I’ve always been fond of public transportation. It’s there, it works, and it reduces our carbon footprint. I am familiar with public transportation both in Cleveland and Baltimore, and I have made great progress in understanding the New York subway system. Still, when the time came to take a high speed train to Paris and then navigate the Parisian metro all alone, I was a bit nervous.
For starters, there is a language problem. Of course, I know how to ask for directions in French, but picking up the ticket, finding the platform, figuring out which car is which, and awkward conversations and questions from the people around me made quite a nervous morning.
Here’s a nice example: the train cars were not (to my knowledge) well marked, so I had to ask a woman where the eighth car was. She informed me it was the next one. I sat in my seat and smiled as she walked by. My smile quickly changed from gratitude to embarrassment when she reminded me that I needed to continue to the next car. Clearly, I was lost in translation, and by “next car” she really meant the “next, next car.”
As for the metro, I actually found it to be significantly easier than New York’s subway, which never seems to get me where I need to be and each station is an underground maze. The metro in Paris is very well marked, both in color and number (in case you don’t know roman numbers or you are color blind, I assume). The stations are very simple and located in every convenient spot for tourists and, I believe, for the natives as well. Not to mention, the different lines are well-connected, which makes transferring from one to the other very easy.
Right when I thought I was getting the hang of these fairly straightforward public transportation systems, I arrived at Gare de Lyon in Paris to realize my train was retard indéfiniment– indeterminately late. Not understanding exactly what happened or which platform I should head towards, I attempted to ask some women around me. Since no one apparently knew any more than I did, I found a nice fence to perch on while waiting (two hours) until an update was posted.
What did I learn from my first experiences with French public transportation? First, never plan on the TGV high speed train to get you home on time, but absolutely never arrive later than scheduled departure time. Secondly, embrace the cattle-call and just follow the flow.