Update 7/20/2018: With news out today of a terrifying knife attack on a bus in Berlin, I want readers to revisit this post I wrote on May 15, 2018 about a knife attack in Paris.
“Did you hear the gun shots?” a friend asked. “No,” I said.
When the knife attack occurred, we, like many other families on a Saturday night in Paris, were out to dinner. In fact, we didn’t learn about the attack until much later. In retrospect, I’m surprised no one at our restaurant told us about it or warned us. Part of me believes they knew the situation was under control and didn’t want to ruin our night or scare us. Or they just didn’t know about it.
We learned about the attack back in our hotel room, flipping through the channels on the TV. Seeing the live report brought mixed emotions. The reporting felt opportunistic in that it was heavy with the sensationalism we are all familiar with on the eleven o’clock news with drive by shootings and triple decker apartment fires. But terrorism is different. It’s heavy on relatability.
Because it’s Paris, the world pays attention. That’s how terrorism hits home. Terrorists leverage low probability events into relatable fear: “That could have been us.” In our case, we had eaten lunch in the Marais and walked back to our hotel in the eighth arrondissement, not far from where the attack occurred in the second arrondissement near Palais Garnier (I’ll explain how in a minute). But I can tell you that’s not an area we typically walk at night.
We can’t completely remove the risk of terrorism. But with our trip and the attack fresh in my mind, I want to arm you with as much on the ground intelligence as I can offer you to help you and your family feel more comfortable when you travel to Paris.
Begin Your Trip with a Survivalist Mindset
Don’t be a sheep. Be a wolf. And that begins before you pack your bags. It’s easy to let your guard down when you’re in vacation mode, but you want to maintain your self-defense edge even as you begin packing your bags. For personal defense I break my gear into three groups. One group is for my carry-on bag, one is for my check-in bag, and the third is what I’ll be wearing.
What are You Wearing?
When traveling to Paris I like to try to blend in as much as possible. The French dress well, period. Be a chameleon and you’ll level the playing field.
To begin, I’ll have a sports coat, button down shirt and jeans on the way over. In the sports coat I have my fountain pen and carpenter’s pencil. In my jeans pocket I have a travel wrench and plenty of cash (always have cash). I’ll keep an extra fountain pen, pencil and wrench in my carry-on. Remember to remove the ink and put it in a zip lock as it will leak from the change in air pressure at takeoff/landing.
When the Lights Go Out in the City of Light
In my check-in bag I pack two flashlights, because you never know when the lights will go out. One flashlight has a rechargeable battery and a charging port for iPhones etc. The other is a tactical light and a travel adapter plug. I also pack two knives, a SOG Escape and a Kershaw SpeedSafe. As an fyi, the knife used in the attack was a three-inch blade which is the size of the SOG blade. You don’t need much to inflict serious harm.
Understand the Lay of the Land in Paris
First, always know the lay of the land. Imagine Paris, split in two by the river Seine. You have the right bank and the left bank. From there the city is split into 20 districts or arrondissements. The arrondissements (Arr) unfurl like a snail shell. Beginning at the first Arr. on the right bank, it spins clockwise, unfurling to the second, third and fourth arrondissements on the right bank, then crossing the Seine to the left bank into the fifth, sixth, and seventh arrondissements, back over the Seine again to the right bank into the eighth etc.
This is how you can walk, like we did, from the Marais in the third Arr., through the second Arr., where the attacks occurred in the Opera Garnier district, to our hotel in the eighth Arr. If you’re ever lost, think about where the Seine is located for your point of reference, then look at the street signs on the buildings. The number at the top is the arrondissement you’re located in.
Be a wolf. Go to Paris. Travel with confidence. It is a most valuable asset.
Your Survival Guy