New in Paris: The Métro Goes Airborne (Sort Of)

What’s She Doing Down There?

September 28, 2016By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
ParisUpdate CestIronique-FlightAttendantinMetro
Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the Métro… Photo: RATP.

Have you ever been the only clothed person at an orgy? Me neither. For that matter, I’ve never been one of the unclothed people at an orgy. On the other hand, I have had the disconcerting experience of being the only guy wearing a regular suit at a black tie event (a lot more awkward than it sounds); the only non-Swedish speaker in a room full of very excited, vociferous Swedes (never figured out what it was about); and the only unstoned person at a Frank Zappa concert.

I mention all this because I’m trying to imagine what the flight attendants in the Métro feel like. Not the ones on their way to work at Orly, but the ones working on the trains.

Yes, there are flight attendants on the Métro these days, and I’m sure that most of the people reading this are wondering why. (The others are just skimming this article while getting dressed to go to an orgy.)

I’m going to explain, but before I do, I’d like to make it about me: it turns out that for the 33 years since I moved to Paris, I’ve been living under a delusion. In fact, two delusions.

First, I had always thought that the Métro was relatively safe — by which I mean relative to the street, not to Marcel Proust’s bedroom. Especially in the past decade or so, since the introduction of CCTV cameras and security patrols, it has seemed like a pretty unthreatening place.

With the exception of a small number of other passengers — the phone snatchers, the pickpockets, the drunken ravers, the insane ravers, the drunken insane ravers, the hotheaded loudmouths, the loudmouthed hotheads (they hate each other) and the aggressive panhandlers, any one of whom I could just as easily cross paths with on the street — nothing in the underground transit system has ever made me think that I might be in physical danger.

That is, until a month ago, when the flight attendants showed up, charged with the mission of warning Métro riders about the many ways they could be injured in transit.

Which leads to my second delusion: like all Métro users, I had noticed that once in a while there’s an announcement of slow or halted traffic due to an “accident grave de voyageur” — a serious accident involving a passenger.

But I had always presumed that this was Métro-management code for “We’re having yet another technical failure or strike or something, but rather than admit that it’s our fault, we’re announcing that someone got hurt in the hope that you Parisians will, defying stereotypes, have empathy for a fellow human being and therefore be more patient.” Which would have been a delusion unto itself.

But now I know: accidents do happen, averaging one a day. So the RATP, the company that runs the Paris transit system, did something about it: they decided to hire a team of experts to assess the situation and implement measures to make the trains safer.

Or rather, that’s what happened in the parallel universe where public administrators always make sensible decisions, all religions accept each others’ validity and French pastries aren’t fattening.

Here on Earth, where it rains sometimes, they decided to hire a team of actors, dress them as flight attendants and send them onto the trains to do airline-style safety demonstrations.

Perhaps realizing that trying to raise safety awareness by imitating what must be the world’s most widely ignored safety ritual is an iffy proposition, the RATP is backing this campaign with a website. From which I learned that the most common causes of Métro casualties are:

• People sticking their heads out the window. I can see how this could be dangerous. But not quite as dangerous as doing it on a plane.

• Trying to squeeze through the doors while they’re closing. Again, something that rarely happens on commercial aircraft.

• People trying to retrieve things that they have dropped onto the tracks — jewelry, phones, shopping bags, noisy children, etc.

• Standing too close to the edge of the platform when a train is approaching. This seems like a “no-brainer” to me, but apparently people do it. And those who lean out to watch the train coming in give new meaning to the expression.

All of these perils are explained and illustrated on info cards handed out by the fake cabin crew. Obviously, the project has been a huge undertaking, as you can see in this video: the RATP had to recruit the actors, have the costumes made, hold rehearsals and, of course, pay someone to write the script for the safety demos.

And, even more obviously, that someone was not me. Because if I had written it, the presentation would go like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention? My name is Michel, I’m 32 years old, I’m homeless and unemployed, so if anyone could help me out with some spare change, a Métro ticket or… Oops — wrong speech! I mean, please listen carefully while I share this important safety information.

Before departure, make sure that your seat back is free of chewing gum, spilled beer and mud (or worse) from the shoes of the oblivious jerk who just sat in the facing seat with his feet up, and that all bulky carry-on items are stowed securely in the path of anyone trying to get off.

All mobile phones must be switched on for the entire duration of your trip. When you are not carrying on a conversation with someone whose reception is so bad you have to yell and repeat everything three times, you are, apparently, obligated by municipal ordinance to play Candy Crush.

You don’t have seat belts. In fact, half of you don’t even have seats. However, if you are the flasher that the person who wrote this script saw on the No. 4 line a while ago, we recommend that you keep your belt, and even more importantly your zipper, securely fastened at all times. If you keep exposing yourself like that, you are almost certain to be arrested and incarcerated, and then you won’t even have a belt.

Also, should we encounter turbulence just when you’re trying to zip up, it would greatly increase your risk of an accident grave de voyageur, if you see what I mean.

I am now pointing to the emergency exits. They are also called “doors.” On a Métro train, every door is an emergency exit. Duh.

In the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, due to a technical incident, terrorist alert or particularly bad accordionist, please rush to the nearest door in a blind panic and run or leap off the train as quickly as you possibly can, shoving by anyone in your path. In other words, do what you always do when you get to your stop.

If the electrical system fails, which is frankly pretty common, the train will stop in mid-tunnel and the lights will go out. In the near-dark, you may think that an oxygen mask has been released and is dangling in front of your face. Do not grab it and hold it to your mouth and nose — it’s actually the never-washed scarf of the rarely-bathed chain smoker who was sitting in front of you and has gotten up to change seats.

Note that smoking is not allowed on the trains. Smoking would be allowed in the lavatories if there were any, but there aren’t. On the other hand, the winos have in effect declared the entire Métro system a toilet, and a smoking zone, so what the hell.

Passengers seated on the jumpseats in the exit rows of older trains have an extra responsibility. When the train reaches your stop, you must stand up as quickly as possible, causing your seat to return to its full upright position with a deafening bang and enough force to knock the dentures and kindheartedness out of anyone sitting behind you.

There is no lifejacket under your seat. If you find yourself surrounded by rising water it can only mean that your train somehow ended up in the Seine, which is infested with pollution and testicle-biting piranhas, so a lifejacket isn’t going to save you anyway. And by the way, the “piranhas” part is true.

Thank you for listening and have a pleasant trip! I know I won’t — €20,000 for acting lessons and this is the best I could get?

The next C’est Ironique will appear on October 12.

David Jaggard

Reader Dolores Lilley writes: “As always, I enjoyed your column and found it amusing. However, I would like to say that safety in the Métro is no laughing matter. I was almost killed when, as a good passenger, I got off at a crowded Métro stop to let off the passengers behind me; trying to re-board, I found my place taken my a husky gent who was not going to move in any further, and I by default ricocheted off him and landed with my back and head on the quai and my legs still inside. Doors shutting, train about to leave…. By the grace of two strong men on either side of the doors, both pulling them open, and a quick-witted dame on the quai, the doors were opened, and I was pulled out in a faction of a second. In another fraction… Well, I don’t want to dwell on that.”


© 2016 Paris Update


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