Author: Lea Linin
Riding in the Parisian Metro and probably any other subway in the world is like being in an electronic music video. The context is that of a constant repetitive sound produced by the train gliding along the tracks. Complementing this unchanging and sedative ambiance is the sound of doors opening and closing every two minutes or so. The flow of people getting on and off and a siren – like sound announcing that the doors will soon be closed brings urgency to the otherwise uninterrupted state of dozing off. The subway changes your perception of reality. It’s like living in another dimension even if it only takes fifteen minutes to reach your desired destination. It might be broad daylight outside, but riding in the subway always leaves you with the impression that it’s pitch-dark. And the sterile quality of the lights on the train. Perception – distorting.
Getting the hang of how the Parisian Metro works is probably the easiest compared to other subway systems. Or at least, I’ve been told so. A friend of mine told me that the mere thought of the New York subway makes her burst into a fit of panic. I can understand her concern. New York’s grandeur gives people a sense of awe, leaves them with their mouths gaping. But you are bound to understand it somehow.
Looking at a map of the Parisian Metro for the first time can be quite a challenging task. It’s like looking at a complex work of art, trying to grasp its meaning and straining every nerve in the process. And, in the end you realize that it’s not that difficult once you get the hang of it. A lot of lines intertwining, and each one of them has a different color, but this has been purposefully done to make your life easier. The only thing you have to do is find the place you need to arrive at and find the metro line that goes there.
To make this more clear I will illustrate it with an example. The metro line I used the most was number 12, labeled on the map with a dark green color. My usual route was to get from Volontaires to Concorde. So, in order to get to Concorde you need to follow the signs saying Port de la Chapelle, which is the last metro station of line number 12 when going in this direction. On the way back, so going from Concorde to Volontaires you need to follow the signs that say Maire d’Issy. This time round, Marie d’Issy is the last metro station. Pay attention to which the first and last station is and follow the signs that lead you in the direction of the last station of that metro line. And don’t panic, you won’t get lost.
Once you’re on the train there is no need to let feelings of panic overcome you. You just need to see which station you have to get off at on the sign which lists all stations from first to last and is placed above the doors on the train. You will notice that some stations are labeled with more colors and numbers, meaning that more metro lines pass through this station. Getting off at these stations can help you easily transfer from metro line to another and get to a destination that isn’t reachable with your current metro line.
You won’t lose track of any station. Big signs theatrically announce each new station. There is no way you’ll get lost. I can’t emphasize this quite enough, but please don’t panic. I know that riding in the subway can be quite overwhelming as any other new experience, especially for a person coming from a country with no underground public transport system. This orderly complex transport system can be a breath of fresh air compared to the chaotic public transport system in your own country. Amazingly, taking the subway is the quickest way to get from one place to another in such a dispersed and huge city as Paris. And I guess it’s the cheapest one as well, but I wouldn’t know for sure. I suggest you buy a weekly ticket, which looks like a credit card wrapped up in a plastic casing. It’s cheaper and less time-consuming than buying your tickets every day. Also, when buying the ticket you need to point out which zone you want your ticket to cover. The greater number of zones it covers, the more expensive it is, but you know you won’t have to worry about buying additional tickets. For your weekly ticket you would need a passport – size photo. So you can either bring one with you, or you can take one in one of the photo booths at the station.
Fearing that this article might have the rhetoric of an amazingly dull self – help book, I now turn to the more colorful metro life. Two examples combined with practical advice on how to keep your cool when a) seeing a celebrity, and b) facing a disturbed man.
Remember Dominique Pinon, playing the character of Joseph in Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, the charming, but also incredibly grumpy man sitting in the café where Amélie works. The one that pops the plastic wrapper under the table, remember? Quite a normal guy, as you would imagine. But seeing him on my second day in Paris, on the metro station … well, I would categorize this experience as luck. I tried not to stare. Staring would have also made me uncomfortable.
It was inevitable to encounter a stereotypical situation of how subways are represented in Hollywood movies. Once again the same practical advice applies. Try not to stare. Staring might have made the whole situation more uncomfortable and life – threatening in this case. ‘Look away’ when you have a disturbed person in your train car holding a sharp object in his hand, nervously going from one end of the car to the other and getting on and off the train at each station. And, hope that this isn’t your day to die. Keep your cool.
Actually, this last sentence is how I want to finish off my article. Keep your cool. Don’t panic. There is no chance you’ll get lost. If you somehow manage to get lost, ask people for directions. You would be surprised how helpful French people can be, even if you don’t know French. So much for the stereotypes! And remember, experiences make up the essence of life.