Sometimes I’m struck by just how many firsts I’ve experienced in a foreign culture. I learned to navigate public transportation, secure and shop for an apartment, open a bank account, and start my first “real” job, all while living abroad. And today, for the first time in my life, I visited a police station.
I feel rather fortunate to have never had the occasion to visit one before, but it wasn’t until I walked through the intensely guarded doors and stood timidly in the hushed and unfriendly lobby that I realized why. Police stations freak me out. I wasn’t even guilty and I felt on edge as I waited for my summoner…a certain Monsieur Blanc.
Let’s rewind a couple of days, shall we? To Sunday afternoon, the day my phone and wallet were stolen.
In all honesty, it was my fault. I was at a cafe with a friend, we were drinking tea and chatting and I let my bag hang off my chair near the ground instead of keeping it closely guarded in my lap. When I went to grab it a few hours later, my phone and coin purse were missing. The guys who had stolen it were long gone. I was frustrated with myself and sad, but resigned to the fact that it was gone forever. I didn’t even file a police report…I hadn’t seen what the guys looked like and how could the police find one lost cell phone? Instead, I counted my blessings. It was an old phone that I had been hoping to replace. And the wallet they took was actually just a small coin purse with 8€ inside…hardly a great loss. By some miraculous stroke of luck I’d swapped it earlier, leaving the larger one filled with cards and i.d. at home.
The real sorrow was the loss of the phone itself. It’s silly, but I get quite attached to my technology. That phone had gone to Mali with me, school in Minnesota, and Paris two times. It had taken nearly all of the photos you’ve seen on this blog and many more. It was my companion in my first interviews with musicians and helped me document concerts for the Current. So I was sad to see it go. And I was quickly faced with daily inconveniences…when one item serves as your watch, your alarm clock, your map, your calendar, and your camera you miss it REALLY quickly.
But by some rare alignment of the universe, I received an email a few days later from the police. They had found my phone, could I come to the station? And so an hour later I was escorted past armed men into the lobby to wait for him.
Monsieur Blanc (Mr. White in English…I cannot believe that’s his name) found me quickly and guided me through a maze of hallways to his office. It looked as you would expect…several small desks in a darkish room with a larger office for the captain (a very brusque woman who liked to yell as she interrogated people on the phone). How to describe M. Blanc and his partner? I kid you not, these two could have been in a movie and no one would have batted an eye. Blanc was wearing a dark grey sweater with black elbow patches and was well groomed with short hair…he had a kind of Gerard Bulter, Richard Armitage-y thing going for him except he wasn’t QUITE as handsome. More real, more tired. And very kind. His partner had short blond hair, sneakers and big glasses. The geekier looking of the two…Robin, in other words.
M. Blanc took my statement and told me a little about what they knew had happened. Apparently the two guys were arrested within a half hour of stealing my phone. They both confessed to it, and probably gave the police more detailed information than I was able to. They were to go to trial later that day and likely to prison after.
Giving my statement was weird and hard. I felt extremely self-conscious (how much detail should I give and do I sound stupid?) and I could only approximate details. Worse, I had NO IDEA what they looked like— I’d been tunnel-focusing on the person I was talking to. M. Blanc showed me their photos anyway (to check), and they looked like normal guys. Older than my students, but otherwise no different. Unfortunately, they had 7 phones on them (mine included) and my wallet (which was still full of cash…la chance!). So when M. Blanc asked if I wanted to file a complaint, I hesitated. Against all odds I had all of my stuff back, and no matter what these guys did or what type of people they were, my heart broke a bit when I saw them. Apparently they were caught because they were “behaving strangely,” but I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d have gotten away had they been white. And as relieved as I am to have my belongings back, I don’t like the idea that I may have gotten them due to racism. In the end I agreed because Blanc insisted that it was better for “la justice” but I’m still not sure it was the right choice.
I was grateful when M. Blanc finally led me back through the station and out the French door. He told me that he’s from Toulouse and advised me to visit and profiter du soleil. He shook my hand, made sure I knew where I was going, and sent me on my way. And that was that. Fist trip to the police station and statement made, all in French. If that isn’t an expat accomplishment, I don’t know what is. And best of all, my dear, tired phone and I are reunited. I honestly feel like the luckiest girl. I never dreamed I’d see it again, nor so promptly. No matter what, this encounter has left me with a very deep respect and appreciation for the French police force, who, throughout this entire experience, treated me with great gentility. The gallant Monsieur Blanc had three more phones to return before the business was done, and I am so grateful to him for his patience and kindness during the whole ordeal. May need to plan a visit to Toulouse in the coming months…
Instagrams to follow.