petite anglaise

November 3, 2004


Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:47 pm

On a day where 75% of blogs worldwide will be devoted to pondering the question of whether the American election organisers can count or not, petite anglaise is proud to bring you some light relief.

Do’s and Don’ts of Métro Etiquette – Part I

Turnstile trauma

It is not unusual when approaching the turnstiles to be asked by an unsavoury looking male who appears out of thin air: ‘est-ce que je peux passer avec vous?’ This is a rhetorical question, because regardless of your response, you will find a crotch pressing uncomfortably into your rear as you go through the narrow turnstile together.

People who do this are perverts in my opinion. Normal fare dodgers just jump over the barrier altogether, no crotch rubbing necessary. I haven’t worked out how to prevent this from happening yet. Any suggestions welcome.

Platform positioning

Take care when choosing your patch on the platform. Seasoned travellers will be positioned exactly opposite the place where the doors will open in the carriage of their choice, to facilitate a swift exit route in their destination station.

Other variables do have to be taken into account however, such as the proximity of an abusive drunk shouting connasse at every female passer by (métro Pyramides, line 7) or a pool of vomit/suspicious wet patch that might just be urine.

Stake your claim

French metro carriages are typically made up of normal seats, some of which are supposed to be reserved for priority use by the old, infirm, expectant mothers or people accompanying small children. Then there are strapontins, fold down seats used only when the carriage is not too full. If you are intent on claiming a seat, a good knowledge of métro étiquette is indispensable.

If you qualify for a ‘reserved seat’, don’t expect anyone to surrender their seat to you willingly. They will hide behind their books and newspapers, fleeing eye contact to protect their hard won seat. The best tactic I found when pregnant was to butt someone on the nose with my protruding belly and state, ‘I need to sit down please.’ Without the merest trace of a smile or any attempt to appeal to their human kindness, which would only have translated as weakness on my part. Ideally it is best to brandish some sort of official card proving that you really are old/infirm/or an ancien combattant because anyone who has queued up to get one is deserving of maximum respect in this country.

If you approach a free seat at the same time as another person, be prepared for a duel to the death. Don’t assume for example that if you are a woman and your challenger is male that he will give in gracefully. Chivalry is by no means dead in France, but the métro is governed by a different set of rules entirely: the survival of the fastest. So, lower your head, under no circumstances make eye contact, and foncez!

special cases

Beware of the shrewish French lady in her 50’s or 60’s. You may have reached the seat first and staked your claim, but she will make such loud and indignant noises that you really have to weigh up whether you want to sit down but endure her elbow/handbag poking in your ribs and your cheeks flaming at her muttered insults. Calculate the length of your trip, your fatigue levels and the thickness of your skin and act accordingly.

A particularly annoying woman, in one of those horrible fur coats of which some aging Parisiennes are so fond, pulled that stunt on me last week. Moving from a strapontin (immediately pounced on by someone else) towards the seat I had won fair and square, she coughed and spluttered and exclaimed at my ‘rudeness’. Rather than endure her insults, I stood up just as the metro was pulling into the next station and said sweetly: ‘oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise you were entitled to a reserved seat. You look fantastic for 75, it’s amazing what plastic surgery can do these days’.

Then I turned, fled, and changed carriages.

Coward? Maybe. Deathwish? Definitely not.

(to be continued)


  1. Phew – couldn’t access your blog at all yesterday.

    Thanks for the Metro tips…even tho I’m a Londoner I’ve managed to avoid using the tube as much as humanly possible. I’m a bus girl.

    I know that crotch frottaging…it’s just terrible…even had my butt cheeks cupped by a man on a tube once. Yuk!

    Comment by PPQ — November 3, 2004 @ 1:15 pm

  2. I remember having hysterics at our own special translation of the “strapontin” sign on a trip to Paris:

    “In cases of affluence, do not use the strap-ons”

    You probably had to be there, but we found it hilarious at the time…

    Comment by witho — November 3, 2004 @ 1:53 pm

  3. I have never had a man ask to go through the turnstile with me, but I have had a woman ask me. I felt a little dirty after our “spin.”

    I have, also, noticed that some of the “older” people in my neighborhood feel like they are entitled to walk to the front of every line: the bank, the supermarket, the post, etc. I have rarely seen anyone tell them no.

    I am glad my command of the French language is only in it’s baby stages or I am sure I would have gotten in a lot more trouble with my mouth in some of these situations.

    Comment by Jason Stone — November 3, 2004 @ 2:16 pm

  4. Some Light Relief
    petite anglaise in Paris has decided that as the American election is being extensivley covered elsewhere she will provide an althernative.

    Trackback by attempting escape — November 3, 2004 @ 3:41 pm

  5. oh so that’s what a trackback is.

    Comment by petite — November 3, 2004 @ 3:42 pm

  6. for the turnstile issue: what about jut “no!”, or if it’s just too blunt, you could always pretend not to have understood… yuk, that would save you having to bear that sort of contact.

    Comment by emilie [mimile] — November 3, 2004 @ 4:20 pm

  7. tu me fais bien rire :) merci!! j’adore et je deteste le metro parisien, c’est marrant…

    Comment by miss lulu — November 3, 2004 @ 4:22 pm

  8. mmm thing is emilie they kind of sneak up and barge into your rear whether you like it or not

    and I don’t have eyes in the back of my head…

    Comment by petite — November 3, 2004 @ 4:23 pm

  9. c’est marrant quand on est dans son pays l’usage du métro paraît tellement évident.. en revanche quand je l’ai pris à NY, Londres ou au Chili, j’avais peur de me perdre, peur de ne pas avoir pris le bon ticket, peur de tout !

    Comment by sans moi — November 3, 2004 @ 4:32 pm

  10. Bien que je ne prenne plus le métro, j’ai déjà rencontré à peu près toutes ces situations. J’ai honte de mes compatriotes.

    Le summum que j’ai vécu ? Dans le RER (métro version long trajet) il y a quelques années, je me lève pour laisser ma place à une femme enceinte, et un épouvantable tr.. du c.. nous bousculent pour se précipiter et s’y asseoir. Malgré nos explications, il n’y a pas eu moyen de l’en faire bouger. Ca donne parfois des envies de cogner !

    Comment by Arno — November 3, 2004 @ 6:10 pm

  11. I love your comeback to the older lady! Did you really say it or just think it? :D

    Comment by Anna — November 3, 2004 @ 6:16 pm

  12. heh i can so relate. I took the subway every day from “la 6ieme” until “la terminale” from metro pyrenees (ligne 11) to St Placide (ligne 4) … basically a 45 minute trek across Paris every morning and every night. I hate old women. I’ve found however that most old women use the Bus, not so much the metro.

    “qu’est-ce qu’elle veut la vieille? elle veut mon siege? aaaah! CREVE!”. HOO-HAH-HAH.

    Comment by chris holland — November 3, 2004 @ 7:36 pm

  13. Seems that Paris & NYC aren’t that different when it comes to the trains. However, I’ve noticed that people will sometimes give a seat to a very pregnant woman or someone so old they look like they’re on their death bed.

    Comment by yayaempress — November 3, 2004 @ 8:11 pm

  14. Great tips.

    My only Metro tip is that the journey between Gare du Nord and Montparnasse looks like it shouldn’t take very long. It’s one line, 15-odd stops and looks (on the map) like it should be about 25-30 min.

    However, it always takes FOREVER. At least one hour of angry, sweaty, running-along-the-travelator frustration. Montparnasse rail is about 15 miles from Montparnasse metro and the process of buying tickets from broken machines in a process apparently modelled on the Crystal Maze.

    Whilst I’ve never missed my Eurostar to Bordeaux connection, I have i) bought child tickets from drunks ii) barrelled over old ladies and tourists on the gangways iii) arrived drenched in sweat and tears within two minutes of departure.

    I go through EuroLille these days. The metro sucks, but French trains are cool.

    Comment by rummaging — November 4, 2004 @ 12:01 am

  15. How is one supposed to jump over the ligne 14 ‘turnstiles’ you feature? They’re a bit too high, arent they?

    As for the Gare du Nord-Montparnasse journey, I take the ligne 4 daily and only very rarely does it go slower than 1mn per stop.

    Comment by linca — November 4, 2004 @ 2:29 am

  16. Merci Mademoiselle :mrgreen: Could always pretend not to know any French/utter English slang?

    Comment by JT — November 4, 2004 @ 6:30 am

  17. As for those perverts try going through sideways with your elbows out (i.e. hands on hips), it works a treat down here in Africa, where certain sectors of the population have no regard for personal space when standing in a queue. It has worked for me everytime, instead of standing facing forward in line whilst having to endure extreme body odour of the imbecile in question standing within 5cm of my rear, I turn 90deg to my left, plant my hands firmly on my hips, and stick those elbows out at furthest extention possible. It’s really quite comfortable – and I can stand like that for as long as it takes for them to either back off, or for me to run to breathing distance when I get to the front.:mad:

    As for your brush with the annoying older gal – I have to say, that you are my hero!!:lol:

    Comment by Valkyrie — November 4, 2004 @ 9:02 am

  18. rummaging – ah yes I too have sprinted for miles along the corridors of Montparnasse metro station with little time to spare and it is truly horrendous. Other horrors include the Chatelêt interchange – km of corridors, several flights of stairs and those interminable travelators. None of which should be attempted with a pushchair, may I add.

    Linca – okay you got me, those barriers are pretty jumpproof. Even for an athlete such as myself.

    Comment by petite — November 4, 2004 @ 11:45 am

  19. Quite perfect description of the Metro atmosphere.

    Turnstile jumping is barely impossible now that the RATP has been improving its doors. I remember once having answered a basic “No! Buy a ticket !” to someone asking for “cooperative entrance”. The man just stood here, quite amazed… But usually I admit being too coward to say something.

    Comment by versac — November 4, 2004 @ 11:47 am

  20. When challenged to a seat, why not opt for humour and tell the challenger, “Please have the seat, age before beauty!” Translated in French, “Je vous en prie, asseyez-vous, la vieillesse avant la beauté!”

    Comment by Frania W. — November 4, 2004 @ 7:27 pm

  21. ooh yes, that’s not bad. I’ll use that one next time.

    Because there will be a next time. Probably this week.

    Comment by petite — November 4, 2004 @ 8:16 pm

  22. It’s funny and so true ! Le métro Parisien est une jungle. Je vis à Paris depuis ma naissance et je confirme que c’est le reflet de la réalité ! Vous avez oublié de citer les gens qui ouvrent la porte et entrent dans le wagon sans vous laisser le temps de sortir !

    Et pour les gens bizarres, comme je le dis, si dans 6 millions de personnes, il n’y a pas quelques tarés, c’est la ville qui serait vraiment bizarre ;).

    Comment by wiLLoØ — November 4, 2004 @ 11:55 pm

  23. Can’t wait for the second installment!

    Comment by Clotilde — November 5, 2004 @ 12:43 am

  24. Rassurez-vous : vient un âge où on ne vous demande plus de passer à deux dans les portillons ! et où, parfois (rarement, mais ça arrive), on vous laisse une place assise. Ceci compense cela…:lol:

    Comment by Silence — November 5, 2004 @ 3:35 pm

  25. I’m really not looking forward to seeing people leaving their place for me…I’m 20 and thinking i’m too old, so that would be so strange

    Comment by Utopy — November 5, 2004 @ 3:49 pm

  26. lovely post petite. sad to have caught it a bit late.

    I can’t think of anything to help you for the guy running through the turnstiles with you. It’s happened to me a couple of times…I shot dirty looks at the guys, they shot dirty looks back and started to act agressively. Then I suddenly realized that they were beasts and that they had no idea how awful the thing they had done.

    My other pet peeve about the metro is how even if you get the privileged seats, you have to probably jostle knee space with the person just across with you. Those benches are just too close together.

    Thirdly, why are there always mosquitoes in the metro, even in the dead of winter?

    Finally, lived in Lille for a short time. If you want a real glauque metro experience, go there. There’s no conductors or operators, it’s all computerized, occasionally some guy in orange with the word security will be parked at the door of your carriage, there are only three carriages, and they are all very narrow with fluorescent lighting. After 6pm, you don’t want to ride this if you’re a single white girl. Trust me. Makes the Metro in Paris seem like the Orient Express.

    Comment by nardac — November 7, 2004 @ 3:41 am

  27. he he see this post about metro mosquitos. Apparently given the right conditions females can last a very long time. Clearly the metro constitutes ‘the right conditions’…

    Comment by petite — November 7, 2004 @ 8:16 pm

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