Friday, December 09, 2005


One learns, very quickly, that to survive on the Métro you have to, well, sort of put your worst foot forward.

If you look happy, pleasant, or even neutral, you will get stared at, glared at, and sometimes accosted.

If you look like you are angry at the world and one wrong look in your general direction may unleash a firestorm of fury, people leave you alone.

So, in order to survive, I have adopted the "don't mess with me" look whenever riding the train. (This is the same look that works with cranky cashiers.)

I learned, from my own mistake, that you never smile. Someone who sees you do it may assume you are laughing at them.

They are French. This is what they think when they see a smile. As absurd as it seems to us, that's the way it is.

One day, early in September, I nearly got my fingers pinched in the door as they shut. I smiled, thinking 'you idiot, Ronica. Wake up and smell the coffee.'

The man near me glared at me until the next stop, assuming I was laughing at him. I didn't yet know how to say, "I'm not smiling at you. Get over yourself! It's not all about you, Mr. Metro-riding-weird-furry-hat-when-it's-hot-out-what-the-heck-are-you-thinking-anyway-you-must-have-a-sweaty-head!" So, I suffered his glare until enough people got out and I could turn away.

That's why yesterday was so, well, I guess there is only one way to put it. Bizarre.

Maybe it's the Christmas spirit. Maybe I just got lucky. Maybe my guardian angel was watching over me and prodding others to respond in a way that seems so very un-Parisian.

I got smiles from two different people, on two different metro lines, at two different times of the day. I'll call this a record. And they weren't those creepy, weird smiles that make you feel like you need a shower. They were real, honest-to-goodness warm, kind smiles.

And how? How you say? How in the world did I succeed where so many others have failed?

Two words.

Penguin Socks.

I think I am really starting to like it here.



At 5:25 AM, December 09, 2005, Blogger afoos said...

I think in any big city you are going to get hardened looks. The first time I went to DC it was a shock at how serious the people were with no smiles. You go to the French provinces and right away you notice a difference.

And, I don't think he was aiming for you, personally, it's just a general attitude. It's the same when I take out the knitting needles and get stared at, it's not against me, it's against the action of doing something out of the norm. The Parisian life is all about defense and defending yourself against the overwhelming crowd, and one of those ways of defense is to stare.

I personally think that if we all adopt the attitude that we have to harden ourselves on the outside to the world, it won't improve the conditions of living in a city and will just cause further stress and grief. So, go ahead and show those pearly whites, grin and bear it, you know you aren't laughing at anyone, so that's all that counts! These cityfolk need to loosen up, and a smile is the only way to do that.

At 3:59 PM, December 09, 2005, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

Oh, he was. He stared me right in the eyes, pointedly. He was.

And don't worry--I do, but I also know better than to open myself up for being accosted. I couldn't help it on the train the other night--how can you listen to Parliament Funkadelic and NOT look happy??? :)

At 5:16 PM, December 09, 2005, Blogger kylie said...

i don't know what it is about "character socks" and this place. start paying attention, it's hilarious!

At 7:12 PM, December 09, 2005, Blogger Kelley said...

Is it possible that the two people were Americans and they thought YOU were Parisian...and therefore, they hadn't learned the 'don't smile at strangers' rule? Just a thought!
Enjoying your blog, although I wish I could tell you how I ended up here.


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