This article shall take you on a tour of what it’s like to use public transport in this city so that you are perhaps a little more prepared if you come to visit. If you live here, you’ll know all this already (but read on anyway please!).
I take all of the following means of transport in my daily commute…
Un certain charme: The metro smells. Most seem to have a resident tramp who has little or no aversion to peeing on the platform. This unexpected sight as you sprint around the corner to catch your metro is made worse if it’s a lady tramp.
On a bright note, these tramps are almost always drunk and therefore provide great entertainment- providing you are on the opposite platform.
“…dans une minute” I have never understood why the arrival board gives the time in minutes.
*1 minute* the board shows. By the time the train arrives, I’ve caught up with my mother and played a full game of Word Mole on my phone. One minute. Hmmm. But maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps metro minutes are different to human ones (where a minute is limited to 60 seconds, and doesn’t have much leeway either side). In any case, whatever a metro-minute is, it’s in a state of eternal flux and cannot be measured using conventional means like watches.
Mind the doors: Don’t, actually. Whereas in London the beeeeeeeeeep means the doors are closing right now so STAND BACK or DIE, in Paris the equivalent sound means the doors will close in a minute but don’t worry you can still get off/on/consider your options: this noise doesn’t really mean anything.
This relaxed attitude to getting on/off the metro feeds one of my pet hates: the last-minute leaver. Why do people SIT and LOOK at the door then, as the beeeeeeeeep approaches its climactic end, leap up and dive for the exit?! My theory is that these last-minuters are in fact spies, trying to shake off a tail. Have a look next time to see if anyone else in the carriage tries to follow them. *(see anecdote at end of page)
|Manchester Monkey @Flickr|
The RER is like the metro. But worse.
Aesthetics and Politics: Mouldy water drips down the walls and rats play on the tracks. No, we’re not in a scene from Oliver Twist, we’re on the RER D platform at the Gare de Lyon.
The RER trains are the only public transport connection between the (high-unemployment) banlieue and the (wealthy) centre of Paris (although there are some very smart banlieue areas). This results in predominantly young people from the suburbs- who already feel isolated and cut off from the capital- congregating around Paris’ train stations creating frustrated hotbeds of violence and crime.
|Taken by dalbera at Flickr|
GREVER: If you happen to take the RER on a day when the train staff are not on strike (congratulations) then you will probably find that your train is delayed a) because of the tragic number of people that decide to end their lives on the railtracks (“incident sur les rails”) or b) the understandable- if a bit suspect- number of passengers suddenly feeling unwell upon entering the dank train carriage (“un passager malade”).
Let’s get physical: I think that people have different levels of tolerance when it comes to things like personal space and manners. And I know I sound very British when I say this, but it is only in Paris that I have had to shout “LAISSEZ DESCENDRE” as I battle my way against a wave of embarking passengers. Likewise, when I wait politely for people to get off the train before I charge in, I have the unpleasant sensation of feeling all of the person behind me, as they edge closer in the belief that queuing a few centimetres closer to the door- and thus my arse- is directly correlated to the percentage of getting a seat .
C’est bien, le bus! Yes it’s slow. Yes the RATP website claiming to give timetables in real-time is no more real than my chances of getting a scooter for Christmas. And yes, it is not 100% sure that you will reach your destination if there are a) roadworks b) traffic jams or c) an undisplayed change of route.
But come on, the ability to look out and see the city means the bus wins hands down every time. Just don’t take it if you’re not absolutely sure where you’re going, or if you’re in a rush.
I know it’s not public transport. But she’s involved in my daily commute along with the metro, RER and bus, so I felt mean leaving her out.
|tulenheimo at Flickr|
Get on your bike: Recently, the Mayor’s office of Paris decided to make a lot of the one-way roads two-way for cyclists only. This was a great idea, except that no-one told the motorists. Result? Gingerly pedalling within your metre of cycle lane as cars hurtle towards you, angry faces pushed up against the windscreen as they hate you firstly for going the wrong way, and then secondly when they realise you’re allowed to.
See now you may all come to Paris wiser with your elbows forward. Thank me when you see me 🙂
*I once saw a group of snobby Parisians on the Tube in London with a mountain of Topshop bags. The doors opened, they looked up casually, remarked “faut descendre ici”, finished sharing a story, checked their phones, leisurely pulled themselves out of their seats and then howled in outrage as the doors closed in their faces.