Going Underground

On Friday night as I walked off my Eurostar train and onto the Northern Line at King's Cross, I realised just how different the Métro system is to our London Underground. For a start, I was quickly reminded that on the tube in London you're more likely to get someone kissing their teeth at you rather than blowing a kiss in your direction, as is the way of the hommes on the Parisian Métro.

Going underground in London, I like to think, is a fairly painless experience. If you know what line you're on and whether you're going northbound, southbound, east or west, you'll be alright, as there are signs everywhere. In Paris it's a different story, if you don't know your Porte de Clignancourt from your Montrouge, or your Pont de Sèvres from your Montreuil, you're gonna be pretty stuck. 

Another difference is the smell. I'm fortunate enough in that most of my journey to work is on line 9, through the 16th Arrondissement, the most affluent, so my métro in the morning often smells of Chanel and Dior. The rest of the métro system reeks. It stinks to high heaven. République, the station in the photo above is one of the worst, but it has to be said Châtelet must be the foulest smelling station in the world. I've been told it's because of the smell of decaying bodies that were disturbed in the construction of the métro system. Lovely.

Not the prettiest trains.
Getting on the tube in London on Friday night smelt of good times and Marc Jacobs' Daisy. That kind of hot alcohol smell, not the smell of beer that you find lurking at the end of the platform at Trocadéro, but the smell of wine, of city workers coming home merry, getting a bit too comfortable lying on John from Accounts' shoulder and going back to their flat in Balham. 

Taking the Métro at 11pm on a Friday night in Paris isn't the same at all, it usually consists of a couple eating each others' tongues whilst a man with bloodshot eyes sneers at you in the corner.

 A view from Line 6

Another problem I have with the Métro is the staring. Sitting in my carriage in London on Friday night I'd look at someone, properly stare at them, only for them to look away as quickly as possible. I soon remembered staring is rude here in London, whereas the French have no problem with it whatsoever. I've started to perfect my "Qu'est-ce que tu regardes?" face (what are you looking at?) because there comes a point when the stranger you awkwardly made eye contact with halfway through Chapter 5 of your book is still staring when you've reached Chapter 9 that all you want to do is get up and move.

Love Métro names, this one always makes me laugh as my landlord's name is Ledru.
Another problem is that eating just is NOT done on the Parisian Métro. Pull out a breakfast bar even and everyone will turn and look at you like you've just pulled down your pants.

Talking of which, there are some scenes I have seen that I will never forget, one of which was when Emily from work and I were waiting for a Métro home, when a young man who looked like any other office worker came up to us asking for a toilet. Telling him we didn't know, he got on the train with us anyway. We hadn't even got to the next station when he called across to us, "excusez-moi madamoiselles, I've just gone pipi" and sure enough, his once white skinny jeans, along with the Métro seat, were covered in wee.

Métro etiquette is something I think I've got the hang of now. Those seats up there, they have a name for them in French, strapontins. Always the last seats to go, I soon found out why. You're often squeezed into them, as they're so tiny, and they're situated right next to the door so you always feel like you're just about to fall out onto the platform when the doors open. Not only that, but signs everywhere tell you that "En cas d'affluence, ne pas utiliser les strapontins", meaning that when it gets even the slightest bit busy, everyone standing will stare you down until you give up and stand with them.

If there's one thing I'll miss when I leave Paris, it'll be the Métro entertainment. Managing to be both incredibly irritating and quite amusing, I've seen puppet shows, recorder players and even budding acrobats. The image up there is taken from one of my many Métro videos, filmed on Line 8 at 9pm on a Friday night.

As creepy as the Métro can be, it's reasonably cheaper than the Tube, and is probably the quickest way to get around Paris. Being such a small city, sometimes it feels like there's only 30 seconds between each station, whilst the one stop from King's Cross to Angel on Friday night felt like it dragged on forever. 

I think it has to be said that the Tube wins though, for all it's planned engineering works, at least the passengers understand the concept of personal space.

A la prochaine!



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