At the time of beginning this post, I am sat in the “Commissariat de Police du 7e” – i.e. the police station. I specify at the time of beginning, because I’d bloody better not be here long enough to write a whole one of my novella-posts. It’s pretty dingy; I can feel the slatted aluminium seat pressing patterns into the backs of my legs; and I REALLY need some caffeine. Or a glass of water.
The story begins last night, at the end of what had been a particularly lovely Saturday. My other half’s mother and her best friend are staying with us for the weekend and we’d spent the afternoon wandering from one pretty spot to another, making regular café stops and generally soaking up an abundance of Parisian charm (and wine). It was delightful.
The evening started in much the same way. We ate at a very pleasant restaurant just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, then headed to the Champs du Mars for an ice-cream/prosecco picnic – because, why not? Before long, the tower erupted into her hourly sparkling, and my other half (Jeremy) sprang into paparazzi action to capture the moment with our visitors. Satisfied with the photos (well, you have to check), we settled back down to enjoy the fizz – but next thing we know, two men are tearing past us, inches from out little set-up, one apparently in hot pursuit of the other with little or no regard for the numerous clusters of bewildered picnickers occupying the grass left, right and centre. I briefly wondered if it was some sort of game, but then we noticed a discarded bucket of bottles nearby – the kind carried by the unofficial wine-and-beer vendors who spend their days wandering the Champs du Mars and Trocadero, touting their wares to tourists – and it quickly became apparent that something more serious had happened.
Group of Sherlocks that we are, we deduced that one of the sprinting men had probably stolen money or drinks from the other. The following discussions about how dreadful this was, the poor man, etc., went on in earnest for a good five minutes or more before we realised that – oh – one of our own bags was missing.
Now, I should mention that we weren’t particularly alarmed by this discovery – the only reason we had sufficiently neglected it for it to disappear unnoticed was that it was almost completely empty, save for a corkscrew. The bag in question is also old, worn, made from fake leather, and the (inferior) near-twin of another bag sitting somewhere in the back of our wardrobe; suffice to say, it holds neither monetary nor sentimental value. But before we could think much more about it, we noticed a man – the bottle-seller who had gone haring past, before – walking towards us, carrying the ‘lost’ bag in his arms like a prize. More than a little confused, Jeremy leapt to his feet to go and retrieve his satchel.
Well, the man with the bag was having none of that. In fact, he was SO incensed by my other half’s venture to retrieve his own bag, that the exchange suddenly seemed in danger of dissolving into some kind of violent altercation; I wasted no time in scurrying over to attempt to diffuse the situation, thinking perhaps the language barrier was responsible for what appeared to be a bit of a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, bringing my french-speaking skills into the fray did not have the desired effect. I calmly explained that the satchel belonged to us, and that it was empty, and could we please take it back, but instead of relinquishing the bag, the bottle-seller clutched it to himself like a mother protecting her new-born child and positively screamed at me. Hum.
I’d like to say that I continued to handle this situation in the sedate manner with which I started. Alas, that would be a lie. And I wouldn’t lie to you.
Whilst the man with our bag continued to communicate using a sort of banshee-esque squalling, we eventually (with the help of other bystanders) managed to ascertain that he wanted us to wait for the police, who were on their way. I repeated that the bag was completely empty, and more importantly, that we actually hadn’t seen anything happen – we’d been blissfully ignorant of the actual bag-thieving itself – but this only served to agitate the fellow further. Next thing, the police arrive; not one, but THREE cars, complete with wailing sirens and blue flashing lights, came speeding on to the Champs du Mars, a whole legion of bulletproof–vested officers spilling out onto the scene the moment the vehicles slammed on the brakes.
One of these officers asked me a few abrupt questions to verify that we were indeed “the victims” – and then demanded that we get in the police car to go to the station.
“Now?” I asked, a little shellshocked by the whole scenario. “Yes! Now!”, barked the policeman.
It was somewhere around here I lost my composure somewhat.
I can’t quite remember the order of dialogue that followed, but it entailed:
- Me asking if we really had to go to the station, given we saw nothing, and the bag was empty, and had been retrieved.
- A big, bearded police officer shouting at me that we had no choice and had to go to the station (I was starting to feel more ‘criminal’ than ‘victim’ by this point).
- Me explaining to the police that we had to go and let our visitors know where we were going first.
- Assorted police officers ignoring this and attempting to herd us off to one of the waiting vehicles whilst shouting that we had to go with them now.
- Me refusing to go with them, and shouting back that we couldn’t just leave my other half’s mother – and she was literally just there (“Where??” “There! *pointing*” “Where?!”)
- Me having quite enough of the ridiculous exchange regarding the precise whereabouts of my other half’s mother (the Champs de Mars is a series of giant lawns, for goodness sake, there isn’t exactly an abundance of reference points) and taking matters into my own hands by striding off in her direction.
- THREE (rather large) police officers descending on (fairly small) me as some kind of escort, apparently to ensure I didn’t do a runner, or something.
- Jeremy and I being herded into the back of a police car for the first time in either of our lives. Nee naw.
I’m not going to make another list, but two annoying things happened at this point. Firstly, Jeremy reached up behind him to pull his seatbelt down from the roof of the (speeding) car, and the policeman next to him waved his hand down and told him he didn’t need to bother. Sorry, what?
Secondly, the same policeman asked what was in the bag, and reacted with evident confusion when I said nothing but a corkscrew – and then confirmed it wasn’t a valuable bag, either, in answer to his second question. Not like I said all this to them already.
Approximately seven minutes, and some wholly unnecessary lights and sirens later, we arrived at the station, where we were taken to some kind of staff room, I think, and left to wait with the banshee-bottle-seller, and another guy who, it transpired, had actually caught the thief. Mr Banshee now took it upon himself to explain in a much more reasonable manner that it was necessary for us to give a statement, because no “victim” meant no charges. I got the impression that these thieves and pickpockets cause rather a lot of trouble for the bottle-sellers, and I appreciated the importance of reporting the incident properly – but if he’d explained the situation so rationally in the first place, there wouldn’t have been any issues. No need to scream, sir.
We were left in there a while, but eventually one of the police officers from earlier comes in and tells us that we’ll have to come back tomorrow, 9am. Jeremy and I both sort of looked at him for a moment. It was nearly midnight by this point, and the thought of the Sunday lie-in was pretty much the light at the end of this distinctly surreal and horribly overwhelming tunnel. Not to mention the fact that our lovely evening out had already been disrupted horribly, and we didn’t want the following day to be infringed upon as well. But it plainly wasn’t up for discussion, so, after establishing “where exactly IS ‘here’?” (tears dried, I had regained some sass), I left my details with the officer (not like I could have done that at Champs du Mars or anything) and we were finally allowed to go – although not before confirming, again, that, no, there was nothing but a corkscrew in the bag. The completely non-valuable bag.
SO, the next morning, we got up much earlier than I generally consider acceptable on a Sunday, and made our way over to the commissariat de police in the 7th Arrondissement.
It being just a little before 9, the main entrance wasn’t open yet, so we tentatively made our way down a sloped driveway to this sort of subterranean garage level, where a female police officer was, I think, on guard duty. I explained that our bag had been stolen last night and we’d been instructed to return this morning to give a statement. Once again, I was asked what the stolen bag had contained and once again, my response – now audibly weary – was met with confusion.
“Was the bag of value?”
I battled the impulse to roll my eyes and politely responded in the negative, instead. This clearly didn’t suffice (she had “timewasters” written all over her stoney face), so I attempted to convey that we had been told that we had to come back and we had to make a statement, and then I showed her the little scrap of paper that I’d been given by the policeman who’d taken my details the previous night. It bore his instructions to return at 9am, with the station address, and thankfully, that did the trick. We were unsmilingly permitted entry.
Once inside, I approached the Reception desk, and explained, again, why I was there. The man behind the desk looked at me.
“Could you tell me what was in the bag, please?”
The response came through gritted teeth.
“Just… a corkscrew? No papers, drivers license, other-“
“Just. A. Corkscrew.”
He continued to look at me, plainly just as baffled as his three colleagues had been before him. This time, I did roll my eyes. And sigh. Loudly. Sick to the back teeth of being treated like I was making a great big fuss about nothing, I continued to be quite loud whilst I explained tersely, for the fourth time, that it wasn’t us who’d reported the theft; we had been forced to come to the station, twice; and that, frankly, we didn’t give a damn about the bloody bag.* He asked us to take a seat.
Which brings us right back around to where I was when I first started writing this post. It’s taken me the better part of a week (and you probably feel like it’s been about as long since you started reading the thing), but as I had hoped, we were called to give the statement shortly after I started typing.
Thankfully, the saga gets a lot less eventful from here – the man taking the statement was really lovely, joking around with us between asking questions and taking notes. The light banter was a stark contrast to the night before, and a welcome one at that. He did the whole thing in English too, having established that Jeremy doesn’t speak too much French, and we were both pretty grateful for that.
One thing, though. It’s now Thursday, and we still haven’t got the bag back. I know I said we weren’t fussed, but the reason is pretty flipping ridiculous. I mean, it’s really quite absurd.
We can’t have the bag back until – wait for it – the thief says we can.
Yep. That’s right.
The thief has to be asked whether he consents to it being returned, and then a judge has to confirm that he has consented, and then, and only then, can we have the stolen bag returned to us.
I have encountered some seemingly-silly systems and rules since moving to Paris, but this trumps the lot of them by a country mile. Just, WHY?
I haven’t found out yet, but if I do, I’ll be sure to make an addendum.
*I’m paraphrasing now. I’m pretty sure there is no way to translate such a British sentiment into French, or any other language, for that matter.