How Our Paris Airport Taxi Ride Ended with A Profanity-laced Tirade
Enjoying the sights of Paris, with no screaming taxi drivers in sight.
"Give me my money! Give me my MONEY!"
This was not how I had envisioned spending my first night in Paris. We had been in the City of Light for only about an hour. I was standing on the curb in front of our hotel, while our cab driver stood in front of me, screaming and gesticulating. He wanted — as he was clearly indicating — his money. I wasn’t inclined to give it to him. But I had good reason.
My wife and I had flown into Paris from Budapest. It was just over a two-hour flight, but we had arrived around 11 p.m. so we were a bit groggy. I’m stating that as an excuse for our bone-headed mistake once we exited the airport.
Our arrival in Paris marked country number 26 on our One-year Retirement. In the past eight months of travel we had been transformed from bush-league world travelers — forgetting our boarding passes and misplacing our cell phones — to finely-tuned globetrotting nomads. We possessed a light-year of airline miles and could calculate cross-continent currency conversions with alacrity. We believed ourselves to be the by-God second-coming of Rick Steves. So perhaps we were blinded by a hint of arrogance when we landed in Paris and allowed ourselves to be drawn away from the taxi line by a “taxi driver.”
Those words are in quotes because I don’t believe a person is a taxi driver just because he or she puts you into the back seat of a car at the airport. Similarly, if I sit in the coin-operated kiddie ride spaceship outside the Tuscaloosa Safeway, it doesn’t make me an astronaut. I had known for years the dangers of using the non-official cabbies who lurk in the shadows and around the corners of airports throughout the world.
So when two gentlemen started gesturing me toward their cars as we walked toward the cab stand line, I shooed them away immediately. Once I’d dutifully waited in line to get to the front of the taxi-stand line, I looked up and saw another gentleman waving me in. I walked toward him, and realized as he continued to gesture me toward his car a hundred feet away that this guy might be just as crooked as the rest.
It’s these moments that will put you right back in your place as a traveler. As soon as he’d put the car in drive, we knew we weren’t in a legitimate cab. “Where is the meter? How much is it to our hotel?” we asked.
“It’s only 80 euros.” our driver declared. Megan and I looked at each other and grimaced. We had researched ahead of time, as part of our pre-flight checklist, and knew that a taxi ride from Paris Orly Airport to our hotel would cost about 40 euros. Megan pushed back - “It should be only 40 euros. We checked ahead of time.”
In broken English he gave us some excuse and kept repeating that it would cost 80. “I have a meter here!” he reassured us, as he held up his iPhone, with a counter app ticking off the distance. This was obviously bogus, and a way for him to charge us whatever he thought he could get away with. We muttered to each other our frustrations on getting ourselves into this situation, as the cab rode through the darkness.
Nothing during the 45-minute ride from the airport to our hotel brought us any real comfort, even with the cabbie’s attempts to assuage our doubts in his rudimentary English. He even tried to point out tourist sights to us as we entered the city. “I guess we’re paying extra for the tour,” I muttered to my wife. I was so frustrated with myself for getting into this situation, I decided there that we were not getting scammed by this cabbie. I began reasoning with myself that we weren’t in real danger, as this guy was only looking to make a quick buck, but probably wasn’t dangerous. Cabbies in Paris wouldn’t carry a weapon, right? I typed out a message on my phone, so the driver wouldn’t overhear our plan, and handed it to my wife: “When we get to the hotel, go straight into the hotel and bring security out. I’ll get our bags.” She nodded.
There I stood at the trunk of the cab, arguing with the cab driver that the cost was not 85 euros as his bogus app indicated, but 40 euros, and 40 was all I would be paying, as I knew the cost of the ride and I knew that he wasn’t a legitimate cab driver. “I am no criminal!” he started shouting, and kept telling me to pay up immediately. I held my ground, knowing that he still had our bags, with everything we owned on the One-year Retirement, in the trunk which was still closed. If he got in the car and drove away, we’d be starting from scratch for the remaining seven countries and four months of our trip. I quickly pulled out my phone and took a picture of his license plate. He tried to hide the number as I took the shot, and got a little angrier at my attempt to garner photographic evidence.
“Give us our bags. Open the trunk.”
“Give me my money! I am no criminal!”
“Give me my bags and I’ll give you your money.”
I kept calm, but repeated to him that I wasn’t going to pay more than what he was owed, trying to stall until Megan came out with hotel security, which I expected would set everything straight and put our irate driver in his place. After what seemed like an eternity Megan finally arrived with a skinny man in a blue blazer, who spent about two seconds surveying the scene before shrugging and turning on his heel back to the hotel. Great. Thanks so much, Paris Le Meridien Hotel. Looks like we were on our own.
By this time the cabbie must have lost hope of getting his tourist surcharge, because although he kept telling me to pay up, he opened up the trunk. I immediately lurched for the bags, put 40 euros in his hand, and headed for the hotel without looking back. As I neared the door, our French ambassador wasn’t shy about his displeasure in the transaction, as a string of expletives soared across the Parisian night sky like a flock of angry French geese.
I was frustrated with my bone-headed mistake of getting in the cab in the first place. But in my defense, I had done a few things right. We figured out the cost for the taxi ride to our hotel before we departed. We decided ahead we’d use the taxi stand since we couldn’t use a Paris Uber, because we didn’t have cell service at the time. We followed the taxi stand line but must have been distracted by a driver who wasn’t in the actual line, and perhaps the taxi-stand monitor was in on the grift too. Once things went south, we worked out a plan to get security involved quickly. But the bottom line is we let our guard down at a critical moment, which is what put us in the back seat of a soon-to-be foul-mouthed Frenchman.
Paris got a lot better from there. It was a mesmerizing city, and the Parisians were a welcoming and friendly lot from that point onward. I won’t remember my profanity-spewing Parisian friend as a spokesperson for the rest of the city of Paris, but I won’t forget him either. If nothing else, I learned a few new curse words in French.