Don’t smile. Don’t make eye contact. It was our first day of class and I was surprised to learn of the long list of some of the dos and don’ts while in Paris. Almost anyone can think of the obvious thing when going abroad, such as not to draw much attention to yourself, do respect local behavior, do try to immerse yourself in local culture, don’t explore new territory with a closed mind, etc. However, at orientation we talked about numerous detail-oriented aspects that would label one as a tourist and a potential target for pickpocketing. Many of these had to do with using the metro, perhaps because when in an overcrowded train, the smallest actions become magnified. Additionally, many abroad students are unfamiliar with this form of transportation and the etiquette that comes along with it. Although thoughts of being pickpocketed filled my mind when preparing for my trip, I was happy to learn that blending in with the locals is the best way to ensure you don’t become a target.
On the first day of class, the school staff told us not to look any strangers in the eye, especially in the metro. They said that eye contact is a way of inviting someone to approach you. Additionally, they said that if you smile at a stranger, it exposes your vulnerability and allows the stranger to speak with you. After learning this I became very cautious and stiff. I was afraid to “invite” someone towards me accidently, especially since I am a relatively smiley person. However, after visiting with my Parisian friend, she informed me that eye contact and smiling is not as large of a deal as the school staff had made it seem. She assured me that all normal people make eye contact from time to time, and that Parisians do indeed smile at one another. If you are clearly doing these actions in a flirtatious manner, then that’s when it comes across as “inviting”, but that a quick eye connection or smile is nothing to worry about. After learning this, I felt extremely relieved and more comfortable being my smiley self. Thus, do be more cautious about who you make eye contact with and who you share a smile with, but don’t let the cautiousness consume you.
In addition, I have learned a few other metro tips during my short time living in Paris. For instance, do stand on the right side of the escalator if you plan on standing, as opposed to walking. I quickly learned that the left side of the escalator is for passing persons, whereas the right side of the escalator is for people merely standing on it as it moves. Secondly, don’t be afraid to jump into a full train. Unless people are spilling out, there is usually room for more. On my first few days I was hesitant to go into what seemed like full trains, but I soon learned that locals do this all the time. They are used to close body contact and don’t seem to mind when the trains are packed tight with people. On the contrary, do give yourself more time for morning commutes because it seems like all of Paris is in the metro stations on week days. Finally, don’t be afraid to sit next to a stranger. On practically every metro I have ridden, I have noticed that single riders sit next to the “sketchiest-looking” people without hesitation. Sketchy, old, attractive, weird; it doesn’t matter because everyone is merely trying to get to their destination.
Overall, do make your own observations about the locals around you. It is very easy to learn about, adapt to, and act like the locals after only a couple days of observation. To act like a Parisian local can take some time, but after just a few observant metro rides, anyone is able to achieve this.