Getting a free ride in a police car in Paris, truly was one of the highlights of this trip. Here’s how you can score one too:
Ruz & I took the 7:45am train from Gare de Troyes, and arrived at Gare Du Nord an hour later. The plan for the day was to head straight to our accommodation near Avenue de Champs-Elysees. We were at the gates slotting our metro tickets in, when suddenly, out of nowhere, 3 gypsy pickpockets, who look their early teens, surrounded us from behind. I managed to escape them and got through the gate, while I waited for Ruz. She was struggling to get away, but they persisted, and managed to steal her phone from her coat pocket.
What ensued was a frantic blur of events, and we then found ourselves sitting at the police station in Gare du Nord to report her stolen phone. The bespectacled officer, sporting a straight moustache, spoke decent English and had a nonchalant air about him. We told him what had happened, and he responded by shaking his head and typing away on the computer.
“It’s normal here. Every single day, there will be about 100 cases of these pickpockets.”
We didn’t know if we were supposed to feel relieved about that, but he went on to tell us how the bulk of these gypsy pickpockets are from Romania and Bulgaria, and that they probably attacked us because we’re Asians, and “Asians are gentle and soft, and make a good target. You have to be firm in dealing with these gypsies.”
These gypsy pickpockets are especially common in all the touristy areas in Paris, and they typically carry out the same trick – approaching you with a note and a pen, and asking do you speak English? All you have to do is ignore and pretend you don’t understand a single word they said. Thankfully, being a bilingual allowed me to use my Malay and say, “Huh? Tak paham ape kau merepek.” (loose translation: Huh? I don’t understand what you’re talking about.)
The officer brought us into another room, where he switched on the computer with a database full of a thousand over gypsy pickpockets, asking Ruz to choose which were the 3 who stole her phone at the metro.
“You have to be very, very sure these were the girls who stole your phone. Because if you’re not sure, and we arrest them and put them into jail, we will get into trouble.”
We were bone-tired, doing the impossible task of scrolling down hundreds of Roma gypsies who look freakishly similar, trying to filter down to the exact 3. Once Ruz was finally confident that she had chosen the right ones, the police told us to wait a moment. Soon enough, 3 gypsy pickpockets clambered into the office, all of them looking overwrought and deceivingly innocent. The officer demanded them to strip off all belongings on themselves, and probed them about the phone. They talked back at the officer, and begged to let them go. The police shouted at them for being rude. The gypsies held their hands up and swore, and continued crying. And so it went, back and forth – gypsies wailing, police screaming, and us, wanting to disappear from the spot.
As we stared right back at the scene unfolding across the room, I could only think of how this looks like a scene from a crime drama. One of the gypsies were crying and hurling some indiscernible French at us, which I could vaguely make out as “IT’S NOT US!”. A handsome, strapping police officer – who looked like a Matthieu – slid up out of nowhere and smiled, telling us to remain calm. “This, every day. Don’t worry. They just putting a show. They cry, but it’s nothing. Don’t worry.”
The episode ended once the police handcuffed one of the gypsies, who was a confirmed suspect, and brought the rest away. Matthieu gestured us to follow him, as the rest of the officers helped to drag our luggage. We trailed behind, anxious and weary. A black police car was waiting for us right outside the station. We’re going to the bigger police station, Matthieu explained. It was pretty frightening to have the gypsy sitting right behind us, still pleading and wailing. Matthieu, who was sitting with us in the front, was laughing it off and imitating the gypsy’s cry and pleas. I wasn’t sure whether it was supposed to lighten us up, but it did nothing to alleviate the worries we had.
When the car drove off from Gare du Nord, the couple of gypsy pickpockets who were milling about the area, chased us down angrily and demanded for their friend to be released. We sped off till they were nowhere in sight. I was relieved, but a thought was nagging at the back of my mind.
What if, they aren’t really taking us to the “bigger police station”? What if, this was all just an act and they are taking us somewhere else to hold us hostage instead? What if the police are actually allies with these gypsy pickpockets?
15 minutes later, we arrived at a police station – much to my relief. This was where we spent almost the entire day, wasting the hours away, while waiting for the police to settle the case. Matthieu was the only one with us sitting at the chairs, while the others went inside to carry out the investigation. He continued offering his moral support by smiling and telling us repeatedly not to worry. I wondered if this was what he does every other day. Ruz was called in to the room for further questioning, while I waited outside, and soon dozed off on the chair. Matthieu, in a lame attempt to slough away my sleepiness, tried all sorts of ways to wake me up. I ignored his funny antics, and when he realized that it wasn’t working, he settled on a chair right beside and played candy crush on his iPhone. I was mildly amused, but also too tired to let out a laugh.
After what seemed like an eternity, we were informed that they have called up a cab to take us to our accommodation. It arrived several minutes later, driven by a chatty, 40-something Indian man.
“Why are you here at the police station?”
“Her phone got stolen.”
“By the stupid gypsies?”
“Agh shittt… I hate these people. Ugly, bad people. Bad! They’re making Paris an unsafe city to be in. Lots of foreigners who take my taxi also have this same experience. Ugly people, these pickpockets.”
“Ah, yes it’s unfortunate. Anyway, I realize there are also many Muslim beggars and homeless people on the streets. They’d approach us, say Assalamualaikum, before asking for some money.”
“Don’t be fooled by these bastards. They’re actually Christians dressing up as Muslims, trying to bait you, knowing somehow you’d sympathize. All these people are only out there to get money, to steal.”
Why isn’t there anything done to curb this? I asked. It has to do with the protection of these Roma gypsy pickpockets under a certain law, which makes the police unable to do anything about the situation. He went on to talk about how much he hated these people who are tainting the image of the city. We found out that he’s a Muslim too, and that he had migrated all the way from India to Paris, to find a job and settle down.
“Yknow all these tourists, thinking, oh, Paris is beautiful, Paris is wonderful, Paris is the best place in the world, but to tell you the truth… it’s nothing like that. They are only looking at Paris from a pair of rose-tinted glasses.”
Indeed, not all of Paris is as perfect as it’s painted to be. Like every other city in the world, Paris is not utopia. This pick-pocketing incident where valuable, material things are lost, have taught us that in life, we’ll occasionally lose some, and gain some of the most eye-opening and invaluable life lessons along the way.
C’est la vie!