Backpacker Almost Murdered By Stranger in South France

Narrowly escapes. . . danger?

Photo by Adrien Siami on Unsplash

** Republished from 2017 **

After an uncertain turn of events, I found myself on a train heading from Marseille with a complete stranger — accepting his offer to host me for a night in his home an hour west in Martigues. I was certain I was making a regrettable decision, but my lack of options and otherwise stingy travel habits gave me no choice.

Now, before you say, “Adam, how ungrateful to claim such a generous offer as an act of crazy, deranged psychopathology!” I must prove to you there were signals leading me to that reasoning.

Let me start with the first suspicious act behind my reasoning.

Nordine, a local of Martigues (which is known as the ‘Venice of Provence’), approached me as I was eating a plain, dry baguette in the parking lot of the market which I just bought it in.

I had just arrived in Marseille without a real plan. Actually, I hadn’t planned to spend more than a few hours in Marseille before I found a bus to some smaller French towns on my way to Charles du Gaulle in Paris. But that all changed after I met Nordine; a complete stranger who approached me in the parking lot.

“Hi, haven’t I know you?” he said to me in broken English.

I was caught off guard — this certainly wasn’t the setting I had imagined meeting anyone in. I was so focused on my baguette; I hardly realized this complete stranger was talking to me even when I was the only one in the vicinity.

At first, I had to run through my memory of all the potential places I could have met this complete stranger who was now standing directly in front of me (a bit too close for comfort). I was quiet for several moments.

“No, I don’t think that’s possible unless we met somewhere other than Marseille. I just arrived not but an hour ago,” I replied to him.

He was a lengthy, gawky guy; mid-thirties, with uncommonly loose-fitting clothes, glasses, a scraggly beard, and a straw hat that made him look like a tourist straight out of a guidebook. He seemed like an interesting subject to a writer looking for a story. I decided to continue the conversation.

However, I soon found out Nordine’s English lacked considerable capacity and we struggled to talk about anything worth mentioning — which is why I found it suspicious when he offered to show me a few locally-known spots of Marseille.

That’s the second notion behind my reasoning that Nordine had alternative motives behind his niceness. Why would he want to spend time with a complete stranger who can’t even communicate with him?

Marseille France Attractions: Le Panier Neighborhood

We spent the afternoon in various parks, getting fresh French ice cream, and exploring the beautiful neighborhood of Le Panier. This is a part of Marseille that doesn’t receive near the attention it should as a top Marseille France attraction. It’s’ narrowed, cobblestone streets, brightly painted buildings, and small details such as wooden painted storefront signs give every corner café a true French feel. Marseille was my first taste of a French city and Le Panier served as my first taste of Marseille. It did not disappoint in the least.

It began to feel like Nordine wasn’t just a complete stranger. I started to relax a bit around Nordine, and, although I had to repeat everything I said to him several times, we were starting to communicate better.

We both spoke some Spanish, and so whenever I just couldn’t get my simple point across, I’d recall a way to convey my message in Spanish and we were usually able to understand each other. I remained entertained for the afternoon and got to see some really beautiful places that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

A Complete Stranger to Host Me: Is Marseille safe for Tourists?

Before arriving, I had heard a lot of bad things about the city of Marseille, France. Even the French I had spoken about Marseille with didn’t really regard Marseille as a French city. They spoke about immigrants, crime, and related those two together as one. I began to wonder — is Marseille safe for tourists like me? Maybe Nordine is trying to gain my trust before committing a crime against me.

“Where do you sleep tonight?” Nordine asked me as the early evening was upon us in Marseille. I started to get the feeling that he was going to off to host me.

I told him I had seen a hostel just up the street from where we were earlier in the afternoon. Almost instantly, he insisted to host me for a night in his hometown — Martigues.

This was my third clue-in and when I really started to become on-edge about this newly acquired “friend”. He had already spent the better part of seven hours showing me around places he’s probably seen one-thousand times; what could this complete stranger possibly be plotting to host me?

So, I told him no. I didn’t feel like the risk was worth it. Nordine, although extremely nice up until this point, was still a complete stranger.

As a kid, it seems every month we are shown a ‘don’t talk to strangers video’ in school and told to stay off the website to talk to strangers. But it becomes a different situation when dealing with it as an adult.

So he walked to the hostel with me — we agreed to grab a beer after I got checked in. But there were no beds available for the night. Rather than walking all over Marseille to check vacancy in other hostels, I then accepted Nordine’s offer to go to Martigues with him so he could host me. It was only a short, inexpensive train ride away so we left Marseille right away — attempting to check out his hometown before sundown.

As we sat at the train station and waited, Nordine pointed to a pigeon and said, “I want to make kisses to these birds. They’re so cute.” This may have been a language-barrier issue, but still, the statement — I still remember — added to my weariness of the man that was to host me.

Martigues for Sundown: A Complete Stranger to Host Me

We got to his home just as it started to get dark outside. I was able to see “The Venice of Provence” which was neat, although the town didn’t offer much life — I hope this wasn’t foreshadowing my own reality from following a complete stranger home.

Nordine opened the door to his three-bedroom apartment and immediately I was struck with the mess that was inside. I couldn’t even fit my backpack through the front door which only opened halfway because of the piles of stuff he was hoarding behind it.

He was certainly a hoarder. He gave me a short tour that included quickly opening and closing each bedroom door as if behind each door he had forgotten about something he didn’t want me to see. Admittedly, I was completely on edge.

We finally sat down and I asked him for his WiFi passcode so that I could notify my family of my whereabouts just in case I turned up missing in the next few days.

“Oh, no internet. No computer, so no internet,” Nordine informed me.

O.K., Nordine didn’t have WiFi; odd in this day and age, but O.K.

It grew quiet in his apartment. Finally, we were away from the buzz of the city and that’s when I realized that the only thing that could distract us from the silence is our own conversation.

What about some music? I’m sure he has a speaker — I thought. . . Nope.

TV? . . . Nope.

Cards? . . . Nope.

Beer? . . . Nope.

What kind of person living in the 21st Century has none of the above? This was my fourth piece of evidence that there was a good chance I’d be murdered in the middle of the night.

So we sat and made simple small talk for another hour over dinner. Nordine prepared a very French-looking salad to go along with a few baguettes. We sat in silence for the majority of the night.

My phone had died while showing him pictures I had taken that day. There were no unoccupied outlets in the house. My communication with the outside world would have to consist of screaming for my life from his balcony if the situation came to that.

After delaying the inevitable for another hour or so, I finally acknowledged that I’d have to fall asleep in Nordine’s house that night. I could only hope there would be a tomorrow morning.

I fell asleep on his couch ten feet from his back door that was wide-open — ready to dash to the escape if need be. However, he lived on the fourth floor of his apartment complex.

I Survived.

The next morning, I woke up. There was nothing wrong with me. I checked for all of my belongings in my bag — they were all there. It didn’t seem like anything happened. I tend to be a light sleeper and I remained asleep the entire night.

So what happened?

Nothing. Nothing happened. Nordine woke up several minutes later and joined me in the living room. We made some more small talk for a while until Nordine headed to the kitchen for breakfast.

So, why did I tell this story?

I think it serves as an important reminder that the majority of this world is filled with good. Sometimes, it’s easy to confuse what the media tells us the world is like with what is actually reality. I built an entire psychopathic character out of Nordine in my head. I completely frightened myself for nothing.

I’ve never once come across a mean-spirited person in my travels; at least, not a dangerous person that stands as any kind of threat to me.

Is it important to exercise common sense and good rationales while traveling? Well, of course. However, to get the most of your travels, I think it’s more important to trust in the good of people until proven wrong.

Nordine wasn’t a criminal serial killer or thief. He isn’t a psychopath. He isn’t even as devious as I can be. He was a complete stranger who offered to host me but that doesn’t mean he was mean-spirited.

It wasn’t until after a month had passed since Nordine offered to host me that I had time to come up with some new assumptions about him.

Nordine IS an extremely generous, sincere, and innocent human being. He’s unselfish. And, most importantly, Nordine is a good friend — not a complete stranger anymore.

After breakfast, he rode with me back to Marseille where we parted ways. I was on to Lyon, he was heading back to Martigues. I had survived the night and made a great friend.

Thanks for the twenty-four hours of hospitality, Nordine. More notably, thank you for reminding me to see the good in people of this world; even the complete stranger who offers to host me. What an invaluable lesson.

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