This may surprise you, but there is no extensive subway system in the small south Arkansas town of 4,500 people where I live. And even though I have visited a few bigger places, I’ve never tasted the big city subway experience. That may shed some light as to why I was a bit nervous when it came to using the Paris Metro. Through all of my preplanning and research, there were a few things that made me a little nervous – navigating the Charles de Gaulle airport, successfully transferring dollars to euros, avoiding pickpockets, and of course surviving the Paris Metro. Yet I consider myself a capable man able to adapt and learn once I put my mind to it.
Now most of you know how men are. There’s a bullheaded, puffy-chested sense of being knowledgeable that often times drives us. I don’t pretend to be immune to that. I studied more for our Paris metro excursion than I did any test during my years in high school. I watched YouTube videos, I studied the metro map, and I read guidebooks all to prepare me for Paris’s immense subway system. But there’s always that inherent male stubbornness – that stubbornness that our wives know all too well. And there were a few moments where my male stubbornness kicked in, making our Paris Metro experience a little more adventurous than it had to be.
To be honest, I am overplaying that a little bit. Our troubles in Paris’ amazing metro system were minor and in the grand scheme of things were more funny than problematic. In fact, as I reflect back on our trip to Paris, our ventures into the Paris Metro offered us an amazing look at a different side of the Paris culture. It’s like a subterranean cardiovascular system that flows underneath all of Paris. The arteries and veins spread out into every arrondissement and the steady flow of people give it its own vibrant life.
The very first time we followed the flow of people down into the metro I was unnecessarily nervous. Not at riding the train or getting mugged or getting lost. No I was worried about buying a ticket. It’s the simplest things that get us males! I let my research kick in and instantly walked up to the kiosk where I was to purchase my ticket. I’m sure I look like an old pro to all the Parisians walking by. I’m sure I fit right in as someone who knew exactly what they were doing. Actually I’m sure no one paid me any attention but there’s not much drama in that is it? Well they certainly pay attention when I clogged up the kiosk line. I scrolled the little roller bar that resembled the controller on a Centipede arcade game from the early 1980s and could never find “English”. Suddenly my “You’re in the Way” complex kicked in after seeing a line form behind us and we abandoned our mission. Ticket via kiosk – Mission aborted!
Fortunately we were at one of the stations that had a ticket window and we were able to get some there. And later I would go back to the kiosk and figure out what I’ve done wrong. Chalk it up to a Paris learning curve. Other than a couple of wrong turns that was the biggest issue we had the entire time. The Metro was efficient and prompt. I was also impressed by impeccable cleanliness. Regardless of what station we were at, and we visited a lot of them, they were all spotless. That was certainly not what I expected.
We did struggle with an apparent Metro law that we were totally unaware of. It was quite obvious that it was against the law to smile or show any sign that you may be happy while on the Metro in Paris. Now this is something that every guidebook should tell. Obviously it’s of the utmost importance because everyone we saw obeyed this law, everyone but us. The emotionless blank stares reminded me of something you would see out of “The Matrix”. And then there was us, right in the middle of it, blatant lawbreakers who were constantly smiling and talking about what we had seen that day. If we had only known. Thankfully we were never reported and never taken in.
By the last couple of days of our trip we were experts. We could slide in and get a couple of tickets from the kiosk, file right through the gate, navigate our way to the right train, and head to our destination just like real Parisians. We were a part of the assembly line of people who knew exactly what they were doing. We also found the Paris Metro to fun. It was new and different to us and it was a part of this culture that we grew to appreciate. It was great for people watching and whenever we would emerge at a new destination on a Paris street, we never knew what was waiting above. Was the Metro intimidating and scary? Yes a little bit. But it was also an amazing part of our Paris experience, one that I would never trade.