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Chic C’est La Vie! How to Look Like a Local While Taking the Paris Metro

Here's how to blend in with Parisians while cruising Le Metro.

Picture this—it’s a cool, crisp evening in March and you’re making your way across a Parisian crosswalk, strutting your stuff like The Cheetah Girls in Barcelona. Your foot connects with the pavement on the other side, and you immediately descend into the underworld—the Metro. The place where tourists’ poor, tortured, and confused souls suffer. For those of us who don’t utilize public transportation consistently, you may be unaware of the rules of engagement. Luckily for you, I’ve got some advice to empower you and to unleash your inner Metro baddie.

I’m Just Visite-ing

Before you twirl through any turnstiles or make your way onto the train, consider the length of your stay and your itinerary. This will determine which ticketing option works best for you. Typically, I recommend the Paris Visite pass. Available in 1, 3, and 5-day options, this travel pass grants you unlimited access to the Metro, the bus, tramway, RER, and SNCF. Unless you plan to go to Versailles, Disneyland, or CDG airport every day, you’ll be able to get away with purchasing a pass for only Zones 1-3.

INSIDER TIPBe sure to plan ahead and research any discounts or incentives that may be available to you.

Decoy Wallet

As with any metropolitan city, you may be susceptible to pick-pocketing or robbery. I recommend having a secondary wallet with a few expired gift cards and maybe a euro or two in there. On the off chance you come across a pick-pocket or a mugger, you’ll be able to retain and protect your private information.

INSIDER TIPConsider buying a wallet that doesn’t look like a wallet. Certain gum brands have begun to package their product in square plastic cases, the perfect size to hold credit cards, cash, and even your vaccine card. Plus, you’re repurposing the plastic! A win-win.

Crossbody Bag

Tagging on to the decoy wallet, I highly suggest a crossbody bag for safety reasons but also for ease of access. This style of bag will allow you to keep your belongings on your person and within reach at all times. If you need to peer at directions or grab your ChapStick while on the train, you can do so without digging around. During the winter and fall months, your coat will hide your bag, making it easier for you to keep those valuables out of sight and right where you need them.

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INSIDER TIPWhen switching trains, be certain that you are going in the right direction. Be certain to take a quick glance at the signs to find the right platform.

Stop Smiling. Start Staring.

Speaking of all eyes on you, it’s time to discuss the Parisian stare. For some reason, people on the Metro (and everywhere in Paris) seem to have a staring problem. The good news is that the likelihood of them engaging with you is very low. You don’t really have to worry about a stranger hoping to make small talk with you. Mostly everyone stays to themselves. Their eyes, however, are on everyone else. The stares may be a bit off-putting at first, but the best thing to do is to either ignore or hold it. Eventually, they’ll look away. Whatever you do, don’t smile. As a Southerner, it’s a bit tempting but resist that urge. Parisians are nicer than people give them credit for, but there’s just no need to smile at strangers. You’ll get used to it in time!

Earphones or Headphones Are Musts

No ride on the Metro is complete without a little in-transit entertainment. Grooving to your favorite album or catching up on a podcast are solid choices. Whichever you decide, be certain to bring your earphones (preferably those with a cord). With all of the hustle and bustle of the Metro, cordless earphones could spell disaster. Could you imagine trying to find a fallen earbud on the floor as people rush to get off for their stop? Eww. If earphones with a cord are too uncool for you, then over-the-ear headphones might be the way to go. Whichever you decide, please remember that playing your music out loud is not an option. We don’t want to hear it. Signed, all of the other passengers on the metro.

I Want Out

As you make your way around the city, you’ll begin to take note of the different trains and stations. Some of the stations are really fancy! Others leave much to be desired. However, the most important thing to pay attention to isn’t the decor; it’s the workings of the train. Some train doors require you to push a button in order to open the doors, while others will simply open as soon as you pull into the station. Either way, be sure to make a quick note when you step onto the train. You don’t want to have a crowd of people behind you huffing in frustration because you can’t figure out how to open the door. There is nothing more intimidating than a French huff. Believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end one time too many.

Plan Ahead

If you haven’t yet conquered the Metro system— don’t worry. Technology is actually on your side this time. Most GPS applications come with public transportation capabilities, making it easier for you to get from point A to point B. But if you’re like me and you don’t want to have your Maps app open during your ride, I recommend looking up directions beforehand and typing them in your Notes app. Screenshots are another way to get the job done, as they are easy to reference with a quick glance. They are also ideal in the event of a loss of cell service/data. No more scrambling around to ensure you’re getting off at the right stop. Step off with confidence and go forth!

INSIDER TIPWhen switching trains, be certain that you are going in the right direction. Be certain to take a quick glance at the signs to find the right platform.

Move on Back

Resist the urge to just step on the train and grab the first open seat or handle. If you’ve got several stops before your exit, consider grabbing a spot toward the middle or the back of the train. As you draw nearer to your stop, you can make your way to the front to allow for seamless exit and entry for yourself and others. If the train is full and you find yourself being pushed toward the back, don’t be afraid to pull out a polite “pardon,” when it’s time for you to exit the train.

INSIDER TIPThe train can be very loud. Don’t whisper that “pardon”—be sure to speak up!

Be the Main Character. Revel in the Romance.

In a city like Paris, you can’t help but to fall for that Old World charm and romance. When you’re on the Metro, it’s your time to revel in it all. You’re literally the hot mysterious protagonist in your own story. Own it. Wear that daring outfit. Read the book. Shoot flirty looks to the hottie across the train. Take that selfie with your friends. Make up stories in your head about the people around you. Make up a story about yourself. Sure, you may be on the way to meet a friend but you can dress like you’re headed to a runway for Paris Fashion Week. No one knows your story. They only see the outside. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll be perceived.

Be Mindful of Those Around You

Paris is full of people from all walks of life. You may be on vacation but for many of the people on the Metro with you it’s just a normal Tuesday. Be mindful of this and maybe tuck that vlog camera away for just a moment. Pay attention to those around you. The kids headed home from school. The girl headed on a date. The old woman patting her leg gingerly and humming a tune. The people headed from work with weary eyes but suggestive smiles who are looking for a bit of evening mayhem. It’s fun to just sit back and catch these glimpses into the lives of other people.

And you can rest assured, in the City of Light, there’s always a spectacle to behold.