Etiquette guide for Paris Metro users — will it work?

by Karen Fawcett on December 10, 2013

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The Paris RATP has just published a wonderfully illustrated 32-page etiquette guide, the Manuel de savoir-vivre à l’usage du voyageur moderne (Manual of Good Manners for the Modern Traveler), about how to behave on the city’s metros because of the perception the French are rude — a hotly contested subject.

This online guide, consisting of twelve rules, is presented in a whimsical and compelling manner. And yes, if people actually adopt them, it will make metro riding in the City of Light more pleasant. The book is a compilation of questions generated from the public and covers four categories: Helpfulness, courtesy, manners and politeness.

Here are its main points. But, please understand, some of the puns may be lost in translation.

What to do on the platform:

• Be courteous: Recognize that the huge sign of the large crossed out cigarette isn’t pop art. Rather, it means no smoking.
• Be helpful: Help tourists wearing Burmuda shorts who are holding a metro map and pulling at their hair.
• Be polite: Don’t talk on cell phones since it’s annoying and makes you unbearable.
• Be helpful: Hold the exit door for the person behind you. In life, never pass on the chance to come across a pretty glance.
• Be polite: Use your handkerchief and not just to wave goodbye on the platform.
• Be helpful: Take an old lady’s bag…and return it to her with a smile when you reach the top of the stairs.

On board:

• Have manners: Share your new musical tastes on your social networks. Today, you can express yourself in silence.
• Be polite: Say hello to the driver, whether it’s a man or a woman.
• Be courteous: Don’t stare at a female rider even if she has piercing eyes.
• Be courteous: Don’t start a duel with the knight who accidentally steps on your foot.
• Have manners: On the really hot days, play penguin and keep your arms at your sides. Hold onto the bottom of the pole and not the top.
• Have manners: Don’t confuse the metro with the bathroom even if they both have tiles on the walls.

All of these suggestions may seem self-evident, but apparently they’re not. The real question is whether or not they’ll work, or if this is a PR attempt at improving the city’s image. After all, this guide is only in French so it’s not targeting visitors, many of whom could profit from a refresher course in manners.

Paris resident Harriet Welty Rochefort, author of “Joie de Vivre — Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing Like the French” is dubious. “Great idea,” she says, “but unfortunately, the people who need it would never read it or heed it.”

Erin D Crum, who lives in Paris, agrees the guide probably won’t have an affect, adding that she finds Parisian Metro riders to be far, far more polite than those she encounters in the New York City subway.

Jane del Monte, president of ARTS in Paris says, “Anyone who thinks Paris Métro riders are exceptionally rude has never experienced the subway systems in New York or Washington or Atlanta.” Del Monte continues, “I do wish Paris would get out of the business of publishing these ‘etiquette’ guides. They only perpetuate the negative (and invalid) stereotypes perpetuated by tourists, many of whom may never have used public transportation. I think Parisians are more respectful of the rules and more polite in general. I’ve never seen an elderly or handicapped person standing in a Paris Métro car.”

The above comments make me wonder, should all subway/metro riders be required to take manners classes before entering stations? Do people become intrinsically rude or inured to fellow passengers’ needs when they take subterranean transportation? Perhaps the French metro’s idea should be adopted in other cities. I’m all for it, especially if the guides are as imaginative as Paris’s. Take a look at it here and please post what you think.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

Photo from Manuel de savoir-vivre à l’usage du voyageur moderne

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