I had been to Paris on a couple of occasions before, but this time was different. Previously they had been holidays, a chance to run amok and wreak havoc, without ever considering the consequences of our actions. The rules don’t apply when you’re young and partying on the other side of the world. They were days of being chased by thuggish bouncers out of dimly lit strip clubs, and drinking pints of vodka given to us “on the house” by the Australian bar manager. On holiday you were carefree, invincible.
Relocating is a different story. It’s like meeting someone for the second time over a quiet Sunday brunch, after the first time you met them was in the midst of a drunken Saturday night spree.
“Hi, um, good morning, Paris. Look, I’m really sorry about last night, I’m never normally like that. So sorry about your bathroom as well, a pint of vodka can really impair your depth perception.”
Paris, for a few days, had been our stomping ground to use and abuse. Years later I was returning, cap in hand, to repent and become a functioning member of its melting pot society.
We were due to move to Paris in a week’s time, so I was on a reconnaissance mission to try and organise a place for us to live. I had fond memories of Paris, but the idea of moving to a big city in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language was daunting, to say the least. It was a nervous and exciting time.
I had done some research about our soon-to-be home, particularly about the potential dangers to new comers such as ourselves. Pickpockets, petty thieves and scam artists featured highly amongst the annoyances to be wary of. As I landed in Paris that day, I didn’t even need to leave the airport to have my first encounter.
Standing in line to buy train tickets to reach the city, I was approached by a stout, sweaty man speaking to me in Arabic. He had a luggage trolley with several suitcases, and desperation in his voice. I shook my head and stared blankly at him, unable to speak or understand Arabic. He paused, then asked “English?” I made the mistake of grinning, ear to ear, and replying “Yes! English! Woo!”
He proceeded to explain to me, in broken English, his predicament. He was trying to fly back to his motherland Turkey, but could not buy his ticket using his credit card. He had a couple of hundred Euro’s in cash, but needed another €50. From me.
“You give 50 Euro, no problem. Then I fly and we both happy.”
His brazen way of asking a complete stranger for money threw me off. Had I misunderstood? Was he going to give me €50? Surely he’s not asking for money because he said “No problem”, when me handing out €50 is, at best, a slight problem. I politely asked him to wait while I bought my ticket, though I probably should have told him something much less polite.
While I queued, I assessed the validity of this strangers claim. I reasoned there was a 95% chance that this was a routine scam. All he needed was a trolley, some empty suitcases and a foreign stooge to buy his sob story. But on the 5% chance that he was genuine, I could empathise with his plight. When I was pick-pocketed in the Philippines, I lost my phone, my wallet and all access to any money that I had. On that day, I would have given anything for a stranger to help me fly back home. Now, I was being presented with a 5% opportunity to do the same for someone else.
The word “Karma” formed in my mind. And that’s when it began. I started rationalising why this man had approached me, on the first day of my relocation to Paris. Maybe this was a test! Maybe this was Paris saying to me over brunch,
“The drunken deviant I met last night is not someone I want to spend time with. But I’m willing to give you a second chance to make it up today”.
Maybe this was my chance to prove that I was ready to be a useful citizen, and that the city and I were going to get along fine. Maybe, just maybe, the cover charge for club Karma in Paris is €50.
I bought my ticket and walked over to where the helpless traveller/ Turkish scam artist was waiting patiently.
“Alright”, I told him. “I’ll give you your money.”
He was delighted, obviously. He shook my hand vigorously and led me up an escalator toward Terminal 1, from where his flight would leave. He spoke quickly in a slur of Arabic and English about his relief of finally going home. “Good heart, good heart, good heart” he repeated as he prodded the right side of my chest. I smiled. Surely this anatomically confused, bubbling man couldn’t be a con artist. I had made the right call. I had found the 5%. I had passed the Test.
As we reached the top of the escalator, I recalled I had Euro’s in my wallet from a previous trip. I asked him to wait, pulled out my wallet and opened it up to find a €50 note, and a couple of €20 notes too. Smiling, I handed him the €50, and wished him a safe journey. Everything had worked out, and I had paid the Paris Tax. With a twinkle in his eye, he told me he needed €90, and before I could react he had snatched the remaining notes from my wallet and disappeared into the thronging airport crowd.
Burdened with my luggage, I had no way to chase after him. I stood speechless, in disbelief at what had just happened. We had a deal! Karma! The Paris Tax! My chance at redemption! Part of me tried to think that he ran straight to the flight desk, bought his ticket, and went to catch his flight home.
Another part of me thought “Fuck you, Paris.”