Larceny on the Berlin-Paris Express

Trip Start Jul 15, 2007
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Trip End Jul 16, 2008


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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Last night we spent on another overnight train, this one from Berlin to Paris.  Again we were in a six-couchette car, but this time with two other people.  (At first, we were in two different rooms on opposite ends of the car, but we were able to partially trade out to get us all into one room, albeit with two kids sharing a berth.)

In the morning, we woke up and began to get organized for our arrival in Paris.  One of our two cabin-mates had left in the middle of the night.  On his bunk, wrapped in his sheet, was Amy's wallet.  Her purse was open.  Nothing appeared to be missing, but it was not a pleasant start to the morning. 

Once in the Gare du Nord, we spent ninety minutes with the SNCF gendarmes, mostly a young woman constable with less English than Jim's French.  A report of the incident was written.  With no evidence of missing property, there was no actual crime evident.  We were advised to report the incident to our credit card companies and to monitor our credit card activity.  At any evidence of unauthorized card use, the incident report would become a criminal complaint.

And then out of the station with a baguette and a cafe au lait.  After spending twenty minutes in a taxi line about two blocks long, we decided to hoof it from another train station to another apartment.  We got about four blocks before we were sufficiently oriented to realize that Paris is way bigger than either Krakow or Prague.  Walking was not going to cut it, and no empty cabs were in evidence.  We decided to take the Metro.

The Gare du Nord is near the African section of Paris, and we were walking along a wide street with many African shops.  As we approached the stairs to the Metro, we saw a crowd of about ten young African men standing at the railing over the stairs, chanting rhythmically at the top of their lungs, bouncing up and down and pointing down at the subway entry.  Subway riders were calmly walking up and down the stairs past the group, taking no notice.

What was going on?  Was it a protest, a performance, some kind of street theatre?  It was dramatic and disturbing to us, but apparently commonplace to the Parisian commuters.  As Jim was wrestling the largest piece of luggage down the stairs, one of the group detached himself, smiled at Amy and the kids, picked up their luggage and carried it down.  He refused a tip and trotted back up to the top, where he resumed shouting and pointing.

Evidence once again that one cannot judge a foreign culture by our own standards.  "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."  In short, Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore.
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