If there’s one thing you learn to use (and to hate) very fast when moving to Paris, it’s the famous métro. “Métro, boulot, dodo” (a French expression describing the Parisian lifestyle, that translates to “metro, work, sleep”) becomes very real, and it also becomes very obvious that it is the reality of millions of other grumpy Parisians as well.
Paris has a pretty extensive metro network, and when you first lay your eyes on the map, it can look a bit scary. How is anyone supposed to find their way in that labyrinth? And you haven’t added the RER (regional trains), busses and tramways to the equation yet. But don’t be too alarmed, because the truth is that the Parisian metro was made for idiots. Really. It looks complicated, but most of the time it’s super easy to navigate in those long tunnels, and connections between lines have been made really easy. So RATP, go on and take all the credit for that. Plus, with all the stairs you’ll be doing, you can cancel your gym subscription.
Another benefit of the extent of the metro network in Paris is that you can be anywhere in the city and there will always be a way to get wherever else you want to go from the nearest stop with one connection or two. So you don’t really even need to use other means of transport if you don’t feel like it, because the metros go everywhere. That also means you can be completely lost, you can just keep walking straight and eventually, you’ll find yourself right in front of a metro stop. So basically you can’t really get lost, the metro will always be your guiding light.
So far, the metro is wonderful, why hate it? Parisian rush hours. Have you seen those pictures from Japan, I believe, where they’ve hired people on metro platforms to push people in so they can all fit? They don’t have that in Paris, but sometimes I believe they should. Between let’s say around 8 and 9 as well as 17 and 19, you will most likely need to hug a stranger the whole ride, except if you’d rather wait for a less crowded metro, in which case you’ll be on that platform for a while. The amount of people also depends on the line you’re taking, some being more crowded than others and some having technical or other problems more regularly than others.
So there I am, late for work because the metro line 7 has been delayed for some reason I’m not even interested in knowing, the platform is so full that everybody doesn’t even fit on the platform so I wait for a few trains, and finally I’m pushed in a wagon, squeezed between the huge bag I try to protect from pickpockets and avoid hitting anyone with at the same time, and a man three times my size behind me. I try to lift my hand to grab my phone, get some disapproving looks from the people around for trying to move, and in addition, there’s no network so I can’t even go through my emails anyway. But then, maybe I find someone in a similar state of mind who’s actually making eye-contact, we exchange a desperate smile, and it makes the whole morning better.
After that, you actually need to get out of the full train. As a Finn, I don’t even manage to ask the person sitting next to me on the bus to move for me to get off, instead I start making subtle movements that imply me wanting to get out and somehow we get each other, but how do you imagine I do to make ten people squeezed together move with the simple power of telepathy and a move of my pinkie? I tried, it doesn’t work. But somehow, I’ve so far always managed to find my way out of that moving box of sardines.
Parisians also know how to make those painful, daily transits a bit easier. First of all, when using the same routes regularly, you learn to optimise your steps and time by choosing the right end of the train already on the platform before getting on the train to make your connection as painless as possible. It’s such a winner feeling when you find the exact right position you should be in to smoothly slide out in front of all confused tourists stairing at the different exit signs. To compensate for the painful event of loosing your network in the middle of a video, Frenchmen have found a magical thing: the book. You can actually see quite a lot of people of all age with a book in their hand on the metro. In Helsinki, you’re lucky there’s one person reading, or doing anything else than scrolling through their phone. So now I have taken the habit of having a book on me as well, but I’m still working on my squeezing skills to fit into the tiniest gap left next to the door without pissing the rest of the passengers off.
Happy commuting everyone, I hope it’s a less stressful experience wherever you are.