This is not a blog post outlining our adventures of Paris. That will come when I have finished the other 10 articles I’m in the process of writing. No, this is the story of how I beat the city of Paris.
Picture this scene: it’s 1am in a random metro station, one stop from your destination. You’ve just got off the train after leaving the very last one that left from Disneyland Paris to make a connection. You’re informed via loudspeaker that the last train had already left. A bit frustrating, but surely you could just walk from there?
Wrong. The destination is an hours walk away, and half an hour on the other metro line. Deciding what to do, we wander upstairs towards the turnstile where I struggle to find my train ticket amongst my 76 jacket pockets (slight exaggeration) and wallet full of pointless receipts. Ruby inserts her ticket and walks past the turnstile, but I see a man exiting through the pram and trolley gate, so I follow him.
Like a hawk, a man zooms in to us, muttering in French. Assuming he’s a con artist (I assume everyone in Paris is), I rather rudely wave him down and proceed upstairs. He flashes an ID and tells us we need to show him our tickets, because I didn’t go through the turnstile. Great.
I fumble through my jacket pockets for 5 minutes, all the while the inspector is clearly growing more and more agitated. I’d hoped at this point he’d let us go out of sheer inconvenience, but both of us were committed to not letting the other person off the hook. I finally found the ticket, which he scanned before telling me I would need to pay a small fine.
“I’m not paying €6, I paid for a ticket!” I stated.
“No, it’s a €60 fine.”
My heart sunk. Without a uniform on, I had no way of telling if this guy was legitimate or a scam artist, so I decided to play the only card I could: stubborn and frustrating tourist.
“I’m not paying €60 when I haven’t done anything wrong. I just followed someone out the gate, I assumed that was something you could do. You’re allowed to do that where I’m from.” I argued. “Go get your supervisor.”
Cue surprise cameo from man I followed out the gate. It’s Mr. Supervisor, who starts speaking to me in broken English about my passport. After informing him that I’m not stupid enough to carry my passport with me in one of the pickpocketing capitals of the world, I eventually resort to showing him my drivers license, in the hopes they’ll see I’m not Parisian (as if they couldn’t tell already) and let me go.
But no, it would not be that simple. The man asks me, in what I can only describe as Frenglish, about an address or documents or something to do with French… something something. I tell him my French street address, which was the wrong answer, apparently. He tells me once again to pay for the fine, or he’ll have to contact the police.
“Call the police if you want, but its not going to change the fact I can’t pay a €60 fine.” I tell him, my voice raising ever so slightly in decibals with every few words.
Perhaps trying to call my bluff, he hops on a two-way radio but doesn’t say anything. The original guard shows me a laminated slip of paper with a pyramid of prices. He points to the red level, with €180 written there and tells me if we go through the police, that will be the fine.
“If I can’t pay a €60 fine, how on earth am I going to pay €180?” I ask. “The police will have to arrest me, because there’s nothing I can do”
At this point, I was getting a little concerned about the safety of both my wallet and, to some extent, my legal safety. I like to consider myself to be a contender, a world-class debater, but I very much doubt I’d be able argue to the police or a Parisian judge using my extremely limited French vocabulary. If the conversation extended beyond ‘Je voudrais baugette et Coca Cola light, s’il vous plait‘, I’d be stuffed.
This exchange continued for 10 minutes, and I could tell I was wearing them down. It was 1:30am at this point, and we were the last people on the platform. No police were coming to get me at 1:30 for ‘fare evasion’ (other than the ones that had been standing 5 meters away and had been ignoring us the whole time, did I mention that?)
An elderly woman suddenly walked over and spoke to the two men, who frustratingly explained the situation while holding back a bit of rage. The woman turned to us and spoke sweetly, asking if we could pay the lower rate of €30 instead. At this point, I had to make a call as to whether I’d risk potential Parisian jail time and a €180 fine over a €30 debate. All in, I say.
I informed the woman that giving me a discounted rate doesn’t suddenly change my financial situation. Seeing the womans look of defeat didnt give me the same level of satisfaction as it did when I was annoying the other two inspectors, and I could feel myself starting to cave. If these WERE scam artists, they were very committed to their craft.
“I have a five euro note left. If that helps at all, you can have it, but it means I’ll have no food for my last night in the country.” I lie. “I may starve, but at least you’ll have your fine”
The woman shook her head, gave me back my ticket and drivers license and shooed us away with a faint smile. We hurried away as quickly as possible, stopping only to rub it in by asking the nearby police officers for directions out of the metro.
We decided to catch an Uber instead of continuing on the metro. It cost us €3.50.