The Line 2 metro stop BLANCHE train stops in front of me. It's 8:30 a.m. and I need to get to school. The doors open and people nearly spill out, or at least they should, but unfortunately they don't. There is absolutely no room to get on the train and everyone is squeezed tightly together. They're all waiting for the next stop, PLACE DE CLICHY. If only I would have left my house at 8:10 and walked to that stop instead.
If I'm lucky one person will need to squeeze out, but no. Everyone holds their positions like soldiers ready for battle. Ready to elbow anyone if necessary. I could just wait for the next metro that's coming within the next two minutes. Whether I wait or manage to get on I'll have someone's hair, hat, or better yet face straight up in MY face.
Yes, this sounds like a nightmare that Parisians have to live through everyday. And yet, do I hate riding the metro?
On the contrary, I've found that the metro can be one of the highlights of my day. Hard to believe, but true.
There are three main reasons why I speak the truth.
1. Current events: political, international, social, take your pick.
You can choose between the Direct Matin, 20 Minutes, or my personal favorite, the Metro. For those of you non Parisians, these are all free newspapers passed out at the entrance of metro stations in the mornings. They're short, concise, covering all the most important events of the previous day from Adele winning 6 music awards to the crisis in Greece. I find that in Boston I don't have enough time to sit and read the newspaper. And unless I become a multitasking professional, I don't think I'll ever be able to read the newspaper and walk to class simultaneously (Children, please do not try this at home - much less in a city like Paris or New York).
Having to ride the metro gives me some time in the day to find out what's going on in the world. I you don't really care about the world, then just think how the news can save you at an interview, on a date, or when speaking to a pompous French person. Even if someone's hair is in your face, you can always stick a newspaper inbetween and READ. (Do you think maybe that's why Parisians know so much?)
2. The perfect anthropology lab
Reading the newspaper isn't all I do on the metro. Think about what a metro truly is - people of different ages, races, cultures, and personalities all shoved into an aluminum box. People's true personalities and beliefs rise to the surface when you take them out of their comfort zone. And let me tell you, no matter how long you've been riding the metro, whether it be 20 days or 20 years, you will never get comfortable with being shoved into a can like a sardine. Therefore, the metro makes a perfect environment for anthropological research. (More on my anthropology conclusions coming soon).
So I sit on the metro on my way home and I see, no I observe, the different kinds of people that make up Paris. I get to see and feel other human's compassion, apathy, happiness, sadness, racism, drama, and best of all, stupidity. I see how they interact when their with friends or when a sketchy homeless guy is getting to close to them. I get to see how the old are nostalgic about the Paris they new and how the young embrace the fast paced city. How Parisians may not be morning people, but never hesitate to laugh extremely loud after having a few glasses of wine at a cafe.
And so, I have learned more things about Parisians on the metro than actually talking to them. Sometimes it's better to close your mouth, stop all the questions and simply open your eyes and ears. I find that's the way to read between the lines that may or may not be visible to a society, but but that it choose not to speak of.
3. A time to be and a time to think.
I'm pretty sure there must have been metros during the Age of Enlightenment or else their wouldn't have been great Parisians philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau. Where else could they have come up with their great theories if not the metro?
The metro is THE place to think. Sure cafe discussions or in Voltaire's case salon discussions must have been enlightening, but there's no other place to think like the metro. You sit, you observe the people around you, and you working off of their energy, thinking up all kinds of questions and dreams. Whether it's a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and crossing the Sene that inspire you or the many homeless people killing time on the metro, there are always existential as well as meaningless questions to be answered.
In the Boston, don't have this time to think, to sit and observe, or to simply be left to my thoughts. You can drive or walk around a city, but you will never get these three benefits all in such a small space. Sure you may have many uncomfortable moments, but you will learn more about humanity, yourself, and the world than you can ever learn from a book or in a classroom. And as the French say, ca vaut la peine, it's worth it.
Next time you get on a metro, whether it be in New York, Chicago, London, Hong Kong or Paris, think not of it as something penible, but rather as a blessing.