Monday, March 7, 2011

Fisticuffs with a French robber left me bruised but not beaten

Not everyone who opens their door in a quiet street off the Champs-Elysées is a little-old-lady pushover, says Anne-Elisabeth Moutet.

Fisticuffs with a French robber left me bruised but not beaten; The Champs-Elysées on a safer day; AP
The Champs-Elysées on a safer day Photo: AP

It took about five minutes to turn me into a Victim. I opened the door one afternoon to find a slim woman in biker leathers on my landing, perhaps two inches taller than my 5ft 3in. She said she had a package for me, and was carrying a cardboard box complete with a sheaf of documents.

The next thing I knew, I was shrieking blue murder while she repeatedly butted me with her full-face helmet. "Au secours! Au secours!" I bellowed while she tried to muzzle me, simultaneously punching me in the ribs and shoving me back into my flat.

My overriding feeling was of flabbergasted surprise, a sensation of nightmarish unreality mixed with fury that this cow thought she could get away with knocking me out and helping herself to my things. I knew I had to keep screaming – as for fighting back, that was sheer instinct.

I think it was mostly the noise that made her flee, and perhaps the unpleasant surprise that not everyone who opens their door in a quiet street off the Champs-Elysées is a little-old-lady pushover. Shaken and shaking, I got back inside and called the police, who duly showed up 20 minutes later. When I told them I was quite unscathed, they suggested I sit down, have "a little glass of something strong" (we are Parisian, after all) and wait for the adrenalin to ebb away.

Running a hand through my hair, I found half a dozen bumps. Meanwhile, my ribs started complaining, too. "Do you need an ambulance?" the flics asked. Surely I didn't. I made my way to the police station in a taxi, to file a formal complaint, and was told to report to the Médecine Judiciaire's Special Victims Unit at Hôpital de l'Hôtel-Dieu near Notre Dame, the only place officially mandated to assess the damage.

The strange thing was that at the unit, my injuries were treated almost as an afterthought (in fact, the doctor I saw missed a hairline crack in my eighth right rib, which was later caught by my private GP). What seemed to be everyone's overriding concern was the deep psychological damage that I had to be suffering. I was urged no fewer than four times by various people in white coats to go and receive counselling from the shrinks.

It was no use objecting that I was fine, really. "But I won the round!" I protested. I could see on their faces that this was only proof of how disturbed I was. "You can get compensation from the state," I was advised. Compensation for what? That nice Sécurité Sociale is already picking up my medical bills, nothing was stolen, and while my rib does hurt, especially at night, I can still bask in a mild sense of achievement at having driven off the invading horde of one.


The prize for the oddest French burglars must go to the team who recently robbed a funeral parlour in the small town of Valadon, making off with a couple of coffins, some cash and the village's only hearse. Even stranger, this is the fourth time the place has been burgled in as many years. It certainly gives the lie to "You can't take it with you."


The fiscal rigourists attacking Britain's high-speed rail link, such as the Telegraph's own Simon Heffer, have got it completely wrong. We French always knew that the TGV infrastructure would be loss-making. But economists calculated that the benefit to the economy at large was well worth the red ink on SNCF's balance sheet.

This is known as the externalities theory. SNCF did not directly profit from the development of former rust-belt cities such as Lille, or subsequent falls in the local crime rate, or the sharp increase in property prices along the tracks, or the added mobility in the workforce. But eventually, we all did. I suspect that British northerners, like the French ones, would rather find jobs in their region than come south. So give them trains.

© Copyright Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2011

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