What are common scams in Paris
What's going on with the "String People" in central Paris?
Paris is a great city - great museums, great art in galleries, great food, interesting architecture and buildings. Unfortunately, this means a lot of people visit it and that brings problems ... As other questions point out, many Parisians are fed up with tourists who make no attempt to speak French and a small number try to take advantage of it from them :(
Checking WikiVoyage will reveal details about some scams to avoid. For practically everyone, the key factor is that they will only be brought to justice against tourists, especially tourists who do not speak French. Partly, if you spend a lot of time there, you will learn to spot the scam, and partly, you will know how to report it to the police. As Mark mentions, they generally clear up when the police show up ...
I also had an interesting conversation with my sister about Paris over Christmas. She learned German at school, I learned French and our experience with Paris was completely different. She has suffered from rude waiters and people trying to cheat on her. I found everything to be fine in general. The difference seems to be a small amount of French.
For most of Paris, first try to speak a little French according to this question. If it's a scam, they'll generally ignore you if they think you're a native, so a "no-merci" should be fine. If it's something real, they either switch to English or ask someone else (someone who prevents you from asking for directions). A bit of French almost always seems to help in restaurants, especially in tourist areas!
If you look and act like a local you will be fine and have a great time in Paris. If you look like the baby animal that was separated from the herd and is now surrounded by large cats, things don't look promising to you ...
Brief summary - learn a few words of French, say no politely in French, when approaching on the street with what could be a scam and try not to look like an easily confused + lost American tourist.
If possible, travel close to a group that looks like this. The hunter pack senses their weakness and takes them down, so that your part of the herd is free to graze and wander ;-)
(Seriously, I've been to Paris quite a bit, with French proficiency varying from beginner to my current levels, and the only time I've ever had problems was when I was half asleep and in English to someone at the Sacré Coeur and I got out of this with one of the aforementioned string bracelet things for the price of a coffee.
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