you send tourists to the projects near your city? I wouldn’t either.
[08:55] The thing is, two blocks away from those housing projects, life is back to normal. You’ll find people holding regular jobs, it’s not scary at all. It’s not as rich as the places where Elyse and I tell you to go in the middle of Paris because they are so lovely, but those are decent places to live for regular French people. Most of the area outside of the belt road is fine, I’ve visited family there many time, but you won’t be able to tell because you don’t have the background information.
[09:31] So, some of you will say, but I stayed outside of the belt road and it was fine! I believe you, but I am making general recommendations to a broad audience here, and I think the best way to simplify things is for me to say do not book a hotel or an AirB&B outside of the ring road around Paris. “Le périphérique” is what we call it.
What to Do If You Want to Visit the Basilique-Saint-Denis
[09:56] I can’t think of any major tourist attractions that would take you close to such housing projects OTHER than the Basilique Saint-Denis. The Saint-Denis Basilica. The area right around the basilica is fine, it’s ethnic, but nice in the day time. But you go out a couple of blocks away or a few hours later, and it’s unsettling. I’m not saying it’s necessarily dangerous, but it is unsettling and I’ve experienced it myself.
[10:30] My first cousin’s son and his girlfriend used to live near the Saint Denis Basilica when they were both students in Paris. They’ve since moved away and they report that they have not missed the neighborhood. Nothing scary ever happened, even to the young lady who I am sure doesn’t cover from head to toe to go out in the summer, but she was relieved to not have to deal with the stares any more.
[10:58] If you want to see the Saint-Denis Basilica take an Uber. It is gorgeous for those of us who love Cathedrals. But don’t go on public transportation, and don’t go late in the day. That’s all the safety measure you need to take. There are people on the group who’ve said they got to the Basilica on public transportation, and it was fine. If they had taken a wrong turn, it might not have been. So, don’t chance it, Uber will not break the bank. And the scary parts are really close. I mean ¼ of a block and you’re into a dicey situation.
Avoid the “Portes de” Areas
[11:39] So, that was for the areas outside of the belt road, “le périph”. Now, let’s get closer to Paris proper.
[11:48] All around Paris, at the entrances to the city, there used to be entrance gates where people had to pay taxes to be able to enter the city with their goods. We still have remnants of those and they are called “Porte”. That’s the word for «door » in French, « porte ». So, you have Porte de Saint-Ouen, Porte de Clignacourt, Porte de la Chapelle, Porte de Bagnolet, Porte de Montreuil, etc. There are many more.
[12:17] As a general rule, I avoid those. They’re not all bad, for example Porte Dauphine is fine, some of it is actually kinda posh, but I’m looking for general rules here. All of these “Portes” are fine during the day, there’s no problem, but there could be monkey business at night.
[12:36] What do I mean by monkey business? Well, I mean, you know, under-age women from Africa or other poor countries anywhere in the world being imported and pimped until they’ve paid their passage. Drug deals, illicit cigarette trade because cigarettes are heavily taxed in France, you can buy “tax free” cigarettes in some neighborhoods. I also mean men who settle scores between themselves.
[13:06] You don’t want to be anywhere near that. So, as a general rule, if it says “Porte de” whatever, don’t stay near there without doing significant due diligence.
Paris Metro Stations Near Which I Don’t Want to Stay
[13:18] And there are a few metro stations where I don’t like to be after 6 or 7 PM. There are 9 of them in the northeast quarter of Paris within 2 or 3 miles of each other. Does that give you a hint about the northeast quarter of Paris? You be the judge. The names of the metro stations are:
Place de Clichy
Gare du Nord
Place des Fêtes
[13:55] And yes, these are all in the northeast corner of Paris. There are two more around Paris that I’m not too happy with, but it’s not as big a deal. They are:
Chatelet les Halles
[14:09] I’ve been to both Chatelet and Pigale at night and it’s a bit hectic, but it’s not to the point where it scares me. But I looked at the statistics and people get robbed more at those stations than other stations in Paris at night. So that’s a good reason to avoid staying near there at night I think. You can still go during the day, just don’t be there at night.
[14:35] If you’re going to a show at the Moulin Rouge you’ll probably be going through the Pigale metro station at night. And people, even people on the show, have not reported that as being a big problem, it’s just when you start going to side streets and start looking for your hotel or whatever that it could be.
[14:56] So, yeah, northeast corner of Paris is not as safe or as nice as other parts of Paris. It’s just the fact I’m reporting here, OK. And you know, I keep reading a lot of blog posts about how beautiful the Canal Saint Martin is, and I’m sorry. No amount of blogging will convince me of that. I’ve been there myself many times, and it is not that nice. And the area is gentrifying, so this information may not be true in a few more years (I’m recording this in April 2018). In a few years, it might be very nice. But for now, just choose some other areas of Paris if you need to find cheaper accommodations.
[15:41] I know there are podcast listeners who go stay in those areas on purpose because they can find great deals there. If you know exactly what you’re in for because you’re been before and you’ve stayed there before, that’s one thing, that’s fine. But if you haven’t been there before, think twice.
Is Taking the Paris Metro Alone Late at Night Safe?
[15:58] What About Taking the Paris Metro Late at Night? Well, I don’t want to be in those tunnels when there are few people around and half of them are either drunk or have imbibed.
[16:11] So, metro stations they are fine during the day, you know, for the most part. OK, some of them, especially the ones I listed above, they smell like urine. At some of them there are beggars and homeless people, but that won’t kill me. But if they steal my cell phone or my camera equipment I’ll be in a world of hurt.
[16:34] Don’t have your shiny new phone out in your hand when you’re standing by the metro doors. Someone may just grab it out of your hands and run out, and what are you going to do about it? Once the metro doors close, there isn’t a thing you can do about it. And the thieves know exactly how to time this!
[16:57] There are 20,000 or so surveillance cameras in the metro in Paris and in the RER. There are rapid response teams, so you’re not left out to your own devices, but still, if you’re the one whose phone got robbed, you’re 100% victimized and I would like you to avoid that.
[17:20] And FYI, if you do have to be alone in the metro late at night, choose the car with several people in it OR be in the car closest to the driver. Avoid the tunnels if you can, and walk on the surface if that’s an option, some places it’s hard to do.
There Are Few Guns on the Streets in France
[17:40] But keep this in mind: French people don’t carry guns. To be in an area where criminals have guns around, you’d have to have be in the roughest projects in the periphery of Paris, and you’re not going to be there.
[17:53] So, as a result, Paris is a very safe city overall. The main risk you face is being pickpocketed, and that’s a huge bummer when it happens, so it’s important to safeguard against that. Most people will hear this warning and ignore it because, you know, human nature, but again, being robbed is the most likely problem you will encounter no matter where you stay in Paris.
[18:22] I went looking for some numbers of exactly how many people get robbed without violence, i.e. pickpocketed. Or had their purse ripped off or something of the sort. According to my source, which is an official document from the Ministry of the Interior dated 2016, in Paris there were about 140,000 street thefts reported that year. And they report that the number is increasing by 10% year over year which is alarming and the report points that out very strongly.
[19:00] And those are the thefts that get reported! I bet most foreign visitors don’t even bother to go to the police because it won’t do any good. French people will report such petty crime because to replace our ID or your car papers or something, you will have to get a copy of a police report. and such, we need to have filled a police report. It makes things a lot easier. But, foreign visitors don’t need that police report. They just call their credit card issuers and they say my card’s been stolen, cancel it. And then when they get home they get a new driver’s license or whatever else they had in their wallet.
[19:40] By comparison, the number of homicides in France, in the whole country for a whole year, is under 900. So, we have a population of over 67 million, so the odds of getting killed are teeny tiny, thank goodness. Much less than most American cities, BTW. So, if you go by the numbers, it really doesn’t matter where you stay in Paris. The odds are infinitesimal that you’ll get killed 😉 You know, small favors!
[20:12] But you don’t want to spend your vacation time being worried about the place you go back to after dark, so that’s my whole point.
[20:20] So, I hope you get the gist of this: protect yourself against pickpockets, don’t stay outside the belt road, avoid areas called “Portes” and the few metro stations I’ve mentioned in the northeast corner of Paris.
[20:37] Beyond that, don’t sweat the small stuff too much. If you want to get familiar with how I protect myself against pickpockets, and there are several steps you can take, listen to episode 154 called How to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets in Paris.
[20:56] We’ve talked about safety in France before on the podcast. As in how do you stay safe if you happen to be near a terror alert. We even have a listener who was in Nice when the truck attack happened. You can find that episode if you search for “Getting Caught in a Terror Attack in France” on the Join Us in France website. You’ll find it and it’s fascinating.
[21:19] I woke up this morning as I write this, to reports of a truck attack in Canada, which is so sad. No place is immune unfortunately. This attack in Canada, this one, doesn’t seen to be related to the Middle East in any way. But you know what? If you get killed, whether it was by a white supremacist, or a religious fanatic, or someone who has a grudge against your employer. It doesn’t matter why these people turn into murderers, does it?
[21:54] I don’t think it does. But if you want mitigate and learn how to handle terror attacks that can and do happen in France also, listen to episode 50 “How to Stay Safe in France” and episode 92 Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France.
Things to Do in Preparation / Conclusion
[22:13] So, to conclude, these are the things that I do in preparation. I get asked if places are safe all the time, and honestly I can’t predict my future, let alone yours. But I do know that if you do you do due diligence (oooh, that’s hard to say! “If you do due diligence”) you can mitigate the risks and put yourself in a more advantageous position.
[22:39] Don’t go to areas that are unsafe at night as listed in this episode. If you’re from the US, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrolment Program. They will send you up-to-the-minute updates via their app in case of a terror attack. Other countries probably have similar programs, look into it. Share your travel plans with friends and family, tell them where you’re going to be staying so they can call your hotel to check up on you.
[23:07] Backup your phone before you leave home, so if your phone is stolen, you’ll at least have your photos, your contacts, your calendars, all of that good stuff. And, maybe bring an older phone with you, and leave your brand new iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9 or whatever the latest one is, leave those at home!
[23:29] Because most of us have a collection of older phones by now, don’t we? I mean, maybe they don’t hold their charge as well. That’s easy, bring a portable power bank. And if your screen is cracked on your old phone? Even better! You’ll be the tourist who’s not screaming: rob me, rob me! You know?
[23:51] When you go out to enjoy Paris, don’t take so much. I know people say “the hotel safe isn’tsafe”. Well, let me tell you, it’s an awful lot safer than most metro cars in Paris! So, make good use of your hotel safe! Don’t take a big backpack, travel light. And ask yourself, what are the consequences if this wallet or bag gets stolen? Then keep only what’s absolutely necessary for that day inside.
[24:24] I don’t love doing episodes like this full of dire warnings because it might give you the wrong impression. But one thing is for sure, when you listen to the Join Us in France Travel Podcast, you’re not going to get Paris Syndrome.
You Won’t Get Paris Syndrome
[24:27] Do you know what Paris Syndrome is? Apparently, it’s a thing, but I’ve never met anybody who had it. It’s when people have read so many beautiful things about Paris that when they actually visit they are shocked and they don’t even want to leave the room any more because the saw a garbage can or poop on the street or something, you know. You can’t get Paris Syndrome when you listen to Join Us in France because I tell you like it is!
[25:02] But, I really don’t want you to stay in the parts of the city that have more theft and will make you feel unsafe, even if they are not truly unsafe.
[25:12] There are some many cheaper hotels that are not in the northeast corner of Paris and the few metro stations I’ve listed. You have safe choices even if you’re on a budget! And if you can afford to stay in the more central areas of Paris—where typically you will pay 140-180 per night some of them, it goes up from there, look for our hotel recommendations https://joinusinfrance.com/hotels
[25:45] Thank you Thomas Baynum for pledging to support the show on Patreon this week! And my thanks also to all the other patrons who support the show month after month, thank you for giving back! To support the show on Patreon, go to PATREON.COM/JOINUS. P A T R E O N and Join Us no spaces of dashes.
[26:10] Because of what you learn here, French people you encounter will look like “this tourist has a clue, how refreshing!” So, thank you for listening, and I trust that eventually, with enough generous donors who support the show–because they want to and not because they have to–it will turn into an occupation that generates decent wage for both me and Elyse. We’re not there yet, but I trust we’ll get there because we’re here for the long haul, and because new people join the group of patrons every week, which is encouraging. To see all the ways you can support the show, please visit https://joinusinfrance.com/support
[26:53] A quick update on the train strike: it’s still going on and shows no sign of stopping. Macron, our President, will not let it go because politically as well as financially, he has to achieve results. His predecessor, François Hollande, talked the talk of reform and always backed off, which emboldened the folks who run such strikes.
[27:19] These are reforms that are long overdue in most French people’s opinion. Even people who work at the SNCF are fed up with all the strikes. I’ve talked to two and they both say they never strike themselves and wish this would all go away. But it’s not going to go away because the minority of union members who make the decisions hold a lot of power by law. They shouldn’t hold that much power, but that’s another conversation altogether.
[27:48] The real test is going to be if the strike goes into July and August. Now, THAT would be unprecedented! And it would show that they mean business. I don’t think it’s going to happen. But for now, my advice to you is keep traveling around France without the train, and avoid Air France because they are also striking an awful lot these days. I told you in episode 189 that that’s always how it works. Once one major transportation sector company gets started, the others follow. So, sometimes the SNCF starts it and sometimes Air France starts it, but they are birds of a feather!
[28:33] Other than that, the weather is still glorious. My daughter, who just turned 20, and wow time flies, she talked me into planting a vegetable garden again this year. We’ve turned over the vegetable garden area by hand and planted a few things. It’s not a big vegetable garden, but that’s a lot of work when you do it with a shovel.
[29:00] I asked my neighbor if I could borrow his gas tiller and he said oh, sure, but it keeps stalling all the time. And he doesn’t know how to fix that and neither do I. So, shovel it is! It’s OK. Being out in the sun a little bit every day is good. And I hope you get to enjoy some nice weather if you’re in the northern hemisphere and if you’re in the southern hemisphere, well, it’ll get better soon!
[29:26] Remember to tell your peeps that they can listen to Join Us in France with their Alexa smart speaker, or with their smart phone using Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or with any number of podcast Apps. They can even listen on the https://joinusinfrance.com website if they wish!
[29:45] You can also listen on YouTube. Personally, I don’t like to listen to podcasts on YouTube because it’s just a static image, it’s not a video really. But YouTube is a great search engine, AND I’m now putting full transcript of all the new episodes on YouTube. So you still get the static image, but you can see the text of what we say scrolling by with the proper French and everything.
[30:11] So, I’m working on back episodes as well, it’s going to take a while, but it’s worth doing because it makes the show accessible to people with hearing impairment, which is fantastic. And the new site will also have as many transcripts as possible. I’m working on it! If I had more financial support I could outsource a lot of that work, hint-hint!
[30:34] To connect with me, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Why don’t you call to let everyone know what your favorite budget hotel is in Paris? I’d love to know that and I bet lots of listeners would also love to know.
[30:53] You can also talk about that if you join the Join Us in France Closed Group on Facebook. And when you do, please answer the questions so I know you’re not a spammer.
[31:03] The level of activity on the closed group on Facebook has gone down quite a bit this week. I think people are losing trust in Facebook overall and they don’t spend as much time on Facebook as they used to. And I get that because I’m trying to do that too.
[31:50] The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2018 by addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial no derivatives license.