In Paris, many street souvenir vendors have thier stuff laid on the ground and a piece of paper says "5 = 1€". Well, 1€ for 5 souvenirs would be a pretty good price but no, the price is 5€ for 1 piece.

Why do they write the price this way?

5 = 1€

  • 5
    Look at the quality of the souvenirs and wonder if 0.20€ each is the right price. Looks like it might be. – Willeke May 25 at 11:27
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    that clearly means 5 for 1 euro. If they asked 5 euros for 1 piece there could have been some kind of misunderstanding.. Also because even in the official stores the Tour Eiffel keyrings don't cost so much. – Val May 25 at 11:35
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    Where do you see a « € » symbol on the picture?? ;-) – Pierre Arlaud May 25 at 13:54
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    @PierreArlaud, maybe you should try offering them a sliced banana and see if you get 5 for that – Chris H May 25 at 13:57
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    I am french, and when I went to Paris last week I have seen the exact same dudes selling their crap under the eiffel tower. They sold me the 5 keychains for 1€ without troubles. So definitely a tourist trap, since they have no problem selling them for this price but will try to argue with anyone they can, playing with words to try to rip tourists off. – Betcheg May 28 at 13:00
up vote 70 down vote accepted

They write it this way to create confusion. This attracts more potential customers to engage with the seller, since people conclude that the price is lower than it actually is. This technique is a variant of bait and switch:

First, customers are "baited" by merchants advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods either are not available or are not as good as expected, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher-priced, items ("switching").

Here, rather than attempting to steer the customer to different higher-priced items, the seller asserts that the customer has misunderstood the (intentionally confusing) sign and that the items on display are actually more expensive than the customer believed.

In this case, the fact that the intended audience is foreign helps, since people may accept the "unfamiliar" manner of writing the price on the assumption that it must be an unfamiliar French convention.


As noted in a comment, the practice may be more of a fraud than a bait-and-switch, although I could not readily find any images on the web to support this assertion. The more common way to express a price for several items is, for example, 5€ les 2, as in this image, meaning five euros for two pieces.

As noted in another comment to Willeke's answer, the incorrectly-drawn euro sign may also be an intentional mistake to provide a scammer with (not so) "plausible" deniability. It could also help to select more vulnerable people.

Willeke's answer also deserves your upvote because it notes that the confusion created by the sign can provide opportunity for pickpockets, whether they are in league with the vendor or not.

  • 58
    It's an out-and-out lie. This style of pricing is quite common in French markets where it means the expected five items for one Euro – Chris H May 25 at 13:05
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    @ChrisH perhaps you should add that as an answer. – phoog May 25 at 13:15
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    if I had a photo I would; maybe I'll have time to find one – Chris H May 25 at 13:49
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    The sausage picture says "3€ pièce, 5€ les 2" - ie '3 euro each, 5 euro for two", not five for €2. – user1908704 May 25 at 17:13
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    Note that the true price is not 5 times as high, it's 25 times as high! – CJ Dennis May 26 at 3:16

There are many ways you can write prices with the euro sign, all traditions out of all euro countries are acceptable.

The one in the picture seems to indicate a writer who is not familiar with the € sign, using three 'horizontals'. This may also indicate he is not familiar with other parts of the writing traditions in Paris. Or (as noted in comments and other answer) can be on purpose to make a scam easier.

With the amount of souvenirs left on that piece of cloth, he will want to sell. He will not want to get in fights will all potential buyers.
But it is possible that you have found the one seller that is really dishonest.

So be aware that he might try something.
Have a one euro coin, or small change to that amount, select 5 items and hold them in one hand while offering the money with the other. If he does not accept, he will tell you the price is different. In that case you drop the souvenirs on his cloth and walk away.

In the mean time it is important to keep an eye out for pick-pockets. Not just you but your whole party. They might be part of the same set-up or just looking for easy marks.

And by buying anything from one of the sellers, you tell all the others that you are open for deals, so also have your 'no' prepared.

On re-reading your question I get the impression you are convinced that all people using this method of writing charge €5 for one item on their cloth. From the photo it is not clear whether the souvenirs are of a size to make that an expected price. If they are, yes then the price is written as a kind of scam and you are well better off not to use this kind of seller.

As indicated by @Chris H in a comment to an answer, 5=1€ is a common way to write 5 for 1 euro on the markets of France. Likely the scammers will pretend to be unfamiliar with that practice if asked.
I myself have often seen 5/1€ for 5 for one Euro, that I had taken it as the same thing written in a variation.

Having been in Paris, I have always used the shops which sell the same kind of souvenirs well away from the main sights, which go for the same price range as the street sellers but without the scamming. They likely still make huge profits on each item but do pay for premises, taxes and staff and do not disturb the public as much.

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    I would also recommend the shops because they are legal and the price includes taxes. – guillau4 May 25 at 12:43
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    I don't know why, but I've found Paris to be particularly bad for scams, such as the gold ring scam (though of course too-good-to-be-true prices are common everywhere). Specifially Paris, not other major French cities. – Chris H May 25 at 13:56
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    Paris has so many more tourists, and so many more innocent tourist, coming from all over the world, that scammers will feel more options there. I have to say that even though I have been in Paris quite often, I have not had too many problems with souvenir sellers and non with outright scammers. – Willeke May 25 at 13:59
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    The "wrong euro sign" is probably deliberate such that if things get heated the scammer can claim that it's not an "euro sign" at all, but a symbolic representation of one of the trinkets. Then "5=1*" means "5 (euro) will buy one trinket". Then you can say it's the tourist's own fault for not knowing an euro sign doesn't look that way. – Henning Makholm May 25 at 15:39
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    "I have not had too many problems with souvenir sellers and non with outright scammers.": I suspect that this is because (I assume) you make a habit of walking purposefully past such people without making eye contact. – phoog May 25 at 16:29

Why do they write the price this way?

Because they sell more this way.

These guys are professional street vendors that try to sell useless junk made in China to naive travelers and tourists for as much money as they can.

Intentionally misleading about price up front gives them more sales than being honest, as most people would just walk by when see the actual price for that crap. Once you stop to talk, they can engage (which most of them will do fairly aggressively and skillfully) to sweet talk or pressure you into a sale.

  • Personally I can't see why anyone would be even considering to buy when the seller started out by being intentionally misleading. – gnasher729 May 26 at 15:34
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    @gnasher729 Well, remember that already people who know what Travel.SE is are a selection mostly from most-aware turists out there. These guys play it on lack of experience and high level of compassion to stories. – yo' May 27 at 16:02

It's a scam. It's because 5=1euro sounds way better deal than 5 euro for 1. Then if you try to pay 1 euro, they'll aggressively to make you feel bad, i have starving kids, calling you heartless, cheap, etc.

They're outright lying to the tourists, and are scamming them.

And whatever you do, if someone offer to tie a friendship string bracelet to your finger, or your wrist: !Don't let them do it! Doesn't matter if the person is telling you: "Don't worry, Be happy!"

They'll tie that bracelet in a knot that's impossible to take off, and that string bracelet will set you off 5 euro, 10 euro etc.

You should be happy! But also be wise, wary, and yes: worry about how people will try to take advantage of you.

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    Walk away if someone gifts you an item. – SBoss May 25 at 19:19
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    and that string bracelet will set you off 5 euro, 10 euro etc. -- no, it won't set you off anything. You just walk away without any sort of interaction with the guy. Be careful with your money though. – WoJ May 25 at 19:46
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    @SBoss With this attitude, good luck in any luxury chocolate shops in Paris (or elsewhere) :-) I believe this only works for poorly-looking places. – yo' May 27 at 16:00
  • @yo' of course context matters, if you like the freebie buy the product, that's why they exist. However you should never feel obligated to spend money because you're being pressured (verbally). – SBoss May 27 at 19:36

An addendum to the other answers: Do you see the blue string going to the edge of the cloth? I'm pretty sure, the other edges are tied as well. So the seller only has to pick up and pull the lines to "close" his shop (and run away). I support the claims this is a scam, as the seller is also prepared for a fast leave.

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    AFAIK, this is not the right reason behind. The blue strings are primarily for the police risk as this kind of shopping is illegal in Paris. At least I saw the guys running away couple times when the police got near. – yo' May 27 at 15:59
  • What DBX says is 100% correct. (@yo' , you may misunderstand - you're both saying the same thing and are correct.) – Fattie May 27 at 16:52
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    "is a scam" - it's not in any sense a "scam". it's just a street seller selling crap cheaply. sure, in the sense that "many car salesmen are sharp dealers", the guy will try to upsell you, "not have change!" etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. – Fattie May 27 at 16:53

I have been multiple times to Paris and if I remember correctly, the first time I was there I bought 3 for 1€ or so. But I'd expect merchandisers to adjust the price on the person asking. This is common in many places, they'll purposefully set it in a confusing way and then ask for the maximum they think you'd pay.

For instance, this could easily be (mis)understood as:

  • 5 items, 1€
  • 5 items, 1€ each
  • 5€ 1 item

So if you are decisive, take 5 items and give the person there 1€ that'll probably settle it. If you ask, they will tell you either the second or third. If you look unsure, show a bunch of Euro bills, and then ask, they'll very likely ask for the highest price.

Offer the best deal you can interpret or walk away otherwise. They'll very likely say yes as you walk away.

protected by Willeke May 27 at 13:25

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