Good Luck, Tourist.

You’re on a trip. You’re excited to be away from home, to not have to worry about feeding the dog, to be somewhere new and cool where there is so much to see and do. Well guess what, tourist? The locals there are NOT on vacation. They are probably not very happy to see you and they don’t want to help you or be nice to you. And you know what the saddest part is? Neither do the police. Sorry.

When I was in Paris, France, me and my friend both bought subway tickets to go from inner Paris to our hotel, which was right outside of the city. We bought the tickets (obviously all in French) from the machine and then swiped them through another machine, in which the little light glowed green and the gate opened and we stepped onto the subway.

Upon stepping off the subway, however, I was surprised to have a cop suddenly in my face asking me (in English, because, hmm, weird, he knew I was a tourist) for my ticket. This is pretty standard in many cities– the subway is kind of based on the honor system but if a cop pulls you aside, you better have it to show or face a hefty fine. In Paris, though, I guess they operate by the machines letting you through and cops. Anyway, I showed the cop my ticket, and he soon informed me that my ticket was only valid for subways within Paris, as evident by an emblem featuring the word “Paris” inside a tiny red circle. I don’t know about you, but even if I was French, I would not get this point.

The cop then told me (in English, because once again, seems that they knew we were tourists…) that I owed a fine of about 200 euro (this was all two years ago, I really don’t remember the exact amount). Being that I only had a few more days backpacking, I didn’t even have that much money, plus it was pretty ridiculous to me that we were guests in this country, doing our best to be respectful and we were providing tourism and money, yet two eighteen-year-old American girls were being punished so severely from an obvious misunderstanding. After some finagling, we ended up paying the cops 50 euro each, which was still pretty ridiculous to me, but after they started threatening to take my passport, I didn’t want to end up in a padded cell underneath the city.

I always felt like this was all so very unfair, and if the situation had been reversed with two foreigners in America, American police would just let them go. Honestly, though, I’m not too sure about this, since it seems like most cities take a particular sick joy in exploiting tourists.

When I was in Ocean City last weekend, my friend parked his car at a meter a few blocks from the beach and put $3 in to last 3 hours. When we got back 2 1/2 hours later, a ticket was waiting on the dashboard for $30, not really fair in my opinion since it seems as if there was some problem with the machine or something. If it were me, I would probably fight it for the principle of the matter, but realistically, it’s not really worth it to drive all the way back to Ocean City to fight a $30 ticket.

Being a tourist anywhere you are at a pretty deep disadvantage. You don’t have a real home, you may not have a phone, you have nowhere to park, and you have limited money and knowledge of the area. Sometimes, you get into situations that you can’t really avoid, like a French ticket and a crappy meter. All I can tell you is to be alert, really. And always stand up for the principle of the matter. Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t give anyone the right to push you around, uniform or not.

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