I saw the gendarmerie car waiting, ready to pounce, and as I drove on they started to follow me and then turn their lights on. “This is going to be interesting”, I thought. I pulled over and they stopped beside me and asked me to follow them, “suivez-nous”.
I followed them to the car park of M. Bricolage and the two police men came over. They asked if I knew why they had stopped me. I responded that I thought so, “Je pense que oui”. They asked for my driver’s license, insurance papers and some “green” papers of which I had no idea what they were.
Even before I handed over my Australian driver’s license they knew I was not of these parts from my harsh French accent and simplistic and straight-forward responses to their queries.
“Is this your car”?
“It is a hire car”.
This is where I did a lot of scrummaging through the glove box, and thrust whatever papers I could find in there at them.
“Where do you live”?
“Here, or in Australia??
“Verteuil, but just for three weeks”.
“What are you doing here”?
“I am on holidays”.
They walked away and had a chat together. The younger one returned, gave me my licence back, and said I could go – “Allez-y!”.
I think I was too hard for them. Anyway, they had the desired effect – I will be coming to a complete stop at “stop” signs in the future – good proportionate enforcement on their part.
Last week we had our first interaction with the French police. My daughter, Bronte, had her mobile phone stolen while we were in the old town of Strasbourg, in eastern France. Fifteen seconds inattention on our part while swapping phones to take some photos, and it was gone. To cut a long story short, when we realized it wasn’t going to turn up, we approached one of the multiple teams of police who were ever-present, patrolling the area, always in groups of four, with automatic weapons, always foreign and unsettling for us. They suggested making a report at the police station and gave us directions how to get there by tram. Off we went and eventually found the Hôtel de Police.
At the Hôtel de Police, visitors had to wait outside in the winter cold and were brought into the foyer one-by-one to have their pockets emptied, bags checked and then patted down. Then we had to tell our story at the front desk, before being asked to sit in the waiting area. Eventually, we were taken into an interview room where we spoke to a young police woman, from Paris, new to Strasbourg. She was very polite, rattled off a series of questions, and everything was keyed into her computer. There seemed to be a lot of typing going on for the minimal amount of input we were giving. At the end of the 25 minute session, we were given a copy of a multi-page statement/report, each page signed by Bronte. It will be interesting to see what we have to go through with the insurance company once we return to Australia and how they deal with police reports in non-English languages.
Overall, I couldn’t complain about the interactions with the French police on these occasions – serious but polite and courteous, reasonable, helpful.
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Jim lives in Brisbane, Australia, works at The University of Queensland, and enjoys visiting, reading and learning about France.