China and Chinese tourists should not lose faith in Paris

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/16 18:48:39

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Recent news about a group of 40 Chinese tourists who were robbed and attacked with tear gas in Paris shocked both countries. It was the second time in little over a year that Chinese tourists in France were targeted; a similar attack happened in northern France last August. In recent years as well, Chinese tour groups have been attacked while taking buses on Paris' A1 motorway from the airport.

As a result, the Chinese Embassy in France issued a warning to all Chinese planning to visit France, calling the attack "Chinese-targeted." Indeed, the frequency of these attacks is not good news for Paris, where its tourism market has only just started to rebound out of the shadows of its many large-scale terrorist attacks.

Paris remains one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with 16 million visitors in the first half of 2017. China provides a large majority of these visitors, as Chinese tourists are known for their love of European luxury brands.

Carrying around boutique shopping bags during their package tours of Paris looks great for their selfies and social media, and allows them to gain face with their friends and colleagues back in China. Truly, no wealthy Chinese tourists can resist the temptation of going on a shopping spree in Paris, home of Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.

Throngs of Chinese tourists can always be found in the city's two most well-known department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. I know this because I myself now live in Paris, where I often hear tourists speaking the Shanghai dialect, specifically discussing which brands they intend on buying.

To make shopping easier for Chinese tourists in Paris, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have even started accepting UnionPay, a Chinese payment platform, and have hired Chinese-speaking staff.

Under French law, stores in tourist areas of Paris are only allowed to open certain times of the year on Sundays or they will face steep fines. But in order to attract more Chinese tourists, many big French department stores are willing to pay these fines just to keep their doors open on Sundays.

Chinese tourists have become the primary source of income for the tourism market in France, replacing all those wealthy Japanese tourists who flooded Paris in the 1990s. It was common at that time for Japanese tourists to get their fancy cameras snatched off their necks, but less often their wallets, as most used credit cards.

However, as UnionPay is still not widely accepted in France, and because many Chinese do not use international credit cards, most Chinese tourists prefer exchanging their own currency for thick wads of euro-cash, which makes them easy prey for Parisian thugs.

Chinese tourists are perhaps less alert to theft because of China's famously low crime rate, putting them off guard in a place like Paris, which abounds with criminals of all nationalities. As a newcomer to Paris, I can testify that its safety is not as bad as people think, or at least not any worse than other big cities around the world.

About half of all crimes in France are theft-related and seldom violent. I always pay extra attention to my belongings when I'm out and about, but pickpockets (who are primarily foreign gypsies) have been prowling Paris for centuries. Even in 2002 when I visited Paris, I had my wallet stolen on the subway. I took it as part of the authentic Parisian experience.

If anything, Paris is actually safer today. Heavy police presence following the terrorist attacks of recent years is now everywhere. I can find armed military police officers in groups of three or four patrolling any central area of Paris, especially tourist spots and train stations.

The two attacks on those Chinese tour groups occurred in the suburbs, where there are fewer police and less security measures than in central Paris. Some Chinese tourists stay in hotels far away from downtown to save money, but this seems to have had the opposite result, considering how often they are being mugged in non-central areas.

But please do not to be deterred by these attacks. They really can happen in any Western metropolis, from New York to London to Toronto. Paris is a very charming city with a long history and rich culture, not to mention all the great shopping. Just be more cautious and less spendthrift, and you'll be fine.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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