Thirty-five Years on the Paris Métro!

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Oh, the Paris subway in the 1980s!  It was quite an adventure for an American kid from suburban St. Louis!  (I’m talking Missouri, and not the Ile Saint Louis – the little island at the very heart of Paris!)   Back in the days when the RATP delivered an foldable map with “la carte orange”, I would carefully take my finger and trace my day’s itinerary over the (then) 13 different colored lines crisscrossing the Seine.  I would do so with mixed feelings: a sense of exhilaration (what new world would I discover as I climbed up the stairs of the “sortie”/exit?) and worry (How on earth would I find my way in that maze?)

Yet find my way I did.  I had to.  I was just a student then on a very tight budget and the Métro was, and still is, extremely practical (often with very little walking distance between its 302 stations) and cheap!     For just 4 francs 70 (0,72€), it gave me a fascinating perspective on a Parisian subculture!   Granted, monuments were majestic and museums were interesting — but that was “culture” with a Capital C!  For me, riding the subway was a totally different experience.  I saw things that were typical, not exceptional.  I would even venture to say that it was fun!  (Does anyone remember the 2-minute puppet shows when students would fasten a black curtain between the two metal poles at the end of each car?)

It was rare to hear any recorded announcement in English and there were no vending machines to buy a chocolate or mints. Commuters used to smoke on the platform and rarely said a word to their fellow passengers. Occasionally one would see someone with a Sony Walkman, but the volume was kept to a “I don’t want to disturb you” level. In general, passengers had more respect for each other…..when exiting the subway they would wait a moment to keep the door open for the person behind them.  They still do!

Staying on the same line for 12 or 15 stations would allow me to observe the different types of passengers that got on or off : students at Saint Michel, bankers at Bourse.  Yet among this melting pot of civil servants, tourists, and wandering musicians, there were also pickpockets.   Sadly, that’s one element that really hasn’t changed.  Today CCTV cameras have been installed and recorded messages in 7 languages advise passengers to watch out for their personal belongings.   Chinese tourists in particular, known for carrying large amounts of cash, have often been the target of thieves.

As an expatriation coach based in Paris, I regularly educate foreigners on safety in this wonderful city.  If you are planning to come to Paris and would like a copy of my pdf file “Staying Safe in Paris” (available in English and Mandarin Chinese) please visit my blog dniedringhaus.com  and request a copy!   Bon séjour à Paris!

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About the Author

Denis Niedringhaus

I'm an American who has been living in Paris for over 25 years. I love helping people make the most out of their expatriation experience (not always a choice!). In addition to expatriation coaching, I also practice coactive coaching. I have been influenced by the writings of my heros: Thomas Merton, Joe Dispenza, C.G. Jung and Zhuangzi, a Chinese "philosopher".

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