Metro of Paris from A to Z

Article published on Jan. 29, 2008
Article published on Jan. 29, 2008
As you might have already heard, Paris has the best public transport in Europe, if not in the world. It is excellent, it covers the whole city and is wonderfully frequent but it has more than efficiency. The metro of Paris is a world as itself; it has its own crew of humble laborers who are on strike once a month and who dwell in the shadows of the underground never seeing the daylight.

I suppose the ill-lighted and gloomy atmosphere is contagious since metro if anything is a place of collective depression. If you’re having a good day, do NOT descend into the metro. Instead take a bus, because the dreary faces of co-passengers will definitely put you down and remind you how there’s nothing sublime about living and that life is only toil and misery. But there’s other reasons too why prefer a walk instead of a metro ride.

The most amazing thing about the metro is that after having it over hundred years now, Parisians still don’t know how to behave in it! Most metro commuters have no clue of so called exit-entry etiquette. Logically, when the train stops you should first let the people inside the train get out and the proceed entering it. But no, here impatient and hungry people returning home will start packing up in the train when the doors are only half open. So if you’re not quick enough the mass will squash you against the opposite wall and there’ll be no way to get out until the next stop.

Another argument against Parisians’ non-existent skills in metro is the fact that everyone always crams in the doorways of the train instead of scattering themselves evenly into every corner of the wagon. No, stubbornly they would stay next to the doors where everyone else is. I don’t know whether it is easier to travel with you nose pressed to someone’s jacket or with someone’s ponytail sweeping your face. Or is it is part of human nature to prefer to endure as much as possible in order to avoid the change (scattering evenly in the train) and only when much becomes unsupportable (you choking on the ponytail) people are willing to do something about the situation.

The interesting things about metro are the hidden talents of it; in the dense net of trains and stations there’s plenty of room for people trying to earn their living. And when it comes to money human being is capable to metamorphose from an idle and unchanging creature to an inventive performing wonder. You would see all sorts of musicians from one-man guitar ensembles to big orchestras, music for all tastes such as jazz, flamenco, folk, classical and chanson.

There aren’t only musicians: the ones who cannot play an instrument use their dancing skills, for instance on the line 2 you would see a 14-year-old boy getting on a train, playing some groovy hip-hop music, dancing and doing somersaults. Later travelling the same line I noticed another boy just as young with the same music and same dancing, I bet their cooperating...

Sometimes people can’t be bothered and just frankly ask for money. They would get on a train and start with utmost courtesy (no one is ever as polite in Paris) explain how they are facing difficult times and how they have three grandchildren to feed and how they would be most pleased to receive a centime or two from the fellow passengers. I don’t know how lucrative this kind of activity is, maybe they just don’t have a choice.

All in all, despite the smell, the dirt and the depressive travelers metro can be quite amusing. If there’s not any artist around, you can always entertain yourself by staring at the passengers in front of you, next to you on the right, next to you on the left and when the person you have set your eyes upon gets very conscious of your persistent glare you just continue over to the next passenger. The one thing the metro in Paris is certainly not lacking is the people.