“On ne perd rien à être poli sauf sa place dans le metro”

The French writer Tristan Bernard (1866 – 1947) came to the conclusion “On ne perd rien à être poli sauf sa place dans le metro”. A provocative statement about the unwritten laws of Parisian public transport, which is often confirmed for travellers in the 21st century. The metro is the lifeline of the city of Paris, a mirror of the society and at the same time a place of culture. The city dwellers determine the speed of the metro. Whoever waits on a platform in the Paris underground is offered a spectacle. Masses of commuters fighting their way into the Metro morning for morning. The mass of people flows and yet does not come to rest. At the same time, everyone is trying to find their place on the train. The desire to get a seat can quickly end in a small sprint competition. Nevertheless, these “battles” are carried out in a civilized manner. Old people, toddlers, the sick, pregnant women and the handicapped are usually offered a seat in the Parisian metro on a voluntary basis. The unwritten rules of politeness are deeply anchored in the consciousness of public transport users. Assistants of the railway company instruct the commuter during the rush hour. The safety barriers may form an insurmountable jungle for newcomers and the dozens of metro lines a labyrinth. Only little by little one can settle into the system of the subway. The Metro forms a microcosm.

Despite the large number of passengers, boarding and disembarking trains usually works smoothly and very quickly. Perhaps all the easier and faster than at some provincial stations. The journey during rush hour can be unusual and can become a challenge. For outsiders, this procedure may seem strange at first glance. Step by step you develop strategies for your metro trips and you adopt the habits of city dwellers. While at the beginning of my stay in Paris, the metro system was something unfamiliar, it became more and more familiar to me. The more you are confronted with the unusual in your everyday life, the more you can reflect on it. Until what was unknown – here the metro driving – suddenly and automatically belongs to your everyday life. And yet, even if you haven’t grown up in a big city, you can see parallels to smaller railway systems. Railway systems in Europe are very similar and passengers usually behave similarly despite cultural differences.

Valeria Vollmer

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