Paris crime and violence not living up to dangerous expectations of Hollywood directors

daisybelle.jpgChaque semaine, Daisy Nguyen, étudiante en troisième année de sciences politiques et de droit à l’Université de Californie, en échange cette année à Sciences Po, nous racontera la vie vue par un bon tiers de la population estudiantine de notre institut – en anglais.
Every week, Daisy Nguyen, a third year exchange student from the University of California studying Political Science and Law, will relate life as third of the Sciences Po students see it – in english.

The movie Taken is an American’s favorite Paris tell-all, that is it sums up Paris in 2.5 hours and leaves a permanent impression of how savagely dangerous the rest of the world is. It features a naive (another synonym for stupid) 18 year old American chick who gets abducted into the Paris prostitution scheme by none other than the Russian mafia- and to top it off, her ex-CIA dad (Liam Neeson!) comes charging through corrupt French administration to finally karate chop all the Russians into giving his daughter back. They grab a jet plane and say au-revoir to the French snobs and pimps of Paris, happily ever after, The End. Thrilling, exuberating, and quite successful in striking fear and anxiety in the hearts of to-be Parisians all over the globe.

However, whenever I mention the movie to my French friends, they burst into shrieking amusement as though I was describing my fears of Santa taking over the world with the Easter bunny as his side kick. I was not amused. Here I was on the verge of a stress induced hernia, and they were mocking my real fears of being brutally kidnapped on the Paris metro a minute past ten, only to show up a week later floating upside down in the Seine River. But after snapping out of the world of Hollywood, there are actually relatively low crime rates in France. Petty theft, like pick pocketing is much higher in metropolitan cities, however Paris does not have the brutality of the Bronx nor the gangs of Los Angeles.

As metropolitan and busy as Paris is, crime and violence are exceptionally low. In 2010, Paris had an overall crime rate of 11.8% (per 100,000 people), however ¾ were non violent theft. The rest of France’s statistics were significantly lower, so low it seems like everyone here is too occupied with their baguettes and butterflies to want to strangle each other. Conversely, American statistics seems to accuse us as murderous in nature; the United States has a violent crime rate of 5% (per 100,000 inhabitants). Los Angeles, CA has nearly double the murder rate as the other states. So while I’m sitting in a chic cafe worrying about being taken on the metro, the United States is being plagued by far more gruesome and violent crimes- rape, murder, and gang brutality.

The notions of danger are different for an American and a Frenchman. Large, metropolitan cities in the states breed a type of fear that is laughable to the French. As glamorous as Beverly Hills may seem, the rest of LA is impoverished and littered with gang brutality and violent crime. Places like Detroit, Michigan are known for their booming numbers of violence after nightfall which got it a spot in Forbe’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities in the World (in the world!). From what I’ve noted of Parisians, their fears of being raped or murdered is low, if not non-existent. Paris doesn’t make you too scared to leave your apartment for fear of getting robbed, beaten, raped or killed in the streets. Virtually any time and anywhere is walk-able with the right amount of precaution and sense.

Now that you’ve gotten this far in the article, you’ll realize it was rather quite pleasant. Not the brutal gang violence part, but the fact that you (being an étrangère) don’t have to worry too much about curfew or men in hoods. I’ve come to depend on the metro and Noctilien for late night transport, something I would never do in LA. So despite our fears of getting pick pocketed, statistics suggest we won’t end up in a body bag at the end of the night. Still, as statistically ‘safe’ as Paris seems, it’s imperative that students, foreigners, and Frenchmen alike take to the streets with judgment and care.

From this article we can deduct good news and bad news. Bad news- Taken is fake, a product spoon fed by Hollywood, swallowed by tourists. Good news- one thing is sure, Paris is definitely no Compton.


  • John

    I’m sorry, but are you surprised that a Hollywood movie doesn’t accurately depict the full spectrum of life in Paris, crime or the lack thereof? Really? Have you ever seen a movie? Taken is an action film, not tourist propaganda. Yes the crime rates in Europe in general, and even Paris, are dwarfed by the crime rates in most major US cities, but that’s really not the point of the movie. If you see a film like this and expect realism, you’re going to be sadly disappointed over and over again. Of course, who the hell wants to see realism. Unless you live in a bubble, you’ll see enough realism every day.

  • Samuel

    @Odette I’ve lived in Paris all my life, and spent many a night walking around the city even at very late hours (including Bastille at 3 am, less than two weeks ago), and never had a problem. Some neighborhoods are maybe more dangerous than others (Barbès doesn’t have a very good reputation I’ll grant you that), but overall it’s an exceptionally safe city.

  • Juliette

    « not a day goes by when some freaky, thugy guy tries to approach us »
    Aren’t you exagerating a little bit…? Or maybe you’re talking about some beggar, and that’s a really different question.
    I’m a non-Parisian French and feel most of the time really safe in Paris.

  • Odette

    I’m sorry, but have you lived in Paris anytime recently? I lived in Los Angeles for 11 years. 6 of them were in South Central (aka the home of Ice Cube and the 1992 LA riots). I moved to Paris a few months ago, and I have never been more afraid to walk the streets. There are too many street thugs to count! « Virtually any time and any where is walkable… » Have you ever walked on Barbès Blvd or in Bastille at 3 am? Terrifying! Twice in Bastille we saw a guy being beaten by a group of thugs around 8pm, a couple of creepy guys grabbed by bf’s arm and tried to to steal his wallet, and not a day goes by when some freaky, thugy guy tries to approach us. I lived in Paris years ago, and it felt safe. I believe this problem is recent, but trust me, it is a very gritty, urban environment. Parisians are « en garde » most of the time.