Le mugging

A couple of days ago, Ed’s brother was mugged waiting for the train to Versailles.

He was standing on the platform when a group of young men surrounded him, ripped his wallet out of his pocket, then pushed him onto the train and ran away.

Apparently that’s the drill. You’re at highest risk for a mugging when the train or Metro has just pulled into the station:

Thieves dig the Métro and RER. Be on guard. If your pocket is picked as you pass through a turnstile, you end up stuck on the wrong side (after the turnstile bar has closed behind you) while the thief gets away. Stand away from Métro doors to avoid being a target for a theft-and-run just before the doors close. Any jostling or commotion — especially when boarding or leaving trains — is likely the sign of a thief or a team of thieves in action. Make any fare inspector show proof of identity (ask locals for help if you’re not certain). Keep your bag close, and never show anyone your wallet.
Learning Le Métro: Basic Tips for Paris’ Underground Arteries

In my brother-in-law’s case, the gang managed to make a €1500 purchase on his Visa card almost instantlyit felt like simultaneously (is there an app for that?)–while he was on the phone giving his mother’s maiden name to a succession of customer service reps and saying things like “You’re aware, right, that they’re making charges now?” 

When the Visa was finally canceled, he decided to report the crime to the local police (les flics !), mostly because his daughters wanted him to.

So they walked to the police station.

The precinct building, they discovered, was surrounded by walls, locked gates, and barbed wire. There was no way in. So they stood outside waving their arms and calling to anyone who happened to come within earshot until someone unlocked one of the gates and let them in. 

Inside they found 7 or 8 fantastically good looking male police officers and one female secretary, all of whom seemed to be flirting. The men were so handsome, my brother-in-law said, that it felt like they’d walked onto the set of a reality TV show. 

The police were willing to take his report, but first they wanted to make sure it was a report, for insurance purposes, not a complaint.

We take reports, not complaints: that sounds like a case of juking the stats to me, but what do I know? 

Filling out the report consumed the next two hours. 

The report behind them, my brother-in-law and his daughters tried to exit the station — and couldn’t get out. The door wouldn’t open. 

Finally they called for help (au secours !). One of the handsome cops came over and told them the door does open, but you have to kick it first, which he then demonstrated. Et voilá



Everyone I know has been referring to this event as a pickpocketing.

I dissent. 

I was pickpocketed on my honeymoon : on a bus, on Michigan Avenue, in Chicago. I didn’t know about it till later, when I went to fish my billfold out of my purse and it wasn’t there.

That is a pickpocketing.1

When 5 guys surround you, take your wallet by force, and push you onto a train: that is a mugging.

It’s a mugging, and because it’s a mugging Paris police should be taking complaints, not reports …. and they should be doing something about crime on the Metro and RER so they won’t have so many reports to fill out in the first place.

Something like patrolling the stations, for starters.

After my brother-in-law was mugged, his wife reported that their friend R. had been mugged twice (once here, once in D.C.), and their friend L. had also been mugged in Paris. 

R. now wears a wallet chain

I don’t get that at all.

An American man needs to wear a wallet chain to ride the Metro in Paris ? 

While you’ve got a police station filled with handsome young men filling out reports so people can collect insurance to cover the loss ? 

I’m missing the logic.


1. The actual story is slightly embarrassing. I didn’t notice the pickpocketing, but I did notice the young woman standing beside to me, who was glaring at the guy picking my pocket. She looked absolutely furious. I kept thinking, ‘What’s she so mad about? Does she know this guy? Are they fighting?” So I managed to notice what she was doing, but not what he was doing. Should have been the other way around.  

Reflections on about and around

Catherine’s spending Bastille Day getting back to the US; I’ll be spending it visiting Gettysburg. One of our traveling companions has equipped us with copies of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War. I finished it yesterday, and am now primed as can be for the theater of war and the dramatis personae: from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top; from Pickett to Chamberlain.

The book was a quick read, but was not without its distractions. The primary culprit was a preposition. Writing in the early 1970s, author Michael Shaara appears to be emulating the style of the previous century. Accordingly, the various generals and captains would “think on” the situation, “brood on” the best course of action, and “worry on” what would happen next. Oh, what a contemplative age that was! Nowadays, tellingly, we no longer think on things, let alone brood on them or worry on them. Would that that were otherwise!

But with a moment’s linguistic experimentation, I realized that there’s no obvious difference between thinking on things and thinking about them. What’s shifted, instead, are prepositions. In the arena of cognitive verbs, “about” has defeated “on.”

More recently, though, it’s “about” that’s under attack. For decades, fewer and fewer of us have looked about the fields and seen dandelions all about us; instead, we look around them and see dandelions all around us. But now the conquest of “about” by “around” has advanced from the spatial to the conversational arena. Today’s Americans are gradually ceasing to have conversations about things, or to examine issues about important topics; instead, we’re having more and more conversations around things: in particular, conversations around issues around particular topics.

So stay tuned: we may at some point now longer think about anything at all, but, instead, think only around things.

Allez les bleus !

Just back from watching France beat Belgium — fantastically exciting — it’s astonishing how hair-raising a 1-0 game turns out to be. I had no idea.

Crowds are massed on the Champs-Elysées and cars are streaming down Avenue Maine, where we are, honking their horns and streaming the Tricolore — yet, strangely, no one is turning parked vehicles over, stripping down to their underwear, or setting anything on fire. 

If this were England, things would be different.

Or Philadelphia.

If this were Philadelphia, things would be completely different.

C. and Ed are watching the post-game coverage …. 

C.: “They’re climbing light poles! I’m so proud of them!”

Ed and C. are Phillies fans. C. missed the post-game riots, but he did go to the post-game parade, which was riot-like.

He came home with a big gash on his leg, which he says was worth it.

(Wifi and privacy restrictions are funky here, so we’ll see if the videos load. Preview isn’t working at the moment.)

Happy 4th !

I can’t believe I’m missing the 4th of July (worse yet, I’m missing the 4th in Tarrytown, which has a fantastic celebration) — and I’m going to be missing Bastille Day here in France, too, because we fly home that day.

I have no idea what Bastille Day is like here, and now I’m not going to find out. 


Oh, well, c’est la vie !

(Progress report: I’m on the cusp of knowing why it’s C’est la vie, not Il est la vie.)

Happy 4th !

The last of the tiger parents?

In his Op-Ed piece in this weekend’s New York Times, Ryan Park contrasts the Asian “tiger parenting” that he grew up with:

hours marching through the snow, reciting multiplication tables… [standing] at attention at the crack of dawn reading the newspaper aloud, with each stumble earning a stinging rebuke.

with the more Americanized way he plans to raise his daughters:

They will feel valued and supported. They will know home as a place of joy and fun. They will never wonder whether their father’s love is conditioned on an unblemished report card.

A specific example of what Park has done so far:

before my oldest daughter was on an early-morning school schedule, I freely indulged her disregard for bedtime on a condition: The night was firmly earmarked for learning. We’d sometimes stay up past midnight, lying on our stomachs with feet in the air, huddled over a dry-erase board and a bowl of popcorn, practicing phonics or learning about sea creatures.

This does sound a tad less tigerish, and a jot more joyous, than marching through snow reciting multiplication tables (or, for that matter, marching through snow practicing phonics!).

But earmarking post-bedtime hours for parent-supervised, erase-board mediated learning doesn’t strike me as more typically American than Asian, even if prone position and popcorn are involved. How many typical American parents are staying up past midnight helping their kids practice phonics or learn aquatic zoology?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Loving and teaching, after all, aren’t in competition. We can fill our kids’ days with teachable moments even if we begin well after dawn, eschew snow marches and stinging rebukes, and demonstrate unconditional love. It just takes a lot of commitment and effort!

If traditional Asian parents have something to learn from typical American parents, the reverse is surely just as true.