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On Boulevard Haussmann Paris, is it normal to be stopped for no apparent good reason and asked where you are from? I was giving directions to another tourist. My appearance is clean-cut, unremarkable and does not catch the attention of authorities. My demographic is the least likely for terrorism and is stereotyped by economic prosperity

Update:

The two men were plainclothes but presented some kind of wallet-like paperwork and verbally identified themselves as some sort of authority. I was a little stunned by all the questioning, so I do not remember what agency. I've seen uniformed officers do this to foreign unfortunates \ refugees near the Eiffel Tower, but would not expect this in such an upscale chic area.

I told them that I am staying at the hotel 50 feet down the street and after I verbally indicated my citizenship he immediately lost any interest in me: I calmly responded and made sure that I was responding politely

closed as unclear what you're asking by fkraiem, Giorgio, David Richerby, Michael, CGCampbell Dec 11 '17 at 15:34

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    Stopped by who? A policeman in uniform? – DJClayworth Dec 8 '17 at 18:45
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    The State of Emergency only ended last month in France. I would expect there are some residual effects like more identity checks than before the emergency. – user16259 Dec 8 '17 at 18:47
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    Many foreign embassies are in close proximity of the Eiffel Tower. – Ken Graham Dec 9 '17 at 1:07
  • Voting to close as unclear, in particular we don't know who the guys were, so there is no way to know whether this was "normal" or not. – fkraiem Dec 9 '17 at 3:37
  • Assume they are French plainclothes policemen and have the authority to investigate / stop people on the streets. – gatorback Dec 9 '17 at 20:40
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It is not normal in the sense that it is not legal. But it is normal in the sense that it does happen.

Legally speaking, the police only has the right to require identification when there has been a breakdown of public order (“trouble à l'ordre public”), or in the course of a judicial inquiry. For example, ID checks in the vicinity of a riot are legal, but not in the vicinity of a peaceful demonstration. In addition, the government.

In practice, though, civil rights associations regularly have an uphill battle contesting the validity of identity checks. A decision by a court five years later that the police acted unlawfully won't help you much.

The law in France requires that everyone be able to justify their identity. Furthermore, people who are not citizens must be able to justify that they are in France lawfully. So you should always carry your passport, EU identity card, carte de séjour, or whatever document shows that you have the right to be in the country. There is no fine for a violation, but if you can't justify your identity, the police may bring you to a police station and hold you for several hours.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, if you're Black or Arab/North African, the police is more likely to give you a hard time. Note to North Americans: in French (and more generally European) racist categorization, “Hispanic” is not a thing, but “Arab” is.

The border police may perform identity checks near borders. This includes a 20-km zone near borders with other Schengen countries, even when systematic checks are not in place. This also includes airports and international trains and even train stations where international trains call.

If you're driving, then you must have your driving license and the vehicle's papers (including proof of insurance). Unlike pedestrians, the police may legally stop any vehicle at any time and request the driver's and the vehicle's papers.

  • I was checked on the domestic TGV Paris-Mulhouse, between Besancon and Belfort-Montbéliard. Didn't have my ID Card (as I was on an "Experiment" trying to confront Schengen-internal border checks without it) so had to declare my name, date of birth, nationality and address to the officer, who noted the Details on his portable device – Crazydre Dec 10 '17 at 3:11
  • I am not black, hispanic or arab: so I was a little surprised. Once I said that I am from the states he quickly lost interest. It would be interesting to understand the line of thinking that determines who to stop in upscale neighborhoods. – gatorback Dec 10 '17 at 10:53
  • The page linked at the beginning of the second paragraph states that ID controls (so called "administrative controls") can be done to "prevent a breakdown to public order", and can concern "anybody, whatever their behavior". This gives a lot of freedom to policemen, and that's hard to tell if what happened to the OP was illegal. The OP could also have been controlled as part of an investigation, and the link gives so much freedom to policemen that it is almost impossible to claim it was abusive. I concur with anything else in this very complete answer. – Taladris Dec 10 '17 at 11:31
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    Arabic is the language; people are Arabs, or of Arab descent. – fkraiem Dec 10 '17 at 11:51
  • @gatorback: it is not because black people or of Arab descent have their ID controlled more often than others that white people are never controled. That's a little bit annoying that you believe that being white is a protection against controls. As for the line of thought of the agent, there are many options: you said you were talking to another tourist, so maybe you made a move he found suspicious and asking your ID was a way to check everything was fine, maybe he was doing an investigation and you looked like one of the persons involved, maybe you don't look as clean-cut as you believe, etc. – Taladris Dec 10 '17 at 13:53
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It has always been the case. When I was a student in Paris, with long hair and clothes of dubious cleanliness, I was stopped frequently in the streets, the Métro, anywhere, by police, either in uniform or plainclothes. Every time a plainclothes asked to see my ID my answer was Let me see yours first, which they never objected to. Then I would show them mine.

I've been frisked, right there in the street, or on a subway platform. I've been asked questions about where I'm from, etc. Considering that I'm French, and white, I couldn't exactly accuse the cops of racism. Sure, of anti-student bias, probably. Being a Master's, then PhD student didn't help my case either -- I suppose they felt threatened by my education (if only they knew!).

Anyway, this is not something surprising. Police can, and will, ask anyone anything they want, and in France carrying your ID is expected. Cops don't need cause to ask for ID or frisk you. If they feel suspicious, they'll act.

  • Interesting! From a policeman's point of view, I am probably the last person they will stop because of stereotypes (I blend with the large groups of tourists here) and my behavior. After a few quick questions, they always lose interest very quickly and tell me to move along. I have my driver's license with me usually, but I do not carry my passport: maybe I should start toting it around? – gatorback Dec 9 '17 at 20:36
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    As a visitor, you have to be able to prove you're in France legally. Doesn't hurt to carry your passport -- which, incidentally, is the only foreign ID that will be recognized. A foreign driver's license won't be recognized. – user67108 Dec 10 '17 at 2:35
  • @dda "Doesn't hurt to carry your passport -- which, incidentally, is the only foreign ID that will be recognized" Only true for non-EU citizens not resident in France. – Crazydre Dec 10 '17 at 3:13
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    @Coke: Although the statement that a driving licence doesn't prove citizenship is true. – origimbo Dec 11 '17 at 11:52
  • @origimbo A national ID card does though – Crazydre Dec 11 '17 at 15:09

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