Granted, it has been a while since I last posted a “Crazy Travel Story” story. I’d been meaning to get around to it sooner rather than now, but I ended up prioritizing my destination posts on the places I’ve been to so far that the *crazy* stories behind them got pushed back further and further.
Any case, I’ve decided that *finally* now is the time to start back up again. Granted, I still have posts on my recent trip to Marseille during the February holidays (vacances d’hiver) to write up, but until then, I thought that I would sit back and recount some more of the weird shenanigans that I’ve experienced from traveling, when I least expect it.
Crazy Travel Story #2: That One Time We Got Stopped by the Police…
It was back in September 2015: I arrived in Paris with my family, having just found out a couple of months prior that I was accepted to teach English in France. It would be my first year as an assistante d’anglais in Normandy, and before I headed over to the region to start my job, my family and I thought that it would be nice to take a family vacation over to Paris for sightseeing, considering that they hadn’t been there before (I’d been there the year prior studying abroad).
With that said, we packed our bags and took the flight over to spend a week exploring the wonders of the French capital. Upon arriving at the Charles de Gaulle airport, we were picked up by our Airbnb hostess, who drove us over to her home where we would be staying in, gave us the keys, and from then on we were left to do our thing. It was a lovely apartment that fit all four of us, as well as being centrally-located (in the 18th or 19th arrondissement, near Père Lachaise). Overall, it was a good living experience.
The day that we got in and settled in our Airbnb, we also went out to the nearest big metro stop (Nation) to purchase cartes Navigos (“Navigo passes”) for my family since we would be in Paris for a week and would be relying a lot on metros to get us from place to place. I still had my carte Navigo from my study abroad days, so it was just a matter of me helping my family purchase theirs at the ticket office booth, practicing my French with the ticket lady in the process. My mom, dad, and sister got their passes, charged them up, and that was it.
For first three days, we hit up all the main attractions of the city: the Louvre, les Champs Élysées, the Arc of Triumph, and the Musée d’Orsay, while also making a day trip to Versailles. It was exhausting, but all the same we saw a lot and I think my family enjoyed it.
It was our third day in Paris when things turned for the worse: after finishing up the Musée d’Orsay (with its lovely collection of Impressionist paintings), we got some sandwiches at a nearby Éric Kayser before popping into the Patisserie des rêves, a pricey, but really good pastry shop that I’d been introduced to by my host mom when I studied abroad and loved, so I wanted to show it to my family. We bought some pastries to go before taking the metro over to the Eiffel Tower, getting off at the Bir-Hakeim stop, which was where almost everyone gets off to access the iconic tower. Strangely enough, I had a weird feeling before getting off the metro, since it was in such a touristy part of the city, but didn’t know exactly why. As if something bad was going to happen…
We got off at Bir-Hakeim, where to my surprise I saw a few metro policemen stopping people who just got off the metro, checking to see if they had their tickets or Navigo passes so that they weren’t cheating the system. They stopped us, telling us (in English) to show our Navigo passes. It was a first for me, as well as for my family (I’d never gotten checked when I studied abroad), but all the same we complied and showed them.
One of them looked at my Navigo pass, with my small photo ID and signature, and said that I was okay. However…my family was not okay. Turned out, their Navigo passes didn’t have photo IDs and their signatures- as a result, the police fined them 33 euros each (which, multiplied by three, amounted to a whopping 99 euros).
We were shocked. First things first, we didn’t know that it was obligatory to have a photo ID and signature on the Navigo pass; we’d assumed that it was just optional, since after a week they wouldn’t need it anymore. Secondly, there was no way we could have access to photo IDs since we didn’t have a printer back at our Airbnb to print out our photos. Mind you, back then we didn’t know that one could take photos at the Photomatons at the metro stations for the Navigo passes, and really, we didn’t think it was such a huge deal that my family’s cards were “incomplete.”
Plus, 99 euros…for not having a photo ID and signature on the Navigo pass?! Those Parisian metro police were certainly on a power trip, and there was no way they were coming down from it anytime soon. Their English wasn’t very good, too, even when my parents (who spoke English, but not French) tried to explain to them that they didn’t know that they were supposed to have done all of that with their Navigo passes, and tried to reason with them. Still, the police were obstinate, demanding 99 euros out of us. Jerks.
My dad got mad (he has a bad temper sometimes) and demanded to see their ID, to make sure that they were actually metro policemen and not just some crooks trying to steal our money. One of the police (“the ringleader”) showed his ID, and my dad tried to take it away, as means of blackmailing them! It didn’t prove very successful, as his other two cronies held my dad back, with a bit of jostling in the process. Mind you, he was carrying our *very expensive* pastries, so it was a delicate matter. Still, wtf Dad…if anything, it made the police even madder and less likely to let us go unscathed.
Eventually, I piped in: considering that English seemed to be no-go, I mustered up my French and tried to reason with them that way. They actually paid attention, even saying, “Ah écoute, elle parle français…” I ended up going down to the metro ticket office to speak with a representative, being accompanied by the “ring leader” while his other two cronies stayed behind to keep an eye on my family. Never before did I have so much responsibility to make sure that we got out alive from this mess.
Spoke to the front desk about our issue, asking if it was true that we had to pay the fine for the Navigo passes. Unfortunately, we had to and, feeling defeated, I returned to my family. At that point, though, the police actually softened up and instead of having to pay 99 euros total, they slashed it to 33 euros. My mom paid for it and after a stern warning from them to put on a photo ID and signature, we left the station. By then, the mood had been soured: my dad was pissed, my mom and sister were still confused by the whole situation, and I felt ashamed that I, having lived in the city for some time beforehand, didn’t know about all of this. Even the pastries that we consumed in front of the tower afterwards couldn’t quite take the edge off of what we’d just encountered (although still delicious, nonetheless).
I ended up later Googling if getting stopped by the metro police for an incomplete Navigo pass was really a thing or just a scam…turns out, it’s a real thing, but depending on how well you comply with them, sometimes they can charge you less for it (although the minimum seemed to be at 33 euros, like what we had ourselves). Any case, that was a shitty encounter which, along with another horror story the day after (which I’ll save for another post), definitely soured my impression of Paris second-time around. Thankfully though, my family ended up going to a photocopy store to get photo IDs for their Navigo passes, stuck them on, and we never had a problem since then.
That’s about it for my crazy travel story; I’ll be posting more of them when I can, so look out for them! Until then, à bientôt!