I'm quite proud of that title, although that might be like the time I was proud of my "ça cartonne" pun in French and everyone made fun of me... Alternate title: Bon Cop, Bad Cop (see below).
Anyway, I packed quite a bit into my overnight stay in Paris a couple of weeks ago. The day before visiting the exhibition at the Louvre and just before the walk of death, I met up with Ann, an Aussie whom Mary Kay had met (where else) out and about in Paris. Apparently Ann, who has been in Paris for less than a year, had asked MK if she knew any young Australians. Unfortunately, she had to make do with me instead, dommage... I told Ann I'd memorialise her on the blog by saying she was "alright for an Aussie" so there you go ha ha! ;) But all kidding aside, she was really lovely. Us Kiwis and Aussies like to give each other a bit of stick (I think mostly going from the Kiwi side to the Aussie side - inferiority complexes and all that), but when you come over to Europe I think those cousinly sentiments kick in, since after all, we're not that different (especially to anyone who's not from Down Under). Weirdest of all, her husband comes from Saint Omer in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, which is right near where I used to live five years ago! No-one's usually ever heard of Saint Omer (let alone Ebblinghem, the tiny dot on the map I called home for five months.) We've emailed back and forth a few times since, always good to have another friendly face in Paris!
Mary Kay has already covered this (much more succinctly too), but one of the strangest incidents of my stay in Paris was our run-in with a cop (or was he??). On our way to the Louvre, I didn't really see a couple of people get on the bus, but I sensed that they were standing behind me (we were sitting) a bit close, touching my shoulder in a way that could have been accounted for by holding on to the hand-rest but I felt was a bit suspect all the same. So I zipped up my bag, remarking to MK that I "wasn't in Tours anymore" (and, to be honest, I probably should take more care in Tours too... I don't subscribe to paranoid theories that all of Europe is wall-to-wall thieves, but it behooves us all to be a bit prudent), and we had a conversation about theft on buses and elsewhere in Paris.
Coming back from the Louvre, I think we had put all thoughts of bus theft out of our minds for the moment, but looking back, I think we did both have our bags under surveillance on our laps at all times. However, we probably weren't being über circumspect. I remember MK taking out her phone to add me on Twitter (PS sorry for the boring F1 tweets, but you were warned!) and I realised later that I had taken my camera out to take a picture because the bus had the same name as my mum (who I'm sure is all a-flutter to learn of this earth-shattering fact). So, tourists, much? Add to that the fact that we were chatting the whole way back in English (I don't think loudly, but I find for me at least English "carries", probably because it's my native language, but perhaps also partly because it's not the majority language, even in Paris), and we evidently stuck out to at least one person on the bus...
We got off in (I think) not a particularly touristy part of town, crossed the road, turned a corner, and suddenly were hailed from behind by someone saying "Excuse me" in English and then (in French) asking if we spoke French. My first thought was "great, a beggar". I tend to think everyone who addresses me in English out of the blue wants something, perhaps because it only tends to happen in touristy places like Paris, and then they probably are begging. But as soon as we confirmed we spoke French, he pulled out a badge and identified himself as a cop, and my thoughts instantly switched to "what did we do?" (guilty conscience?)
I was possibly even more shocked when he informed us that he thought we had been pickpocketed, and that we should check the contents of our handbags. According to him, two men had been "all over us" in the bus. Unlike my suspicions of the morning, when I had been congratulating myself on being all hyper-aware and street-wise, I had noticed nothing. He insisted - he was sure the men had been in our handbags. We should check thoroughly to make sure nothing was missing, even inside our wallets. Noticing some hesitation on our part, particularly at the stage of opening up our wallets, he again told us not to be afraid and showed us his badge. While we were triple-checking, Geoff the cop took a phone call from a... colleague? accomplice? still apparently on the bus : "Negative... Negative.. nothing's missing". He then told us his name and phone number and told us to check again and call him again within 60 seconds if anything was missing, otherwise they'd miss their window of opportunity to collar the suspects.
Once we got back in to MK's apartment, a few paces away, we were able to quadruple check (I was sure, for example, that I'd left my ipod in her apartment but was naturally seized with doubt on that front after this incident) and confirm that nothing was missing. Then we debriefed together - had we noticed anything suspicious on the bus? And, most importantly, was Geoff a real cop, or was it an elaborate scam?
I think we both came to the conclusion that Geoff was probably for real. I found it weird that he followed us all the way across an intersection AND around the corner before accosting us, but perhaps he had to be extra-careful not to give the game away in case the alleged thieves could somehow still see him and blow his cover. On the pro side for Geoff, he gave us room while we searched our possessions, and after all, if he was trying to rob us, he failed (although, so did the other team). I talked the incident over with my French friend Charlie as well, and she seemed to think that it was consistent with what you'd expect from an undercover cop on the metro/buses in Paris, and also that I should never, never speak English on public transport (so take note!) Also, he was quite handsome, but so was Ted Bundy, apparently, so not sure that should go into the public record in his favour. I did think about wheedling his number out of Mary Kay though heh heh ;)
Which leaves the conclusion that we were targeted by thieves on the bus - but how? The only possible way they could have gotten their hands in our bags was by sneaking them at waist-level in between the seats, as, as I've said, the bags were right there on our laps, and we were in and out of them ourselves several times on the trip. We might not have been paying as much attention as either of us probably would have if we'd been alone, but still, we're not fresh off the boat and we know to keep stuff in our eye-line and with our hands on it as well. For me, that's the hardest part to believe, that I would have my eye off the ball enough for someone to be in my bag without me knowing it, especially since I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to money belts and the like. But if that's what happened it just goes to show that, as I've heard many times, these people are pros and they have ways of weaseling into your things, even if, in this case, they didn't manage to make off with anything for whatever reason. That doesn't mean I'm going to flip out and start wearing a money belt everywhere I go, but perhaps it's a handy reminder that even those of us who have lived in Europe without incident for years could do with not letting our guard down too much!