The rise and fall of the Gendarmerie – as I saw it

6th July 2020 |

I have never had to deal with the French Gendarmes before. I see them around of course, always very smart and business-like as befits a national police force. Usually I see them in their vehicles, and they are very impressive on their BMW motorcycles. They wear a blue uniform and in the heat of summer here in the south they cast off their jackets and wear broad braces to support their military style trousers, but this does not imply a relaxed or slovenly attitude. I have always thought of them as a force to reckon with. On the one occasion that I was stopped, at random on a roundabout, the Gendarme was very pleasant and polite and joked a bit as he went through the routine of checking my license but you knew it was the velvet glove over the iron fist.

Recently they have been building a new headquarters for the Gendarmerie alongside a road I travel quite frequently and it is finished now, a very fine looking purpose-built establishment flourishing aerials and such, surrounded by a panoply of new houses that I assume houses the agents. All very convincing and I must say it bolstered my impression of a powerful, effective force of rather superior people, well above the municipal police one sees around.

The new Gendarmerie National headquarters of Clermont l'Heraoult

The new Gendarmerie National headquarters of Clermont l’Heraoult

After my recent unfortunate loss through cyber crime I went to the bank to explain how I had been tricked into sending a number of large payments to the account of a criminal in Switzerland and my counselor said that I must report it to the Gendarmes immediately. I have to say I was little nervous and excited at the prospect of my first interaction. I imagined the kind of interrogation they might put me through, thinking that their investigation might stretch across Europe and back to the States where I suffered the final coup de grace. Interpol and the FBI might be involved. I prepared the paperwork as best I could before going there last Friday.

I parked alongside a barricade with stern warnings about this being a military establishment and threatening dreadful consequences to trespassers. It was quite hard to find a way in. I had to guess where the office was. A heavy iron fence surrounded it but eventually I found a locked gate. This being corona virus time there was also a sign to say that it was obligatory for everyone in this establishment to wear a mask. In a place like this that would be an iron rule so I fumbled for my mask, because I don’t normally wear one outside. As I was hooking it over my ears I heard the gate unlock itself. I went through into a sort of holding area locked in on both sides, and then the door of this imposing establishment unlocked itself.

I found myself inside a rather small, dowdy-looking office much like the old offices of yore and my respect for the whole enterprise began to diminish. A young blonde woman in uniform sat behind a pane of glass and looked at me, rather indifferently, intimating that I should say something. Unusually for France she didn’t even say “Bonjour.” She was not wearing a mask. In fact none of the people coming in and out at the back of the office wore masks. I felt like a dick.

“Do I have to wear this?” I asked. She gave me a Gallic shrug. I half removed it

“I have come to report a crime,” I said.

“Oh yes,”

“I have been defrauded out of a large amount of money.”

The telephone rang. She reached for it, gratefully I fancied, and talked animatedly for several minutes. Then she turned to me again.

“You were saying, Monsieur?”

“Somebody imitated a friend’s email address and tricked me into sending four large payments to a bank account in Switzerland.”

She seemed not to understand me. I did my best to explain. After a bit of this she said she would pass me on to a colleague, an older woman with dark hair and glasses who had come in and was now standing in front of me, mask-less, of course.

I went through it again.

“What is this to do with us?” she asked. “It’s none of our business. You should go to Switzerland, Monsieur.”

They were happy to see me leave.

I see the Gendarmes differently now.

Maybe they should go back to where they came from

Maybe they should go back to where they came from