Mission: One Navigo

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Who needs a visa when you have a Navigo?

Here’s a fun game to play the next time you’re in Paris: find a Parisian and tell them that you’d like to purchase monthly metro pass. A look of distress will shoot across their face and the color will drain from their cheeks. They will throw up their hands and gasp something along the lines of, “Ooh, le Navigo! But you will never return!”

Obtaining a monthly subway pass in New York City is simple. You stroll up to any of the automated ticket machines, select a 30-day pass, and part begrudgingly with your hard-earned $112. So I was perplexed when several even-tempered Parisians nearly fell from their chairs when questioned about the dreaded Navigo Mensuel. I now understand:

  • 15:00. Ticker: 446. I locate the Navigo office easily: it has a line of 30 people stretched out of what appears to be a very complicated door system. I head to the back of the line. I look like I know what I’m doing.
  • 15:15. Ticker: 453. I notice that newbies to the line are pulling numbers from a machine near the doors. I quickly snatch a slip of paper from the dispenser: 508. The ticker inside displays 453. I once again head to the back of the line. I no longer look like I know what I’m doing.
  • 16:00. Ticker: 479. An employee emerges from behind the mysterious sliding doors and begins presorting the line dwellers. In French. I try to decode the numbers she is reading off her list.
  • 16:05. Ticker: 483. The employee approaches and I mutter something that sounds vaguely like, “Navigo Menseul for one, please.” This is not the magic password as I had hoped.
  • 16:10. Ticker: 487. After a lengthy display of my French ineptitude, I am bumped from the line dwellers and emerge from the station. I must obtain a letter from my company stating my employment, address, and honorable intentions.
  • 16:11. Ticker: unknown. I stop mid-step, pondering the probability of my returning to the office, obtaining said letter, and returning to the metro station before the ticker reaches 508. Mission accepted, I take off in a mad dash, searching my pockets for crumpled number 508.
  • 16:20. Ticker unknown. I burst, disheveled, into the HR department, startling several quiet Parisians. I quickly babble, “I tried to get my Navigo…” and was treated to a chorus of French empathy. Frantic work begins on my letter.
  • 16:30. Ticker unknown. I fly across La Défense, scarf whipping in the wind, a still-warm letter clutched in my fist.
  • 16:39. Ticker: 506. I skid to a stop in front of the Navigo office, my letter now rather wrinkled. The ticker displays 506. I squeeze my way through unfamiliar line dwellers and examine the overly complicated door system.
  • 16:40. Ticker: 507. I squeeze through the doors behind Mr. 507 and emerge in a waiting room complete with brochures displaying model families glamorously using their Navigos. I am envious of their perfectly coiffed hair.
  • 16:42. Ticker 508. I move to one of the ticket windows, placing my passport, cash, all-important letter, and dictionary on the counter. The woman laughs at my attempted humor and begins entering my information.
  • 16:50: Ticker 511. The woman suddenly snaps my picture and prints the precious card. I look like a content chipmunk in the photo, happy to have successfully navigated the maze that is Navigo.

You can buy a baguette without being a real Parisian. You can wear a scarf without being a real Parisian. You can even rent a Parisian apartment without being a real Parisian. The mark of a true Parisian? Le Navigo, of which yours truly is now a proud owner: watch out world!

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