In November 2000, I visited Paris one weekend. Two classmates, Anand Binani and Ram Venkat were studying there, and we roamed around the city.
At around 6:00pm, we went over to Montmartre. It’s up a hill, and there’s a cable car that takes you up there. We went all the way up, and got out when a lady behind us asked:
“Is that yours?
We’d left something behind. Went back to retrieve it. The car was almost leaving for it’s return journey. We just got out in time…
… to be confronted by the French Police.
Now, this is a scary thing. Foreign country. I don’t speak a word of French. And I was dressed like a thug.
The policemen didn’t say a word. One of them just made us stand right a the corner of the entrance to the cable car — politely at first, and then physically, when he realised we didn’t understand a word of French.
Now he goes on the radio. He hasn’t said a word to us yet that we could understand.
After a minute, he comes back, asking for our passports. I hand mine over. So does Anand Binani.
Ram Venkat doesn’t have his passport on him.
While he was panicking and I was rooted to the spot and Anand Binani was trying to explain something to the policeman, he walked away with our two passports.
Busy talking on the radio.
Relaying the names on our passports.
Worried that they were both “Anand”s. (We could here that repeated many times.)
Something about wearing a jacket. (We were all wearing jackets.)
Five minutes pass. In the meantime, we had various theories. Three terrorists had illegally entered the country and were going to blow up Montmartre, and we looked like them. Or, an Asian student group was going to murder a senior polician. Or maybe we just looked like the mug-shots on their Top 10 Most Wanted.
In my case, I didn’t even have a French student visa. Just a standard Schengen tourist visa, with a UK student visa. I wasn’t even studying in the country. If I were deported, would he put me back in the UK or in India? Which embassy would I have to speak to if he arrested me?
Five minutes later, he comes back, hands us our passports, and walks off.
Just like that. No goodbye. No “You’re free to go”. No “Don’t ever do that again”. Just walks off.
We just stood there for a couple of minutes, got our breaths back, promised never to venture without a passport looking like thugs, took a snap as evidence, and went on inside the Montmartre chapel, followed by a far more educative visit to Pigale.