Throwback: Getting In And Out Of Trouble As A Teenager In Paris’s Red-Light District

Moulin Rouge in Quartier Pigalle, where I stayed on a class trip to Paris

Ever wonder how my traveling career began? Or considered what I was like before I was a perpetual traveler, before I was publishing Staatenlos and before I was an Austrian School-educated anarchocapitalist

You’re in luck. We’re going to take a trip back in time to recall what my trips were like before I was a seasoned traveler and before I had even made it out of high school. My solo traveling career began after I left grade school, but the fun started before that.

Prior to this excursion, I had already launched my gambling career as a 5-year-old in Mallorca. But that was in the presence of my grandmother. At the age of 16, I also traveled on a two-week school excursion to Italy.

This trip to Paris takes place in 2009 and it was also a school excursion. And it would be my last — not because I got expelled (though I did run into some trouble), but because I was in the final year of gymnasium (High School – as we call it in Germany), and this was our last class trip.

Being that we were closing in on adulthood, or technically adults already, the school was entrusting us with more freedom and responsibility. Actually the school was just trying to save money, so it put us up in a hotel in a bad part of town — Quartier Pigalle, Paris’s red-light district. As you can already start to imagine, this made for some interesting encounters.

Sexy time

I was 18 and full of testosterone. When given the chance, I didn’t wait. I sprung into action. After doing a little window shopping, or window licking as they like to say in Paris, I zeroed in on a brunette. She had green eyes and big boobs and a seductive look on her face…

Just kidding.

I didn’t indulge. Just because I was a young man in a red-light district didn’t mean I was going to be seduced by a prostitute.

Buzz kill? Well, not really. Things still got hot and heavy.

I was traveling to Paris with a large group of classmates. Our school class was split up in three and we all went to different locations. My group ended up in Paris, another group ended up in Barcelona and the third group ended up in some boring European destination.

My group included two of my closest friends. I was sharing a room with them. As for the rest of the group, it didn’t consist of the coolest kids from my gymnasium class, but we didn’t have the most boring students either. However, we did have the biggest nerd.

He was a Chinese guy — very skinny and about 1.6 m tall (For you Americans, that is a very short stature for a man). He wore glasses, was funny-looking and was the biggest outsider in our group.

It was about 7 in the evening. We were walking back to our hotel to get ready before going for a night out in Paris. Out of nowhere, a big black guy stumbled out of a gay bar. I think it was actually a gay porn cinema, but what does that matter?. This big-black-gay-guy was drunk. He tried to grab me.

I reacted quickly and got away. The 1.6 m Chinese guy was not as quick, he had much shorter strides than me. The drunk, big-black-gay-guy (BBGG) grabbed the little Chinese student. He gave the Chinese boy a big hug. Then things escalated. As the little Chinese guy was noticeably trembling, the big black man went in for the kiss.

BBGG what he was going for. His huge lips pressed up against the tiny lips of my Asian classmate. As the group stood and watched, we could see BBGG opening and closing his mouth around the lips of this poor, innocent Chinese teenager. Our classmate could’t break free from the grasp of this large, drunken homosexual man, as he pressed his lips up against his to swap saliva. It was quite a sight, and we couldn’t stop watching.

Paris: the city of free gay love?

It had all the makings of a tragedy. But oh was it comical! A big, black gay guy grabbing and kissing a poor, little Chinese gymnasium student… I know it’s politically incorrect to laugh at this, but it was the most hilarious thing I had ever seen at that point in my life. And the creativity on display was much more impressive than the artistry you find at Montmartre.

Cultural enrichment

The trip was supposed to be about French culture. It was, but we got more cultural enrichment than we ever expected or had hoped for. Not only was there a big-black-gay man trying to make out with a poor, little Chinese kid from our class in the streets of Paris, but there was even more graphic stuff going on in the background.

We saw a murder… or a double murder.

One night, my roommates and I were perched the balcony of our hotel room. From there, we had a view of the Pigalle and the numerous homeless people in the area. On this night one specific night, we saw a sight much worse. We didn’t actually see or hear the gunshots as they were being fired. But we saw the bodies and the blood splatters. We also saw the bodies being taken away in body bags. So we knew we had for sure seen dead people. I’m positive that’s exactly what my German school administrators had in mind by ‘sightseeing in the streets of Paris’.

More trouble

The deadly shooting wasn’t the only crime to take place in the area during our stay in the red-light district of Paris. One crime actually took place inside my own room. Don’t worry, though. No one ended up dead this time. The only loss was monetary, and it actually turned into something funny.

One of my roommates was storing cash in a secret pocket inside his bag, which he would leave unattended inside our room during the day. On one of the days, we came back to the room in the evening, and my roommate discovered the money was missing. 100 or 200 euros were stolen from his bag.

It had to be the cleaning lady!

Again, I sprung into action. The next morning, I grabbed a pencil and paper and made a sign. I wrote, “No money for you today” and left it on the table in our room before going out for the day.

When we returned to the hotel, my former French teacher — who was actually the reason for me dropping out of French after two years of studying the language — gave me a severe warning. If I did such terrible thing again, I would be kicked off the class trip… Huh? What the…? Why?

Apparently, the cleaning lady saw the sign and stormed out of the room in tears. Who does that?! The sign clearly triggered her, but why? Why would she be crying about some sign saying, “No money for you today” if she hadn’t done anything wrong… if she hadn’t stolen anything?

We couldn’t prove that the cleaning lady was the thief, and I was forced to apologize. Still, the situation was very amusing.

The Eiffel Tower(s)

The Eiffel Tower

Another little nuance of the trip that I couldn’t help but laugh at was the fascination of one member of our group with souvenir Eiffel Towers. If you’ve been to Paris, you surely know of the African guys who walk around the street selling — or trying to sell — miniature Eiffel Towers.

There was a Russian-German guy in our group named Dennis. He was just amazed by these little, metal Eiffel Towers. Dennis didn’t buy three or four of them. Over the course of the week, he bought 30 or 40. I don’t know he managed to bring them all back to Germany. The regulations around carry-on allowance were different back then. 😉

The Louvre

We didn’t just goof around on this trip, and we did go up the actual Eiffel Tower. We also visited the Louvre and pushed through crowds of people to get a glimpse off the Mona Lisa. We went inside the famous cathedral of Notre Dame; we even ventured out of the city to see the grand Palace of Versaille; etc.

The Mona Lisa

In summary of our sightseeing, we saw most of the main sights that the hordes of tourists visit when they come to Paris. That includes the inconspicuous Place de la Concorde, where King Louis XVI had his head chopped off. Frederic Bastiat aside, the French haven’t always been staunch defenders of the first principle of their national motto (Liberté, égalité, fraternité).

Early travel lessons

Of course the hours spent sightseeing were not the most memorable moments of the trip. I was learning early on that successful travel is about far more than seeing amazing sights like the palace of Versaille. Rich experiences occur when you dig a little deeper into a country or city’s culture and have the ability to get a good laugh from incidents that go awry.

These experiences were conditioning me to later understand the intricacies of Svalbard and Pitcairn and preparing me to be able to emotionally handle phone-break on Mangareva.

Soon thereafter, at the tender age of 20, I would move on to travel solo to New Zealand. And less than five years later, I would become a perpetual traveler. Being on pace to visit every single country in the world by the age of 30 doesn’t happen in a vacuum. My passion for travel began somewhere, sometime.

Being a teenager watching a non-consensual homosexual makeout in the red-light district of Paris was part of how it all began. Maybe it’s not what sprung me to hit the road indefinitely, but everyone’s got a starting point or starting points. Quartier Pigalle will always be one of those places where that thirst to travel began (pictures from my second Paris visit in October 2017).

Merci for the memories