There are so many things to worry about when you spot an oddball in the street. There you are, out and about, selfishly enjoying your perfectly balanced mind when all of a sudden, you see a person who falls beyond your social-norm radar and you pretend with perfect aplomb that you haven’t even noticed.
Yes, some crazy person has wandered into your path with the utter effrontery to potentially make you look like a complete and utter freak in front of a world full of total strangers. You adopt a manifest interest in your thumbnail whilst exercising your proficiency in peripheral peeping.
Whereas normally you are able to juggle a plethora of thoughts, objections, possibilities and plans, as well as dealing effortlessly with any situation that comes your way, now you are totally incapable of producing any thought other than “PLEASE DO NOT ENGAGE”.
As you start to gain some semblance of control, panicked questions rush silently through your head:
Which direction is he going?
Why are his eyebrows above his hair?
Where is his other foot?
Why is he talking to his beard?
Perhaps you’re walking down the road. Perhaps you are on the train. Whatever you’re doing, you are are now fixated by this presence and as you execute your best “I-haven’t-even-noticed-you” face, you quietly, hysterically will him to move in the opposite direction or at least go and talk to somebody else.
And that’s when it happens. He engages. But it’s brow-moppingly not with you! Hooray! Someone else has signed up for a crash-course in How to appear polite while emitting “Please talk to someone else immediately” vibes.
Thank the Lord of Undeserved Luck! Not only have you escaped the wrath of three whole seconds of mild social discomfort, but you have been reminded what a weird and stupid world we live in. It’s good to remember that sometimes.
The problem is, sometimes you ignore the perfectly ordinary passer-by, lost in the street or in need of the kind of help you can actually afford, and you walk straight past them in an attempt at self-preservation, having many a time fallen victim to someone who asked you directions to Jupiter, and was not content with your limited knowledge of intergalactic geography, and who engaged you for several hours while you tried your best to be a good citizen.
There was a man I’d see around where I used to live who would wear bright yellow hearing protectors, and, regardless of weather, sunglasses and shorts. He carried a plastic bag in each hand with apparently nothing in them and would speak loudly at nobody, or everyone, I never figured out which.
These special beings have wandered beyond the realms of social acceptance to ruffle our orderly feathers and embarrass the unsuspecting.
And what a pleasure it is when they talk to someone else!
The warning on a box of cotton buds has to be the most universally ignored caution ever printed on any product. Not only do we disregard it, but we buy the product to do exactly what it tells us not to. “Never insert a cotton bud into the inner ear or nose.”
Yeah, whatever. They know that’s the only reason we buy them. It’s like selling a hamburger with a warning not to insert it into your mouth. “Could cause fatness and indescribable bliss.” Continue reading
Someone once told me that for them, the beginning of the year felt like standing at the foot of a huge mountain looking up; a scary, insurmountable obstacle, that filled them with fear and apprehension. (If that person is you, maybe don’t carry on, I’m about to get optimistic about your most dreaded time of year.) For me, it is quite the opposite. I feel I am at the top, ready to slide down on a mat of perfect sliding congruousness with the surface of said mountain. Weeeeeeeee!
I would like to start, appropriately, with the 1st of January, which every year has to be one of my favourite days for the following reasons: Continue reading
Now, being an English person living in France, I am used to hearing the opinion that every culinary output from the British Isles is an abominable, slap-dash mish-mash of incompetently scrambled together leftovers of both sweet and savoury sort.
So imagine my delight when one day a student uttered the most welcome words I had ever heard a Frenchy bestow upon an edible item from England. Continue reading
If I am walking for the sake of walking, I do not go fast. But if I am on my way somewhere, I like to go fast and in long, cadenced steps.
Don’t tut when I run for the metro. Don’t ask me why I’m out of breath. It’s not that difficult to understand. Mr Bugatti-Veyron does not drive the fastest car in the world because he’s in a hurry. He just likes to go fast (and has lots of money and possible erection problems (joke, Mr Bugatti!! Please can I have a lift to the the shops?)). Continue reading
I mentioned my love for the glorious Paris Metro while talking with a French man the other day. He simply couldn’t comprehend it. He made that face reserved for food you don’t like, and informed me that the Metro smelled. “It smells”, he said but his face said, “Urgh, you like something that smells”. It was difficult to make a comeback after that. He had made me feel like a beastly outcast who rolls around in toenails and licks cat hair off the floor (god, it’s not like I said I like the RER).
It was too late to change his mind about me, but I could still save face for the Metro. Ah, the Metro: practical, stylish and affordable, an example in efficiency and a veritable free, daily theatre, where every aspect of life is recreated underground and for all to see.
Genuine scenes of animal interaction are silently played out as privileged positions are contended and personal space is defended. Plus real, live entertainment of all kinds can surprise you at any moment. Sometimes people actually join in; either with the performer and his music (I’ve seen whole carriages come to life (granted, they are usually tourists, but they’re real people too!)) or with fellow passengers enjoying a good old collective tut because it’s repetitive or unwanted or simply because they’ve had a long day and can’t I just go home without this racket lordy, lordy? It’s thoroughly entertaining.
The morning routine is enacted as women do their hair and make up – even the windows serve as mirrors between stations. I once witnessed a woman expertly tweezing her beard at about 120 hairs per minute: a skill at the best of times, but on a fold-down seat with an intimate audience of about 25, no mirror and her own, spit-flecked running commentary, it’s quite a feat.
We do it all in the comfort of our own metro. We inhabit it. We do as we please. Meals are eaten. Deals are made. Telephone conversations of the utmost emotional significance take place. Couples quarrel and kiss. Friends say hello and goodbye. Parties are started. Nights out are wrapped up. We even go to sleep on it – you wouldn’t do that in a restaurant or at the dentist would you? Noses are picked and nails are filed. We tap on our laptops and listen to music as loud as we like.
Yet despite this flagrant free-for-all, I am so proud of my fellow humans for being able to act so civilized especially in times of extreme passenger density. Of course, there are nicer things than having one’s face thrust repeatedly into a stranger’s woolly armpit for six stops, but we suck it up and think no more of it. We are bigger and better than to go postal on someone just because they held their head at the wrong angle (mouthful of afro) or elbowed us in the cheekbone (we’ll just go postal on someone we know later, for no apparent reason). It’s part of the city and part of our day!
It’s a disgusting and delicious peek at people, a chance to do that most basic of human responses (stare at people for a bit, make ridiculous comparisons with ourselves based on wildly inappropriate assumptions about them, then pretend we’re not looking). It’s also a great way to get around.
Within the city, you are never more than a five-minute walk from a metro station (except for my particular place of work – yet, for a mere ten minutes, I get a choice of six stations, with the option of five different lines. Amazing). You also rarely have to wait longer than three minutes for your train. I did however once get to a station at a not-ungodly hour of the day and was shocked to see I had to wait for a mind-boggling seven minutes (though it only took me two of them to get over it).
Sometimes it feels like a fairground ride as it lurches upward into the light of day and over the Seine, offering a glimpse of the sumptuous city, then screeches round a corner and drops back into the dark.
It’s a bargain at under 30€ per month (your company pays the other half), and for that you can also jump on buses and trams. It’s busy ’til late and runs later at weekends. And it buzzes at night with the day’s debriefings. Managing to catch the last metro home fills me with such joy and gratitude that I am incited to actual love for my fellow passengers and all the surprising qualities they must have and all the wonderful things they must do.
And despite the strikingly strong smell of urine which accompanies your change at some stations (line seven at Place d’Italie deserves a special mention), there are works of art and informative exhibits at others, with some stations decorated uniquely and beautifully like line 11 at Arts and Métiers, line one at Franklin D Roosevelt, and outside at Musée du Louvre where you find the quirky Kiosque des Noctambules.
OK, so this is descending into a fact-file, which I do not want it to be. I simply wanted to tell the guy who didn’t understand, why I love this marvellous system and how lucky we are to have it.
I guess he appreciated my arguments, but I also guess he’ll forevermore think of me as the person who admitted to loving something that smells.
Semi-colons are for show-offs (or is it just me that feels smug when I use one?), ampersands are for the idle (exaggeration?), but brackets (you guessed it) are brilliant.
I’m a somewhat excessive user of the bracket; maybe because I’m too rational, maybe because I have a minuscule attention span. (This last sentence should make a great deal more sense later if all goes according to plan.)
Sometimes I put whole sentences in brackets (as above), sometimes I place just one word in brackets (chipmunk) and sometimes I use brackets inside of brackets (this is just an example (don’t read this to your audience if you are reading it out loud (but if you’re reading it in your head, go back to the beginning and say it out loud instead))). I once used eleven sets of brackets within each other, had to lie down for ten minutes, then spent the next four days coming to terms with what I’d done (I never said there were no drawbacks to the bracket). Continue reading
Yesterday you ran out on me. You were there when I woke up. Then all of a sudden, after breakfast, you were gone. I couldn’t run out into the street to get you; I was still in my pyjamas and there were buttons missing. So I lay down on the floor and cried.
You made everything better, Butter. Continue reading