I step inside the sleepy ticket office at Lozère and look hopefully at the man sitting across the counter. It’s ten in the morning, the ticket machines aren’t working, and I have a whole day of Paris-visiting planned ahead.
“Bonjour! Parlez-vous anglais?” I say, in bright trepidation, exhausting my entire repertoire of French in one fell swoop.
“Bonjour!” he replies, and – with a much-dreaded shake of his head – a string of unintelligible words escapes his smiling teeth.
I pause, then bravely decide to plough on with the next part of the plan. With a flourish (there’s something about France that makes flourishes appear quite naturally), I sweep open the RER/Métro map I have in my hand and jab at one of the stations. “Ticket?” I ask.
The head moves vigorously, the smile becoming more pronounced. “Non non, je te flouppe Fli! Me lah peeh! Oh, de fouffe!” it says.
Catching on to these visual cues, I doubtfully enquire, “Uh… no ticket?” Not requiring a ticket to go from the outskirts of Paris to the city centre is at exact odds with everything I’ve read about Paris’ train system (or any train system, for that matter) and I certainly don’t want to be caught by the army of RATP agents that Wikivoyage warned about. I put on my best confused face; the effect is unfortunately lost on said ticket man, who has evidently overestimated my French language abilities.
I valiantly try again. “So… How… I just… go?” I ask in my best broken English, waving the map in his face for added effect.
“Oui, oui, just go!” he grins.
Now I’m not sure if he actually meant me to get on the train or just get out of his face. Either way, I found myself sitting on the next train that hesitantly came by – was it just me or was it emptier than it should be? Perhaps there was some problem with the ticket machines today and they were letting everyone go without a ticket.
Three quarters of an hour later (some of which was spent surreptitiously staring at the girl sitting opposite wearing safety pins for earrings), I reach the fully-functioning firmly-closed ticket barriers at the city centre. Now what? Perhaps I should try my luck at another station. Twenty minutes later, I watch as a lady tails the person in front of her and exits without a ticket at Fontaine Michalon. These exits seem less hostile, but I’m not sure if it’s worth taking the chance on a solo trip in a foreign continent.
That’s it then: time to go all the way back to square one. Another twenty minutes find me back in sunny Lozére. Lo and behold – the ticket machines are working, and Monsieur Just-Go is nowhere to be seen! I shake my head, quickly purchase as many tickets as I think I’ll possibly need over the next couple of days, and jump on to the next train.
Nearly three hours after I originally started, I finally reach the Champs-Élysées. Well, at least my French accent for the station names on the way to the city is now close to perfect.