Would You, Could You, on a Train?

One of my prayers for our trip-of-a-lifetime to Europe was that I would have opportunities to meet real people in authentic, non-touristy situations.  My Heavenly Father answered this request in a multitude of SURPRISING ways…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore we traveled to Paris I poured through guidebooks that spoke of the sites, the museums, the city’s highly developed public transportation system, and certain cultural norms.  I also knew that Paris would be a very busy city with crowds.  As an American from the suburbs in the Pacific Northwest what I didn’t realize was how little personal space the Parisians are used to as part of their daily lives.Seriously! I couldn’t shave my legs in the shower without accidentally turning off the water! (But I digress :-))

On the day we were heading to meet a local guide in the Montmartre District, our tour leader gave very specific instructions for using the metro.  “Spread out” (We all wouldn’t fit in the same car), “Don’t be timid; use your elbows” (I never literally elbowed anyone out of my way, but I did learn to be a lot more assertive)  “When the warning bell rings, get through the door right away!” (Metro train door closures do happen, and apparently they can be quite painful.)  As we made our way  through the maze of tunnels and platforms, I felt pretty confident. After all, I’d taken the New York Subway, San Francisco’s BART, and the Chicago El without mishap.  None of those previous experiences prepared me for this. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There had been some delay along on the line, which made the trains run every 5 minutes instead of every 2 minutes.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing… Well-dressed professional people were absolutely crammed into the cars as train after train passed by. Our tour leader told us not to worry even if it took 7 or 8 trains for us all to arrive on our destination platform.  My husband and I paired up; the first train came and I hesitated.  We missed it.  Another train arrived and there was no room for my husband’s other foot. We missed that one too. Claustrophobic in crowds, I was getting really nervous, but refusing to miss out on the adventure, I steeled myself for the inevitable. A third train arrived and we pushed ourselves right through the open doors & into the thick of it. We literally stood shoulder to shoulder with strangers, with backs and chests touching, and I was relieved when the doors closed.  But not for long…

When we arrived at the next station, no one got off, and 4 people crowded into our car!  I remember gasping in surprise and “sucking in” and then wondering if I let out my stomach if it would just pop the last rider out of the car 🙂 Now every inch of me was next to every inch of someone else.  It was like sitting on laps, only standing up.  I also became concerned for two shorter women crowded face first into my armpits.  At least I could see over the group and know I was getting air.  I leaned over each one asking, “ok?” But they took it in stride.  It was almost as if, they were used to this.

At the next station a couple of passengers did manage to disembark with cries of  “Laissez descendre” (loosely translated, make room so I can get the heck out of here!) and I happily obliged them, hoping for more wiggle room. “Bon chance!”. Well right there, in the midst of the the absurdity of this very non-touristy gathering of the locals, God arranged something even more remarkable. A Parisian gentleman entered the car, 1/2 suspending himself on top of the folks closest to the door, and then he immediately struck up a conversation with me, wanting to know about my “unusual accent”. We spoke (in French) all the way until the next station/my destination, as he regaled me with stories of his travels in the U.S., and do you know, I forgot all about my claustrophobia? 🙂