Heading into week six of the semester, it’s hard to believe I’m already halfway through my study abroad experience. Living in a foreign country is a learning experience in every possible sense. Whether it’s learning a new language, living on your own in an unfamiliar place or being so far from family and friends, studying abroad teaches you a lot. Unfortunately, these lessons aren’t always easy. It took me more time and more financial loss than I would have liked to learn a traditional and sobering lesson: Don’t gamble.
During my orientation week in Paris I was lucky enough to have my good friend John visit for a few days. With a wide-open schedule, John and I were free to explore the city as we pleased. One afternoon we decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower. We had both already been but we were feeling a bit tired and what better place to nap in Paris than the Eiffel Tower? Little did we know that our casual excursion would quickly take a turn for the worse.
Walking from the metro stop to the tower, we came upon a group of energetic people standing around a man playing a “casino” game. He had a cardboard box with three black discs. One had a white circle on the bottom and the other two were completely black. The dealer would first show the audience the disc with the white circle, flip it back over and then shuffle them around. It’s a pretty simple game. If you want to bet after the discs have been shuffled, you have to first give the dealer 50 or 100 euros. Then you flip the disc and if it’s right, you get double back. If it’s wrong, he keeps the original bet.
John and I stood watching, guessing in our heads. We guessed right every time. Some people won, some lost, but the correct disc was obvious to us every time. Suddenly, there was a pause with no one betting, and John and I looked at each other.
I will admit that I pressured John into putting down the money. We had been shooting 100 percent, and now we were going to win 100 euros! It would be so easy. Next thing we knew, John had handed over 100 euros and flipped over the disc. It was black.
We were in shock. We stood by for a few more rounds. We guessed them all correctly again. “I’m gonna win my money back,” John said. We had no idea what had happened the first time; it must have been a fluke. We watched the shuffling of the discs and were sure that we had the right one. John puts down another 100 euros down and flips the disc. Another black one. Two hundred euros down the drain in 5 minutes. As you might imagine, John was in a state of shock for a good 5 hours. I was so stunned I couldn’t stop laughing.
Fast forward five weeks and I was making my way up to the lookout of Montmartre, one of the most beautiful views in Paris. I found myself on a street with two “casinos.” Genius that I am, I couldn’t help but stop and watch for a minute.
Once again, I saw people win some bets and lose some bets, and I was guessing just about all of them correctly. Then came a round where nobody else was playing. I was sure I knew which disc to choose and next thing I knew, the “dealer” had taken the 50 out of my hand. A few people around me were egging me on so I succumbed to the pressure and flipped it. It was black.
At this point, you probably think I’m an idiot. After sulking for 45 minutes I made my way back to a different casino, determined to get to the bottom of the scam. I just stood by, watching everyone play. The woman to my left bet and won. She walked away with her friend and put the money in her wallet with a big smile. Within a minute she came back, played again, and lost. I watched to see her reaction and noticed that she didn’t seem that put out. That was when I realized their game.
I started yelling at the next naïve tourist about to place a bet. “They’re all acting! They’re all working together! Don’t play!” I yelled. The women who had been to my left quickly boxed me out and stepped on my foot. The man across the circle shook his head and the dealer started yelling, telling everyone I was crazy.
Like I said, you learn a lot during study abroad, whether it’s a language or how profitable fooling tourists can be. I still don’t even know what happens to the white circle; there’s definitely some real magic at play and I commend the wily dealers. Unfortunately for us, the opportunity to learn so much by traveling abroad is paired with initial ignorance. So take advantage of this embarrassing lesson of mine, and if you make it to Paris, don’t gamble. For me, that lesson cost 250 euros.
Philip Doerr is a Trinity junior and is currently studying abroad in Paris, France. His column runs every other Thursday.