Metro Tips

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 wrong.   But 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:   COPS:   When 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.   The 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.   ENTERTAINERS:   One 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.   Once 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!’   It’s 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.   CRAZIES:   Obviously 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.   I 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.   Because 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.   GETTING ON:   If 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 they close.   GETTING OFF:   The 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.   Instead, 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.   BREAKING WIND:   It is Paris in summer. It is excruciatingly hot in the metro/bus but you are happily seated with your eyes…
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