Etiquette & Enforced Intimacy on the Paris Metro

We are staying in an apartment between the La Fourche and Guy Môquet metro stops on Line 13 of the Paris Metropolitan underground train system. As I understand the Metro dates from 1901 when the first line was constructed into the city’s center. Further, according to my research it occupies the 2nd place in the list of busiest metros in Europe after Moscow.

I grew up on a town of approximately 23,000 residents. I don’t think we even had a bus, even though we did have vertical refinery waste exhaust pipes that could light up the sky at night. I believe I had ridden the Metro in Washington, D.C. during a family trip in my childhood. I don’t remember anything significant about it.

We don’t have an underground train system in Oklahoma in any of our cities. So my experiences began when I had moved to Russia as a part of my Peace Corps service in 2000.

Section Map of Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro is built around intersecting lines that radiate out from the center of the city, and each line is intersected twice by a circular brown line that connects to all of the lines of the Metro.

The seats on the Moscow trains sit in opposing parallel lines facing each other with a aisle down the middle. People generally stand down the middle when the seats are filled. There are times in the Moscow metro when the trains are so tightly packed that people have to push through to get on and off. Although, I do not have many memories of rides like this.

From all of my travels the Moscow Metro remains the gold standard to which I compare all the rest.

The Paris metro map has squiggly lines all over the place. The metro is also intertwined with their suburban train system, so for example, on our trip to the Eiffel Tower we rode Line 13 to Invalides and then boarded the RER C train going west. It appears that a lot of the connections on the metro lines are also connections to the RER or SNCF intercity train system.

On the Paris metro the train cars are arranged a bit differently. The seats are arrayed much more like urban buses, some seats are paired side-by-side, others face each other, others — usually the ones in the ends — face each other across a narrow aisle. The areas around the doors seem a bit wider, but the aisles between the seats are quite narrow.

The etiquette of the Paris metro has been a bit surprising. Most of the metro systems that I have used in my travels have been quite clear in signage and in announcements to not lean on the doors. The Parisians tend to congregate around the doors and are not afraid to lean on them when they are closed. Unlike other metro riders elsewhere, they do not move into the center of the train. I have watched passengers ride 10–12 stops, all standing next to the door as the entering and exiting passengers squeeze by them silently.

I have been in some very crowded Russian buses and subway trains. It has been good training for the trains here in Paris.

The number of people crammed into the Paris metro has been insane. It does not seem to matter what time of day, almost every time we have ridden line 13 we are squashed into the unairconditioned cars. Everyone is scrunched up around the doorways, and instead of asking whether the person in front of them is getting off, the exiting passengers just slowly squeeze by until they are free.

I am not sure whether it gets any less busy. The number of people crammed into a metro line that runs every 3–5 minutes is a testament to just how many people live in Paris and use the system. If the French were not so polite and nice, I would likely feel better about shoving them around on transport.


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