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Think Paris is the World Capital for Romance? Think Again

29/08/2013 10:21 BST | Updated 28/10/2013 09:12 GMT

If you're a cantankerous cynic (like me) you'll be thrilled to hear the Parisian authorities have vowed to tear down the so-called "lovers' padlocks" shackled to the Pont des Arts bridge.

For some couples, it's the perfect opportunity to cement a relationship by scrawling their initials on a five Euro padlock and hurling the key into the river Seine.

But for many others - including the Parisians, unsurprisingly - they are a blight on the landscape, more unsightly than graffiti and even harder to remove. According to the city council they've even become a major health hazard: should a lock fall from the bridge and strike an unsuspecting tourist below, the result would be fatal.

Those blasted padlocks are also a sign of our curious obsession with Paris and its reputation as the most romantic place in the world, one which proves ill-deserved when you look a little closer.

I lived and worked in the city for eight months and met a fair few couples who fell foul of its false romantic charm.

One unfortunate pair ended up spending far more on a trip to the Eiffel Tower than they could ever have bargained for. Approached by a seemingly friendly fellow, he offered to take a photo of the happy couple, all holiday grins and sunburn, under the tower. Delighted, they handed over the camera and posed for the snap only for the local rascal, actually a scam artist, to refuse to hand it back until they forked out ten euros. Naive of them, perhaps, but far from uncommon.

Now, if I saw that kind of photo on someone's mantlepiece I'd probably assume it was a souvenir of a dreamy weekend away. For them it brought back memories of a close shave with the city's underworld and a hole in their pockets.

Indeed the whole episode was made far more surreal by the fact that the scam artist was wearing a mouldy gorilla suit during a sweltering July heat wave. Perhaps they should have seen it coming after all...

A friend of mine told me a similar tale, only this time they were caught at the stunning Sacré-Coeur church, in the northern Montmartre district. Though a beauty spot by anyone's standards, the church is in a decidedly dodgy location. To reach its striking inner chamber, you have to pass through a bottleneck at the foot of the stairs where swindlers and pickpockets try to apprehend you.

My friend recalled how his partner was grabbed by the hand and forced to make small talk with one of the men while another discreetly slipped some threads around her finger and started to weave. Before either could protest the threads became the beginnings of a tacky-looking bracelet and soon after they were being charged fifteen euros for one of the worst fashion accessories in Paris. This story, however, has a slightly happier ending - they tore off the bracelets and stormed into the church unharmed, nonetheless shaken by the whole experience.

It is true that Paris was this year's third highest tourist destination, drawing in nearly 14 million visitors, but those from the far east have also found their stay less than romantic. One Parisian hotelier made headlines last year after he banned Chinese guests, while recent reports suggest the Chinese are targeted by thieves more than any other nationality.

Meanwhile the Japanese embassy have their own 24 hour hotline for Paris Syndrome, an affliction where tourists are so shaken by the disconnect between their rose-tinted vision of the capital and reality that they go into shock.

Of course, that's not to say Paris is some hellish den of criminals. The reality is of course quite the opposite.

Nor am I being snobbish towards some of the city's most popular tourist attractions. I'm more than partial to glugging down a two euro bottle of wine on the Champ de Mars, which is far less salubrious than a cruise on the Seine river.

But those who don't resist the temptation to see Paris as a dreamy utopia are setting themselves up for a shock - whether it be for disappointment, petty crime or even far worse.