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Exercise attention when using public transportation in the Paris region. Paranoia about pickpockets and mobile phone theft is certainly justified, but also keep cautious about the controllers—do not travel outside the transportation zone the ticket you’ve paid for covers. Make all the (in)appropriate jokes you like about my profession, but only days after receiving my New York Bar Exam results (I passed) I already found myself in a jam with the law.
In the Paris region, public transportation passes like my Carte Navigo, as well as individual use tickets, are paid for with rates varying depending upon the zones to be traversed. Zone 1-2, covering the center of Paris, is the cheapest. If venturing into even some of the closer suburbs, however, you may unknowingly (or perfectly knowingly as my case was) find yourself in Zone 3, which would require a higher fee.
Seeing as I had just started my new job and didn’t yet have my first paycheck, I decided to try to chance it on the tramway going to La Défense (zone 3) with my Zone 1-2 transportation pass. When I saw the controllers coming around to check tickets, I should have pretended to not speak French, or let some other passenger present their card first and gotten off and changed cars, or, or, or…! There are many savvy reactions I should have had.
But I didn’t. Instead, I eagerly handed over my Carte Navigo to the first controller, knowing full well that I did not have the right zone and I had not validated my card upon entering the public transportation system earlier that day. I could have still salvaged what was quickly devolving into a figurative train wreck. I could have given a fake address when they asked me where I lived.
But I didn’t. Instead, I continued with honesty (which clearly doesn’t pay) and some lame excuse about thinking it was still during the holiday vacation where my card would be valid in all of the zones. This strategy (or lack thereof) only resulted in an upwards of €60 fine!
So what can one do to get oneself out of such a predicament? How had I even gotten myself into such a predicament? When I determined that while I do want a French law degree that the program I was following at Sciences Po was not the right one, I started frantically sending out résumés. I landed a job at a small immigration law firm that handles both French and American matters, only to promptly proceed to receive a fine for trying to return home from work. Do not pass go. Do not collect €200. Go directly to….
No. Like everything, this pesky little infraction turned out to be negotiable. While my 16th-arrondissement-snob-self could have done without discovering the opposite end of metro line number 9 and the area of the 11th arrondissement where the center to contest such fines is located, I cannot whine about having had to ultimately pay only €5. Lesson learned. Weekly when I stroll through the markets, I wouldn’t contemplate dickering about prices, but when it comes to paying some arbitrary little penalty, I’ll challenge that to the last centime.
Leveraging all my worst assets (my crappy accent and infantile vocabulary) I explained to the functionary that as a “recently arrived” foreigner I hadn’t understood the zones and how to validate my Carte Navigo on the tramway. Months equals “recently arrived,” right? I’m not convinced the middle-aged woman across the desk from me bought this story, but perhaps out of pity, perhaps out of laziness, perhaps for no rational reason whatsoever, she reduced my fine. While not the most professionally or personally productive afternoon, it was certainly satisfying to resolve the matter… €5 later.
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See more of Paris! Here are some of our favorite tours:
Medieval Churches of Paris: Discover some of Paris’s most beautiful and lesser-known churches in the company of a medievalist, a perfect theme for the holiday season.
Louvre French Masters: Escape the cold and the crowds in the Italian wing of the Louvre by learning about the evolution of French art from the late Gothic period to the monumental 19th century paintings of David and Delacroix, accompanied by an art historian.