It is advisable to try and forget about all of the microbes (germs) roaming around the metro - the three-year-old sitting across from you who has visibly peed her pants, the SDF (sans domicile fixe - homeless) guy with his scary dog, the alcoholic lady who asked you about sugar at the grocery store last week and didn't believe you when you told her that the Daddy brand was not diet...
It's best to forget these things because otherwise you would never wear a pair of pants twice and you would probably get your coat dry cleaned every other day. All you can really do is obsessively wash your hands (check!), try not to touch your face too much (check!) and carry obscene amounts of antibacterial gel in your handbag (check!).
In addition to these basics, I have tactics for avoiding the peeps who are clearly spreading around more than their fair share of the microbes:
- I observe the quai (platform) as I wait for the metro to arrive. If any sketchy peeps are around, I avoid avoid avoid and move down the quai.
- I do a once over of the metro cars before even getting inside - any scary dogs? anyone carrying an open beer can? new car! pronto!
- I try to place myself somewhere that allows me to get out quickly if I need to (I avoid window seats where I would be trapped if a weirdo sat next to me).
- I try not to think about the nast that is so clearly surrounding me.
- The very first thing I do when I get to work or when I get home is wash my hands - I now have cracking knuckles and alligator skin, but d*amnit, I'm germ free.
Beyond the cleanliness of the metro, I have also noticed a microcosm of the French socialist system at work. This is how it generally goes down:
We all load into the metro car. As soon as the metro starts moving, someone in the metro begins their speech (sometimes these people look homeless and sometimes they really don't at all- it's very mysterious). This is how the speech goes (delivered with a monotone voice, every time):
Bonjour Messieurs dames, I am sorry to bother you this morning. I am currently sans abri (without a home) with no income. (enter personal sob story here...wife, kids, sleeping in the street, no food, no government aid etc etc). If you have a petite pièce (coin) or a ticket resto (restaurant coupon) to give me, I would be very grateful. Just so I can eat tonight and wash myself and have a warm bed to sleep in....Merci messieurs dames and bonne journée.
And yes, people actually reach into their purses and wallets and give these people money! It baffles me every time. I'm imagine that these people are French because they obviously understood the speech. It's like, instead of (or in addition to?) going to the Pole Emploi (unemployment office) or the CAF (family allocation office), they go to the metro.
Now, if it wasn't delivered in the monotone style and if they all didn't sound exactly the same, then I would actually feel bad for these people (I'm not as heartless as I may sound). But as it is, they sound like they memorized a speech and that they work for some dude called the PMP - parisian metro pimp. When this happens, I employ my "avoid" face - stare off into space, check my watch or read something.
I was just about to bust out my avoid face on Thursday when one of the PMP's men started his speech - only guess what he did? He explained that he wasn't there for money, but instead to divertir - entertain - us. He opened a French classic, presented the chapter and began to read. He read about amour and he read it with such passion that one by one, the Parisian metro-goers turned their heads. Some of them even smiled (against Parisian metro code!). I did too. And at that very moment I thought - props. Props to the guy for creatively begging and for providing the Parisians with a reason to smile on a run-of-the-mill Thursday on their way to work.
Out went the thoughts of microbes, out went the annoyance of the metro as unemployment and family allocation office alternative. For just a minute, on line 11, between République and Rambuteau, we all felt a little connected in anonymous Paris, we all felt the amour...
And if I hadn't had to get off the metro before the end of the chapter, I may have thrown him a petite pièce or two...