*Okay, we’re 99.89% sure they were scammers. But there’s still that .11% chance that I’m a wanted fugitive in Paris, and that doesn’t NOT make me feel like a badass.
Picture this: It was June 2016. I was traveling with my mom through Western Europe after doing the Scottish Play in Scotland (yep). My mom used to live in Montpellier and does *not* like Paris, but this was a trip I had originally planned to take with an ex, and Mama G saved the day by taking his place when we broke up. So Paris, la ville de l’amour, it was.
By the time our little incident took place we’d been exploring France’s capitol for two days and had exclusively walked or taken the metro everywhere. We bought a little packet of five disposable metro tickets each, and up until then had thrown the individual ticket slips away after each ride. So far, no problems, no machines asking to take the tickets on our way out of the metro (the way there are in London, for example), and no signs indicating that we should hold onto our tickets anywhere. So when we exited the metro at the Eiffel Tower station – the most touristy metro stop in the world, for sure – I thought nothing of having trashed my little slip of paper.
That is, until a large French hand stopped me asking to scan my ticket. My mom happened to keep hers because she’s constantly one step ahead of everybody, but I, subpar mortal human, had thrown mine away like I was used to doing.
“No ticket, 75 Euros,” Large French Hand Man said.
“No,” I said, “That’s never been a rule before.” He shrugged, and held up a laminated manual stating that this was, in fact, the rule. Mind you, there were about five of these “officers,” and they all had very official-looking vests and ticket scanning machines. Plus walkie-talkies. Walkie-talkies = legit.
My mom tried speaking to them in French, but since they knew we spoke English and were therefore tourists, they were having none of it. Because I am belligerent and smart, I declared that we were not going to pay, that this was connerie and a scam and we didn’t believe it. I believe my exact words were, “This is bullsh*t, this is a scam, there’s no way we’re paying.” I tried to push my way through the wall of gruff Frenchmen but a couple of pairs of hands grabbed me at once and shoved me back in place.
“You pay, or we call the police, and when the police come it’s 180 Euros.”
“Fine,” I said, like a smart person. “Call the police. They won’t come, because you’re a scam, and we won’t pay anything, because this is a scam.”
The vest-wearing bully then rapidly spoke into his walkie-talkie, evidently summoning the police.
I was starting to feel shaky because I, like most rational people, am not a fan of being womanhandled, and I was beginning to seriously doubt my convictions. I mean. The guy had a very official-looking walkie-talkie with which he could communicate with the police. On one hand, I knew it was a scam, and yet on the other, I was becoming more and more sure that I had just landed my mother and I in Parisian jail for the remainder of our trip. I was somehow equally positive of these two antithetical scenarios at once.
Meanwhile, other tourists were being caught in the same trap, and most simply paid the fine. This was making me even more mad, both at the scammers and at the people who weren’t joining my rebellion of two.
After ten-twenty minutes of detainment, my mom asked (in French) how long it was going to take to for the police to get here. I need to take a moment to give a shout out to Beth for remaining totally calm during this encounter, and blindly following my haphazard lead. Not many people would, or should, do the same.
“I don’t know,” the man said, annoyed that he should have to waste one more second or breath on us idiot American tourists. “Could be twenty minutes, could be two hours. You know the Euro is on, lots of police needed there and not here.”
Ah, yes. Sound logic. If I were a French policeman, I too would rather be watching soccer – sorry, football – than dealing with delinquent American riffraff.
And then, our moment came. A group of ten or so Spanish-speaking tourists exited the train at once, and all five ticket scanners were needed to corner them. We were suddenly under only vague surveillance.
“Mom, run,” I hissed, already flying down the stairs, summer skirt clutched in my hand to ensure maximum mobility. The men were shouting after us, loudly and in French, but we flew down the steps and sprinted around as many zig-zaggy alleyways as we could find. For good measure, I put my hair in a bun and took my jacket off, essentially turning me into another person. I think I have a real future in espionage.
Finally, very shaky, we ducked into a cafe as far from the metro station as we could stand to run and caught our breaths over some overpriced Perrier. We walked the long way around the Eiffel Tower, because I’d be damned if I was going to let some punks ruin my tourist moment, and then walked the thirty minutes or so to our Air BnB since we were rather scarred from the metro for the day.
After reclaiming our dignity in the Jardin de Tuileries, we looked on TripAdvisor and saw that, lo and behold, this ticket-scanning system was one of Paris’s biggest scam problems that summer. It might still be happening, so if you’re planning a trip, be wary! And if you do accidentally throw your ticket away in a moment of learned behavior, just follow my lead! Yell at the authorities and then run from them!
For dinner that night, we ate at the recommended restaurant within walking distance of our lodgings: Cafe Metro, of course.
I have since learned that while they WERE likely scammers, this fine is a real thing. You must keep your metro ticket on your person, despite the lack of warning signage. (Macron, can we maybe take a sec and revise how this is handled?)
And deep, deep, deeeeeep down, there is a tiny law-abiding anxious traveler that is convinced that despite the sketchiness, despite the TripAdvisor accounts, these men were, in fact, doing nothing more than upholding their civic duty (although gruffly and as rude as they come).
If so? Tant pis.