Operation Undercover in Paris : Take The Métro

PARIS (Herald de Paris) – There are some common points that most Parisian people share: everything outside le périphérique is “abroad”, we never under any circumstances go to the Eiffel tower, and we all take the Métro.

photo by Blofeld60

Of course, when you’re a foreigner in Paris, which I am not, you must be wary of mishap. Facebook, the malevolent and addictive Boston-born social network, has dozens of Parisian groups with sweet names like, “I hit tourists in the metro.”  Parisians are famous for being rude, and rude they are. But, not to be the devil’s advocate, there are reasons for this.

People living in Tokyo, London, New York, San Francisco or Berlin can relate: If your dwelling place is a gigantic museum, then you’re bound to have tourists all over the place.  It’s okay on Sunday, but not when you’re rushing to get to the doctor appointment you waited four months to get. Your patience wears thin and you are less than agreeable.  Okay, obnoxious.

So how would the potential tourist survive this cultural clash?

Simple: Pretend that you know what you’re doing.  Most Parisian people don’t either.  Give up.  A normal person gets lost at least once a week in Châtelet – biggest metro station in the world with possibly the worst informational signage – so if that happens to you, just take it as getting in touch with the ‘real Parisian life’.

And if you’re really lucky in your undercover act, you’ll even experience a grève.  No transportation but still that daily average of 4.5 million users who need to get to their workplace.  Small people often even have the luck to spend that amazing time under the armpit of taller locals.

Thursday, 29th January, Parisian people are expecting a major collapse of metro traffic.  Most of those who appreciate earning wages will walk, bike, or take the bus.  What really happens during those strikes is actually a very well orchestrated ghettoization of the suburbs – which dwellers are not really like us, as you may recall.

However, our main concern remains the tourists.

And some nationalities prove less adapted to the metro wildlife.  To all British readers: we drive on the right side of the road.  We also take the escalators on the right side in the metro.  Stay on the right.  This simple rule may save your life.

When you’re out of the metro, you’ll probably want to walk up the Champs Elysées.  Or down.  Whatever.  Set your feet on what has been dubbed (by whom, no idea) the most beautiful avenue of the world.  The highlight of the avenue is The Disney Store, a real plunge into traditional French way of life.  You can also find a McDonald’s, for those who fancy Parisian gastronomy.

The French population on the Champs Elysées consists mostly of foreigners.  Because, well, there is also a redeeming Louis Vuitton store.  To all Japanese and American readers: buying a Louis Vuitton purse instantly gives away your nationality.  I don’t know any French woman who owns one. I saw more Louis Vuitton in Tokyo and New York than I ever saw in Paris.  Just don’t do it.

And whenever you forget those simple rules and worry about a potential misstep, say “pardon” with a bad accent: it’s always cute and makes the old grumpy ladies melt.

Journalist Marine Caillault, a Parisian native, offers the true Parisian perspective only in L’Herald de Paris.


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