After walking through the park and saying goodbye to our coypu friend, MK and I began heading off to find food (because we tend to do that a lot). We stopped and watched some people doing a photoshoot (I would have said they were cosplayers, because one of them was dressed like Toph, but then they were joined by others wearing the same sort of clothing style who were definitely not cosplayers, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they were taking professional photos in their traditional cultural clothing. Because, also, who would do an Avatar photoshoot at the Eiffel Tower, anyway?), then moved on. Or, at least, we attempted to, when we were stopped by a some petitioners.
This is never a good situation to be in, and it is one that makes my skin crawl. I generally won’t even stop for petitioners in my home country, nor will I, in general, sign any petition, because it makes you a very easy target for everything from pickpocketing (best case) to racketeering or intimidation for who knows what. For us, it wasn’t a huge deal as I wasn’t about to let either of us sign, and I have the handy fall-back that most petitioners don’t know how to deal with: I could literally lose my university funding if I get involved in anything political in my host country. Paris might not be in my host country, but it is in my host continent, and I’m not about to lose a scholarship because someone wanted a signature (although I doubt my university would be that strict). But either way, petitions are usually a bad idea, mainly because, well, they aren’t real.
You can often tell because of the details that seem painfully obvious when you think about it, but which are lost on you in the moment. A true French petition won’t be printed in English, but in French. Many legal petitions require that the signatories are citizens or subjects of that country. Basically, if it’s a real thing, the petitioners wouldn’t be interested in us at all, because we don’t fit the parameters necessary. Also, real petitioners tend not to scatter like cockroaches when the police come by. I’ve heard from some of my French friends that the police near the Eiffel Tower and other major landmarks regularly remove the petitioners from the area and confiscate their “petitions” since they are usually up to no good.
And sometimes the no good really is no good. Most of the time, the petitioners really want a “donation”, and every now and then (like today) they will push for a donation even if you won’t sign their petition. Many times, however, by signing, you are agreeing to pay a certain amount, and will go to pretty drastic measures to get you to do so. One girl at the university actually had a petitioner follow her for quite some time, until she managed to lose them in a crowded place. She was not happy about the experience, and was rather freaked out. I think I would be too.
This is also why, unless I’ve been caught red handed (red tongued?) I often prefer just feigning ignorance and pretending I don’t speak whatever languages get thrown at me (I’ve found a heavily accented “sorry!” is the best way to deal with that, because they can’t magically know Spanish or whatever else you have up your sleeve). Because, really, I just want to enjoy wherever I am in peace. Without having to worry about pickpockets. Or con artists. Or anything else. I just want to go “hey! It’s snowing and I’m at the Eiffel Tower!”