Hi everyone! Sorry for my awkward hiatus and that rushed post that I sent out yesterday night. Things have been absolutely crazy here because I just finished up my first three week class and have been doing a lot of…studying? Not really actually sure what I have been doing, but it has been taking up a lot of my time. Anyway, now that it is raining again, I have less drive to just walk around the city and drink in all of the culture and cool things on the street so I will probably be posting more often, or at least just posting longer posts.
I decided to write this post on how to survive the French metros because my roommate was telling me about how she read a short little comedic thing about an American living in France and all of the problems that she faced while living her. Of course, what I first thought was “how could she even write a blog that long?” and my next thought was “Obviously, I have to do this as well!” And what better way to begin this short series with public transportation survival tips?
A little French culture lesson before we begin, the French people in cities rely heavily on public transportation and take the metro, busses, or trams, almost everywhere. The French people (from what I’ve noticed so far anyway) are also okay with being packed like sardines and do not have a very general idea of what “personal space” is, or at least do not respect the arm’s length I am usually allowed in the United States. Granted, there is no such thing as public transportation in California, so maybe I am just not used to this feeling because I am generally in a car by myself in traffic whenever I want to get anywhere. The French people are also very quiet, and even when they are speaking in a group, they are hardly as rowdy as my friends and I at home. I also have never heard anyone laugh out loud; mostly they just smile a toothless smile whenever something is funny.
Quick side note: Europeans can always tell who is an American girl and who isn’t because we smile with our teeth. This may have something to do with the fact that Europeans are not known for their flawless dentistry, but I didn’t think that Americans were? Anyway, back to the point.
Although the metro is extremely useful and goes almost everywhere, and the places it doesn’t go to has busses or trams going to and from the nearest metro stop every ten minutes, there are still some issues that people (mostly Americans) have to deal with. And so here we are with my tips on how to survive the metro if you happen to find yourself being American and in France.
- Eye contact: To look or to not look. One of the things that every single person has told me before and during my time here in France is to not make eye contact with people (especially guys) because they will then come over and talk to you because apparently that is a European way to say you are interested in a person. Although this is not completely true, on the metro you really should AVOID EYE CONTACT AT ALL COSTS!!!!! Not because some creepy French-Armenian named Yossef will come over and talk to you (because that is actually a really funny story you can tell your friends), but because you will spend the rest of the ride frantically trying to find literally ANYWHERE else to look. If you look around the metro (without looking anyone directly in the eyes, of course) you will see that everyone is either looking up or down or straight ahead with a glossed over look in their eyes. I think this is a skill that you are born with and cannot be learned, because I am still constantly looking around and reading the different ads or looking at people’s various scarves, etc. However, because of this, I have had a bunch of awkward circumstances where I lock eyes with someone, look away, then look back, then look away again and this circle continues with you and the other person over and over and over and over until you can finally run off of the metro.
- Finding a place to hold on / Snowboard stance. One of the main problems that the metro seems to have is the whole “starting” and “stopping” concepts. There is only one line in Lyon that is automatic (what up D line?), and every other train has an actual person driving. Although I have started to recognize the people who drive the different trains for different lines, they still have not completely mastered stopping without throwing everyone forward or backwards when they start again. Therefore, finding a location that has somewhere to hold on is EXTREMELY useful. However, there is always the option that you will not be able to find an ideal spot with a convenient hand rail, and then you will have to utilize the snowboard stance. Or you can always ignore this advice and fall backwards/forwards every time you reach another stop. Whichever you prefer. (This goes without saying, but if you can find a seat, TAKE IT!!!!)
- Talking with your friends. You should already be used to everyone staring at you everywhere you go because you speak English with your friends (unless you have somehow found some French friends who are really patient and will wait for you to stumble around their native language). As I mentioned before, the French are much quieter than Americans, and if it isn’t enough that you are speaking a language only half the people here understand, you nearly yelling and laughing with your friends will only draw more attention. On the street, this might not be a big problem because you can just keep walking and get away from judgmental eyes. However, on the metro, they are all right there with you for the entire ride. That’s right; that scary old woman who keeps glaring at you every three seconds will be sitting next to you for a few minutes, so unless you want to be completely hated by her and everyone else on the train, tone it down. Maybe TRY some French, or at least intersperse your conversations with some French. Or, maybe, I don’t know…speak softer! You don’t need to yell every single thing because your friends will be able to hear you if you speak at a normal decibel. Crazy…but true.
- Sometimes you just need to a let a train go and wait for the next. We have all seen that person running at the metro as the doors are closing and then gets halfway through and has to struggle to pull him or herself through while also making all of the men at the door pull against the weight of the electronic doors to make sure you don’t get cut in half. I know this is hard, but you really can wait the next 5 minutes for the next metro, and this time, you will be in the front of the line so there shouldn’t be a problem (unless you’re trying to get on Bellecour at 6 pm, and then maybe it is worth it to almost be cut in half by the doors).
- The Smell. Just like most of inclosed spaces in France, sometimes you have to deal with The Smell. Why are both of those words capitalized, you ask? Well, probably because the stench of body odor, three day old cigarette smoke and the unwillingness to shower is a patented term by the older French people. There will be many a time you are minding your own business, sitting down and looking at your iPod, thinking this will be a pleasant ride when it hits you. You don’t even want to look up because you know it is probably coming from the person who decided the seat next to you was their ideal location. Honestly, there is no good way to deal with this, but I have found that putting your scarf around your nose can keep your gag reflex from going off, at least for a little while.
I hope this was a useful guide for all y’all coming through France any time soon. If you just are aware of your surroundings and don’t like an idiot, you’re in luck, because you will be okay! Also, keep in mind that the metros ’round these parts close at 12:00 am, so good luck finding a way home if you get there at 12:15!