CFDS episode 006: When gangsters don’t know geography

CFDS episode 6 food to calm down

How teenage gangsters not knowing geography can be life-saving, and a common food that could have helped calm everybody down.

What you will learn

  • what to do when faced with foreign (teenage) gangsters
  • the best food to calm down (both for you and for everyone else)

At the end of this episode I’ll share with you one of the best, cheapest and most easily available items to make food to calm down, as well as help with stress and anger management. And believe me, the main character in our story could have really used something to chill him out.

This food is very common and I bet you eat it all the time without thinking about it. It isn’t red, in case you’re thinking about a food that I discuss in a previous episode that is also very common.

OK so it’s easy to find and it isn’t red. I think that’s enough hinting from me, so let’s get on with the story.

On with the story

Waitressing in France

This story takes place in France, while I was living in Paris. I lived there for 14 years, and one of my many different kinds of jobs when I was willing to do just about anything for money (as long as it was legal), was waitressing. What a surprise, right?

I had lots of other jobs too. I sang at parties and in restaurants, I taught people English (or I tried to) using hypnosis (I talk about that in Episode 1), and I even cleaned people’s houses at one point who didn’t believe I was a housecleaner (but that’s another story).

This waitressing job was in a restaurant in a village way outside of Paris, in the middle of the countryside. It was in a big shopping center which was closed at night except for the restaurant, so it was OK during the day but was kind of spooky at night. However, I’d learned I could handle just about anything (including dangerous Italians, see Episode 4 for that story). And I needed the money.

The hardest part

The job itself was fine. I liked waitressing because it kept me busy and the time would fly by because I was running around all the time. There was one girl who worked there whom I just couldn’t understand. She was from a small town in Scotland, and I was still getting used to hearing different kinds of accents when people were speaking. I mean, I grew up on Long Island New York where everyone talked with a New York accent. So strong foreign accents were hard for me to understand because I just wasn’t used to it. But eventually I could understand her as well as the French customers. After a while, my French was fluent. This last bit is important to our story, as you’ll see later.

The hardest bit of that waitressing job was getting back home. I had to get the last train going back to Paris, to then get the last metro train going from the mainline station to the metro stop near my house. So I was always racing to get the train.

My rebellion against late night train strategy

I was always told that if you were a woman on your own taking the train at night, you had to sit in the very first car right behind the driver to be safe. And I did that religiously, every single night. It meant running further and being further away from the exit at the mainline station. It was a bit of a pain because it added extra time to my journey home, but I did it.

And one night I just got fed up of having to always go out of my way to sit in the first car like a child. I’d never seen anything bad happen on that train, and I was thinking, “Why should I have to run further every night just because I’m a woman alone? That’s not right, and it’s not fair”. So that night I thought ‘Right, I’m going to sit wherever I want!’ So I sat in the middle of the train.

And once I was alone…

When I got on there were about 3 other people, but they all got off at the next stop, and so then I was alone. There were still a few stops before Paris, and I started to think “Maybe this isn’t such a great idea to be by myself.” I was about to get up and go to another car that at least had other people in it, when 3 teenage guys walked into the car.

Now I was in a booth, so there was room for 4 people. Of course two of them sat across from me, and one of them sat next to me. In a car that was otherwise totally empty. I thought “Uh oh” and I figured they were probably gonna hit on me – that happened a lot.

So I kind of sighed inwardly and resigned myself to fending off a pass or something. But I was really nervous because there were 3 of them and one of me.

The first scary part

Then the guy sitting next to me pulls out a gun and holds it on the seat, pointing it at my thigh. And of course my heart plummeted. It reached my stomach and just stayed there.

The good thing was that I noticed that when he pulled the gun out – I don’t know his name so I’ll call him Jean – he didn’t look happy about it. He was kind of sighing inside as he did it, like ‘oh this is such a pain’.

Of course the thought that flashed through my head was ‘if this is such a pain, why are you doing it?’ Right?

But the one across from me – I’ll call him Reno – he was an angry kid. He was angry at the world, and I happened to be the one in his way.

Why you want to travel light

Reno scowled at me and said “L’argent ! Vide tes poches !” which means “The money! Empty your pockets!” (He was using the familiar ‘tu’ form which was kind of rude considering we didn’t know each other!)

Anyway at that moment I was glad for two things: one, that I never carried much money with me because I traveled at night, and two, he was just after my money. I’d much rather surrender my money than my person. So I emptied my pockets, and there was basically just a bunch of change. It was the equivalent of like two dollars, so not very much.

I gave him the change and he was like ‘what?’ He was definitely disappointed, I think he’d figured me for some rich tourist.

When a little acting comes in handy

Now the other thing you need to know here is that as soon as they started talking to me, my intuition said “Pretend you can’t speak French”. Because I was fluent I understood everything they said, even the slang. My French teacher would have been so proud!

But I pretended to not only not speak French, but also I wanted them to think that I was a bit ‘intellectually challenged’. That way I might find an opportunity later to surprise them. Or so I thought, anyway.

So Reno looks at the coins, and he says “Is this it?” He looked like a kid who’d asked for a train for Christmas and gotten a tiny plastic car. Poor guy.

Reno asked Jean – who was still looking like he’d rather be at home watching TV – to look through my coat pockets too. There was nothing else there…except for my US passport, which I really didn’t want to lose because that would just be a huge pain. I’d already had it stolen from me on the first day I arrived in Paris, and I figured if I went to the police again they’d be like ‘are you selling them?’ Way too embarrassing.

Who wants the money?

Anyway Reno put the passport to one side, looked at his huge takings of two whole dollars…and said “Oh here, take it.” He handed me the coins back, as in ‘this really isn’t worth it’. And playing my role of a clueless tourist, I said “Oh no, you keep it” and he said “No, just take it” and I said “No, no, I insist”. It was like when you’ve got two friends arguing over who’s going to pay the bill in a restaurant because each person wants to treat the other, right?

Reno kept the coins, but he still didn’t look happy about it. And although I’d diffused his anger a little bit – which was totally one of my goals – he still wanted something. I think at that moment though, even he didn’t know what it was.

Why I was grateful he didn’t know geography

So Reno picks up my passport and starts flicking through the pages. Now at that time there weren’t any epassports. I had lots of stamps in my passport from when I traveled, and I was getting worried that he’d see that a US passport is very valuable on the black market, which it was. People would steal them, change the picture and sell them for lots of money.

And here comes the bit where it was fortunate for me that he didn’t know his geography. He looked at me and said “You’re from England?” I played along with this because an English passport was valuable, but it wasn’t considered as valuable as an American one (sorry English friends), so I was hoping he wouldn’t decide to keep it.

The scariest part

Anyway, just then the train stopped. It was the last stop before Paris, and it was in the middle of nowhere. You know, at one of those deserted stations that just has fields on either side.

Here’s where the story gets the scariest, at least for me. Reno takes the gun from Jean, points it at my kneecap and says “Get off the train” as in ‘get off the train with us and a gun in the middle of a field’.

Well one thing was for sure – I didn’t know what Reno wanted to do with me and a gun outside late at night, but I had no desire to find out. I’d noticed while all of the thieving was going on that Reno’s two colleagues kept looking over their shoulders all the time. They were nervous that someone would come along, and it seemed to me that Reno was the mastermind and he’d coerced them into playing along with his plan.

Taking a gamble

So I took a gamble and I did the only thing I could think of. I pretended I didn’t have a clue what Reno meant so that I could stay put.

I figured he probably wouldn’t shoot because he didn’t want to make noise, and I knew there was no silencer on the gun (thanks to TV). He repeated his ultimatum, saying “If you ever want to see your beloved England again, you’ll get off this train now”. This was all in French of course.

Well I was thinking that my survival was way more likely if I stayed put. So I just looked at him with a puzzled face and pretended to be really clueless. I pretended that I just didn’t get what he meant.

Nobody move

He was looking at me, I was looking at him, and nobody moved.

Suddenly we heard the sound that signalled the closing doors, and the train moved on. Inwardly I breathed a huge sigh of relief, because I’d taken a gamble that he wouldn’t shoot, but still I wasn’t 100 percent sure. Once the train moved, I knew he wouldn’t shoot.

At that point, much to my surprise, he gave me back my passport. To this day I don’t know why, except it was obvious that he definitely didn’t know how much it was worth. And he definitely didn’t know his geography. Or his English actually, because it said “United States of America” on the cover in big letters.

My best strategy

Anyway I figured my best strategy – since they apparently had decided to stay with me all the way to Paris – was to befriend them. This might sound crazy, but it fit perfectly with my ‘playing clueless’ strategy.

They asked me where I lived, and I told them “Place de Clichy.” Now you need to know at that time, Place de Clichy was one of the rougher parts of Paris. It wasn’t the roughest, but it was known for having more immigrants than native French. Everyone in that part of town got along relatively well together, but a lot of them were often prejudiced against by some of the more right-wing French. (This was years ago, it’s way worse now, sadly).

My captors were foreigners too – I could tell by their accents. So when I said “Place de Clichy” they looked impressed, which I thought was quite funny. It was a bit like the scene in Attack the Block, if you’ve seen that movie? You know, where the guys find out that the girl they mugged lives in their building and they say ‘Hey if we’d have known you lived here we never would have bothered you’. Logical, right?

I almost became a criminal

I said they could come back to my house if they wanted. That might sound crazy to you, but I figured if they were planning on following me back home anyway, it was best to pretend I was being friendly about it. I figured I could find a way to surprise them.

At that time I was living with my French hypnotist-later-turned-Scientologist boyfriend, and I knew he had a gun at home. So I decided that worst case scenario they’d follow me back home and my boyfriend would scare them or shoot them and then we’d call the police. That’s seriously where my mind was going!

My reckless moment

At this point we were finally arriving in Paris – it felt like the longest train ride ever by that point. I saw that they were going to finally leave me alone. They kept looking over their shoulders (they’d put the gun away by this time which was such a relief), and Reno said ‘Don’t tell anyone. No cops!’

And in a moment of what might have been stupid recklessness but which actually felt too damn good not to do, I said to them in fluent French – using slang and everything – “You think I’d call the cops? I hate cops. I’m from New York”.

A small victory

Well, their jaws dropped. You could hear them thinking, “Shit!” because for kids like them who were relatively uneducated, New York meant gangsters and rough stuff all the time. (There was no internet, so everything they knew was based on rumors and the news which somehow I doubt they watched). Plus they realized I’d understood everything they’d been saying the whole trip, I’d just been pretending not to. So now they were afraid of being caught.

They ran out of that train like their pants were on fire. When they got to the platform, they kept running. They were still running when I got out (once my knees had stopped shaking and I made my way to the metro).

I never saw them again, for which I’m very grateful – oh, except as pumpkins (I kid you not), but that’s another story.

On to the tips: a common food to calm down

So what food could I have given Reno? What food could have helped dampen his anger and chill him out a bit?

Are you ready? The answer is: bananas.

What? I can hear you say. Are you kidding?

Nope, I’m not kidding.

What’s so great about bananas

Bananas have vitamin B and potassium, both of which help to calm the nerves. In other words, they help chill us out. Plus they’re delicious, easily available and inexpensive. Super cheap anger management…almost.

I’d link to a site that I came across yesterday around this topic, but bizarrely on the page about bananas it also has a video called ‘How to control your husband’ which honestly just is too weird. I had lots of people controlling my ex-French husband (well he’s no longer my husband but he’s still French) and it wasn’t fun. But again, that’s another story.

In the shownotes for this episode I’ll link to an article that I wrote that tells you about not just bananas, but also several other kinds of food to calm down that can not only help with anger management, but also with reducing stress and anxiety.

Some ideas for eating more bananas

How do you eat bananas? Well, easy, right? You pick one up, peel it and munch away. They even fit in a bag or in your pocket (if it’s a small banana and you’ve got a big pocket).

The only problem with that last strategy though is that your banana might look like a gun…or like something else, neither of which would have made Reno very happy to see on my person, I don’t think. I mean, I can’t say that if I’d fed Reno a banana he’d have put the gun away, but he would have at least been very surprised.

If you live in a kind of dangerous neighborhood, you might want a banana in your bag. Just for emergencies.

Anyway, I’ve got lots of delicious recipes that use bananas in all kinds of creative ways in my 5-Minute Breakfasts recipe ebook that I’ll link to in the shownotes for this episode.

Have YOU got a story to share?

If you’ve got a crazy, true story to share, I’d love to hear from you!

Got a question, or a comment?

Got a question, or a comment? Pop a note below in the comments, that would be awesome. You can also subscribe to the podcast to listen ‘on the go’ in iTunes.

I hope you have an amazing day. Thank you so much for being here with me to share in my Clean Food, Dirty Stories. Bye for now!


Link to 5-Minute Breakfasts and other recipe ebooks:

Article on properties of bananas plus other stress-busting foods: