Nobody likes un arnaqueur — a cheater, a swindler, a con artist — except, of course, on film. In "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" Paul Newman and Robert Redford made the notorious bank robbers charmants, and Jean-Paul Belmondo did the same for car thief Michel Poiccard in "Breathless" (À Bout de Souffle"), although lovely Jean Seberg does rat him out in the end.
In real life, however, les arnaqueurs are not so easy to love. I'm thinking of Bernard Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Internet scammers and especially the pickpockets of Paris, who spend their days trawling the city's monuments, looking for unsuspecting tourists to rob. La Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame Cathedral, l'Arc de Triomphe, the Châtelet-Les Halles métro station, le Pont des Arts ("Excuse me! You dropped your ring!"), Charles de Gaulle airport, and la navette (shuttle) between Charles de Gaulle to the RER B station are all prime hunting grounds for those who make their livings by stealing.
To the casual observer, les voleurs (thieves) appear to work in pairs but often they are working in gangs — six or more at a time, filtering through the tourists hordes, looking for people who are too busy looking at something else — a map, a view finder, a monument — to notice that, oops!, the wallet or passport has suddenly disappeared.
Despite their dastardly deeds, I find les arnaqueurs of Paris fascinating. They're smart, multilingual, and dedicated. I enjoy watching them work, especially in front of Notre-Dame. The trouble is, they don't much like being observed.
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