samedi 30 avril 2011

On carrying passports in France

This is a bit of a reflective post...

At the start I was not aware that I had to carry around my passport EVERYWHERE I go... This is just not done in Australia. My friends here later told me that I could be stopped in the street anywhere and anytime by customs officers to check if I'm legally allowed to be in the country (France).

French people don't need to carry around a passport because they have a laminated identity card stating their French nationality.

Trust me... the very first time I get stopped I didn't have my passport on me. I decided to on the spur of the moment take a train to Lyon for a day trip. Prior to that I thought I only needed my passport to go to Switzerland or another country so I didn't think to carry it on me. I was stopped by customs officials and inside I started panicking. "Remain calm" I told myself. These people have been trained to smell fear. I remained totally calm and polite. And honest. I told them I thought I only needed it to travel to another country and then they told me I need it everywhere I go, even if I'm not going on a train!

They asked me where I was from (I said Australia) and what I was doing there. I said I'm a teacher at the lycée (name) and that they can call the school if they wanted, to verify. Funnily, they didn't take me up on that offer. They were actually very nice and not mean at all but just reminded me to ALWAYS carry my passport on me from now on! I don't really like doing so because it's such an important document and also I don't want to get it damaged but I guess I have no choice :(

The only other time I was stopped (in France) was AGAIN in my town and again at the train station! But I was actually not in the station part and on a nearby street. They actually walked passed me earlier and didn't stop me but then I think they asked to see my ID only because there was noone else around and it was just something to do - ha! I don't know if they remember me but I certainly recognised them from before, even if it was almost 3 months ago.

The third and most recent time was when I went to Italy. Unbeknownst to me, I was getting a bus and not a train for the second leg of my trip. I'd booked it through the SNCF website and didn't see this little detail. Anyway, the much scarier looking customs officers got on and looked at everyone's passports and identity cards and it took FOREVER and made the bus depart late. The woman sitting next to me was black (from Angola) and I noticed he was much more stringent with viewing her passport than mine. I conveniently gave it to him with the page already opened to the one with my photo on it, observing to see if he'd actually check either the date of when I entered France or that I had a long stay - visa. Nup! Bit of discrimination eh? Oh well. I was happy with that especially I was sitting right at the back and the last person to be checked and just wanted to leave already!


Karine a dit…

The other way to get around is to carry your driving licence (+ international version), since it is also considered as an ID in France. Personnally, I lost my French one and got a duplicate (took several weeks, though) to find again the original one. So I was always carrying the duplicate with me. Interestingly enough, I haven't got controlled as much as you did, even if I look Asian... And yes, I reckon there is racism ...

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