Despite the cramped seats and the questionable smells that linger, I love the metro. The metro is a world of its own and weaving in and out of the crowds of people below the streets of Paris somehow makes me feel connected to the city above. After being back in Paris for almost three weeks now, I've rekindled this old love, forcing myself to get back into the habit of avoiding eye contact with others -- or contact of any kind -- while being cramped together into a tiny train car. Occasionally I slip up and smile at my neighbor, but it's a work in progress.
The metro can turn the most dull day upside down (disclaimer: not always in a positive way). The other day I was riding in the metro only to be accosted by a middle-aged man, I'd say in his early 30s. I was reading the New York Times on my iphone when out of the corner of my eye I see a man beelining towards me. "Vouz rentrez chez moi?" (Do you want to go home with me?), he asked, rocking back and forth on his heels. My first reaction was annoyance, followed quickly by my reflex of tucking my new iphone safely away in my bag. Not quite freaked out yet, I calmly yet boldly replied "Vous m'embêtez, allez-vous en." (You're bothering me, go away). I'd like to say that worked, but of course, such a mild reaction didn't suffice. At this point I could tell this wasn't just a random man hitting on me in the metro . . . no, this was clearly a random mentally unstable man who unfortunately decided to get on the metro in the same car as me. As he loomed over me, he tried to reach out and touch my arm. Though my fellow metro-riders in my immediate vicinity clearly noticed my crisis, they all just looked on (avoiding eye contact of course) while awkwardly trying to not get involved, yet intrigued by the action. Now my adrenaline kicked in. This man had to be crazy -- he was breaking one of the cardinal rules of taking the metro: do not (purposely) make physical contact with others. It was time to break out the tutoying. "Ne me touche pas!" (Don't touch me!). My suddenly raised voice surprised him, and he jerked back his hand before reaching my arm . . . but then decided to try again. "Ne me touche pas!" I yelled, even louder this time, attracting the attention of most of my section. Victory -- he moved along the car to pester other people, then got off at two stops later, teetering around picking his nose before reentering our metro car then descending again as one of my fellow passengers shouted "Dégagez!" (Go away).
And then of course, using the metro in Paris means dealing with the occasional strike or two (or three, or four . . .). This past Tuesday there was a strike and I naively believed it wouldn't affect me that much. I made it to my internship with no problem -- early in fact -- but getting home took me nearly 3 hours which is triple my normal commute time. After waiting for the metro for an hour, during which three trains passed but were too crammed full of people to physically hold anymore (see picture above), I opted for taking the bus. Note to self: Don't leave the house on days when the metro isn't fully functioning.