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It’s easy to find your way around on the Paris metro.
The A to B logic is hard to screw up; trains run with precise
regularity; announcers announce things that are posted up anyway, like
a certain stop being closed for a few weeks, etc.; and, as long as you
understand that Passage Interdit means NO ENTRANCE, you can’t really go
there are hidden dangers besides the usual pickpockets and lunatics:
wolves in sheeps’ clothing preying on the vulnerable; third-rate
musicians who prefer captive audiences to the ones who are free to walk
away; and rules of social etiquette that must be adhered to if your
journey is going to be a pleasant as it can be, considering where you
are. Some tips, then:
you have your ticket, keep it until you are out of the system, or you
risk getting a hefty fine (about 30 euros). One of the regular tricks
of the metro-cops is to wait just inside the exits, rather than the
entrances, and demand tickets, especially late at night and on
weekends, when tourists are likely to be half-drunk. Do not take
advantage of the long lines of waste-paper bins that tempt you to throw
your ticket away before you leave, as you will find it extremely
difficult to locate the one you used whilst dragging a quietly amused
metro cop around with you.
metro-cops may be there to protect you, but they are also there, in
this writer’s opinion, to use your naivety of the system and lack of
savoir-faire to bleed you for all you’re worth. Heading towards the
60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris, I can’t help but imagine
that if my ageing uncle came here to do a spot of sightseeing after all
those years of liberating, and walked into a bunch of these goons, he
would probably think he had overlooked a few Nazis and try to kill them.
of the celebrated aspects of Paris life is the street music, buskers on
corners, down the metros, accordion-players, flute players,
guitar-strumming dreamers. This is actually an old-fashioned version of
the electronic musak you hear in lifts and shopping centres. The longer
you stay in Paris, the more you will recognise the same old reliable
tunes feebly banged out again and again, like musical versions of those
lifeless tourist paintings that are scattered around everywhere.
a performer’s captive audience (you) has been subjected to his enforced
jollity, the great musician will humbly approach, seeking a modest
recompense for his efforts. DON’T GIVE HIM ONE. It will only encourage
him and make him think: ‘Wow, those god-awful tunes really work with
these suckers! I’ll do them all again tomorrow!’
bad enough hearing warbled—or heavily accented—versions of bad songs
like, ‘Those Were The Days My Friend,’ but when you hear songs that you
actually like being publicly mugged—Beatles songs, or Simon and
Garfunkel numbers—a (metro) line has to be drawn.
you will find yourself in close proximity to a nut every once in a
while. These can range from introverted and deeply disturbed
individuals, who will mainly twitch and jerk around every now and then,
and not mean or do any real harm, apart from make you feel sympathetic,
helpless, and embarrassed, to drunken bums, pathetic enough to use
their inebriated state to try to get attention for themselves, either
by shouting at the population of the bus in general, or by picking on
individuals, almost always women.
recently watched one battered looking man slide his foot across the
narrow aisle between seats as a young woman was about to sit, then
scream out—extremely loudly—as if she had stood on him. The woman was
mortified—and apologetic—as the pathetic cretin screamed at her and
demanded everybody’s attention.
I’d seen his trick, and because I was in a bad, bad mood anyway, I got
involved. When the scuzz-ball realised that I wasn’t scared of him, or
sympathetic to his unfortunate condition, he turned into a kind of
wily, oily best friend, which I didn’t appreciate. It was extremely
embarrassing. The best thing to do is move away. Arguing only gives
some of these types the attention they are craving anyway, and there is
nothing that you can realistically do to help them, sad as that is.
it’s packed tight, there is always the option of simply waiting for the
next train. They come with amazing regularity. If that idea doesn’t
appeal, or if it is Sunday service, simply give a smile to the people
on the front line, then step forcefully into them. Saying ‘Pardon,’ in
an apologetic way won’t do any harm either. Make sure you get in
properly and that your clothes and bags aren’t caught in the doors as
Metro is crowded and you are somewhere far from the door. Do not mince
around, gently pressing people’s shoulders and smiling meekly at them
as you attempt to squeeze past. It may be true that the meek shall
inherit the earth, but a fat lot of good that will do them if they
can’t get out of the metro in time to claim it.
bellow out, “Pardon!” in a loud but polite way, whilst using enough
physical force to let it be known that you are coming through whether
or not anybody makes way. Nobody will be offended by this, as everybody
is conditioned to it, and you’ll make it onto the platform in one piece.
is Paris in summer. It is excruciatingly hot in the metro/bus but you
are happily seated with your eyes closed, pretending to doze so that
you don’t have to make eye-contact with all the other tired, sweaty
people. Then you get that pungent smell in your nostrils. Someone has
let one go. OK… PAY ATTENTION! The following is extremely important:
open your eyes immediately. Do not be stoic and continue day-dreaming.
If you keep your eyes closed, the guilty person will assume an offended
look and glare at you, whilst everybody else will follow his or her
eye-line and consider you guilty as charged. Opening your eyes throws
off suspicion and forces the guilty party to search out a new victim.
you ARE the guilty party, look for the person nearest to you who has
their eyes closed, then assume an offended look and glare at them. That
way, everyone will think that the ‘sleeper’ is guilty and that he or
she simply lacks the moral fibre required to look everybody square in
the face and yell, “So SUE ME!”