As in any big city, you never know what what might happen while walking around Paris. Yesterday, I went to a Banque Populaire cash machine in my neighbourhood. As soon as I inserted my card in the special "anti-fraud" device, the machine flashed and said "temporarily closed." Pressing the annulement button repeatedly did not release my bank card, which had vanished inside the machine.
A man behind me tried to help, to no avail and the bank was closed. So I went to a grocery store three blocks away to buy a pen, returned to the bank and wrote down the emergency phone numbers listed on its window. Then I went home to begin the process of retrieving my bank card.
When I found my card number and called my own bank (not Banque Populaire), I realised by the time my card was discovered, someone may have copied the information and my signature. When the bank advised the card should be cancelled immediately, I agreed.
This being France, home of bureaucratic cauchemar, (nightmare) that wasn't the end of the affair. I had to phone another number to report the card disparu (had disappeared), then fax a letter with the reference number confirming the card's cancellation, to my bank branch. Rather than faxing it, my husband carried the letter to the bank, but it will take "a few days" for another card to be issued.
This afternoon I went to the offending bank to register my displeasure. The manager was charming and helpful, to the point of unlocking the cash machine to look for my card. But it wasn't my card he brought back. Apparently someone else had suffered the same fate!
Full of apologies, the manager then launched into a lengthy discourse on how cash machines are after all, machines and they malfunction. C'est normal," he said, punctuated by a Gallic shrug. He said my card was probably routed to a central server at another bank, where it dissipated into the ether. So as long as I'd reported the "opposition" (loss) of my bank card to my own bank, nothing more could be done.
"90 ans, aide moi"
"Ninety years old: help me!" That's what was written on a sign an old man was holding in the Harve Caumartin metro station. In my post Shelter from the storm, I mentioned the homeless camped out in 300 tents along the River Seine. The tents were purchased by a local activist to draw attention to the plight of the large numbers of homeless people in Paris.
While Chirac's government has talked about the need for "inclusion" and providing more housing, not only for the homeless, but for immigrants, little has been done. No doubt he prefers to let the next president tackle the ballooning problem of low-income housing.
Many French people do not consider it rude to stare. Recently in a doctor's waiting room, a man stared at me so long, I held a magazine in front of my face. Did I have something on my face? Did I resemble someone he knew? Was he overwhelmed by my good looks? Hee hee. Who knows, but I felt uncomfortable.
Another time I was in a restaurant with friends, when the French family at a table across from us, turned and stared openly, for several minutes. Really, we weren't that interesting! Did they have nothing better to do with their time?
One day on the Line 9 metro an old man of Arab descent stared at me with undisguised hostility. Did I look too American? Was he angry because that day George Bush had announced he was sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq? I was angry and I'm American. But I don't go around blaming other people for George Bush's behaviour. Finally the man's staring - almost a look of hatred - became intolerable and I got off and got on another car.
Then there's the middle-aged Arab guy on roller skates. He's bearded, big and burly and always wearing a green hooded parka edged with fur and baggy jeans. Often I see him skating up and down the streets on his way to and from the Bois du Boulogne. Sometimes he ignores me. Other times, he'll make rude, suggestive remarks in broken English, then skate off as fast as he can go. (See, everyone can tell I'm not French!)
The last time this happened, I vowed to put a stop to it. So when he approached me again, I spoke to him in Arabic, calling him an animal. I don't know if he was more shocked by the fact that I was speaking Arabic or by the insult. But now he steers clear of me.
Funny how even mundane encounters in a crowded international city can prove so charged with tension.