Recently, Evelyn escorted a group of high school students on a homestay/tour in France. While visiting the Eiffel Tower, Evelyn had a first-hand experience with Vigipirates – France’s national security alert system.
Read on as Evelyn explains how two souvenir bottle openers almost set off a security alert in Paris.
Spring in Paris – my favorite!!!
It was a beautiful day. We had visited Versailles in the morning and just gotten off the “RER” to make our way to our next appointment at the Eiffel Tower.
When we arrived at the entrance of the iron lattice, we presented our tickets and proceeded to go through security. Just as the last two students were about to join the group, a guard going through their bags, confiscated their souvenir bottle openers that were planned gifts for family members back home.
I tried to reason with the guard and talk him out of throwing the bottle openers in the trash. He finally suggested that if I would be willing to go back out and hide the two bottle openers on the grounds of the Eiffel Tower, he would give them to me instead of throwing them in the trash.
I sent the rest of the group on their way to be with their teacher while I took the two bottle openers and tried to find a spot to hide them.
By the South Pillar of the Eiffel Tower there was less traffic, and I noticed a bush covered in white flowers. I placed my back pack on the ground and pretended to search for something. Pulling out the two bottle openers, I discretely hid them at the base of the flowers and covered them with greeneries. I went back to the Eiffel Tower to join my group.
After our tour, we made our way down the tower to the West Pillar where we had entered. I asked my group to wait until I returned, leaving them with their teacher. Then, I made my way back to my secret hiding place. Minding my own business and enjoying my surroundings under the Eiffel Tower, I stopped in my tracks, wondering what was happening at the South Pillar.
Soldiers from the Vigipirates, with full camouflage uniforms, were positioned, forming a perimeter around the white flowering shrub. I started walking again toward the soldier closest to me. While they had assumed a kind of “ready-for-action” position, the atmosphere became very tense. All eyes were riveted on me, and the Vigipirates secured their machine guns. Gulp.
I greeted them and asked if we could talk. I explained that I was with the group of students by the West Pillar, and that I had followed a suggestion of the security guard to hide the two bottle openers at the base of those little white flowers, and, if they would prefer, they could go and retrieve them for me or could come with me as I retrieved these gifts. One soldier relaxed a bit, and I noticed a slight trace of a smile on his face. He told me to go and get the students’ souvenirs.
As I walked toward the flowers, I could not help but feel their eyes on me like a cat watches a mouse, or even better, a lion watches its prey.
As I reclaimed the now famous bottle openers, I waved them in the air shouting, “Merci les voila” (“Here they are! Thank you!”)
By now, everyone was relaxed and smiling. Grateful that the ordeal was over, I headed back toward the West Pillar where I handed the bottle openers to their respective owners.