The Paris Metro is the fourth oldest metro in Europe. Whilst I am a big fan of the Metro system here, your daily commute gives you a first hand look into the darker side of Paris. Paris, suffering from rising homelessness, seems to be pushing this issue to the sidelines- almost signalling some sort of acceptance, or even tolerance, of this epidemic.
But first, let us uncover the positives of the Paris Metro. It is a hell of a lot cheaper in comparison to the London Tube, and there are many more stations. It’s true to say that if you are ever lost in Paris, walking 2 minutes in any direction will land you at a Metro station. In that sense, travelling around Paris is easy. Also, you can get signal underground- something that makes that 30 minute journey to Uni pass considerably quicker.
With this, trains are regular, and reliable- you are never waiting more than 2 minutes for your train. Rush hour however, is expectedly awful. Personal space is not a concept that a single Parisian has mastered. Although, I suppose you can’t really expect to have any personal space at 8am, when you are squished against 2437 other people. But sometimes, even on the emptiest trains, somebody will decide that the best place to stand is directly next to you, and a sure fire way to brighten up your day would be to make sure that he barges his elbow into you when turning the pages of his French novel. Merci, Paris. Whilst London prepares you for this, I could still do without the personal space invaders.
I can’t forget to mention: I’ll probably never get used to the smell of wee everyday. (You can definitely tell I’m from England- complaining about public transport seems to be our forte.)
Another advantage is that you don’t have to tap out, you merely have to tap in.
But with this comes the hoards of people jumping the barriers, pushing behind you once you’ve tapped in, and generally finding any way to avoid having to pay for a ticket. Because the Metro is pretty unregulated here, they seem to get away with it. This doesn’t mean you should do it though. Sometimes at the exits, you get checked for your passes/tickets.
Alors, les SDF? An undeniable fact is that the Metro is where Paris’s homeless seem to gather. Yes, of course, homelessness is prevalent in most big cities, but in Paris, it hits you with a stronger twang of cruelty. Homelessness is an overwhelming issue in Paris, having increased by 84% in the last 10 years.
You’d think you’d get a sense of urgency, a sense that something is being done- so why do I feel that it is an accepted way of life, as opposed to an issue that needs to be tackled?
It’s 12pm, you are on the train, and somebody gets on your carriage and starts pleading: “Mesdames et Messieurs, pardonez-moi de vous deranger…”- they then tell you how much they are struggling, that their child is ill and needs money for medicine, or that they are out of work- and then proceed down the carriage with their empty cup, hoping somebody will be kind enough to give them some money. The harsh reality is that nobody really does.
This is a daily occurrence, and it seems that people in Paris have managed to harden their hearts when it comes to ignoring their pleas- something I can’t quite do yet.
And it isn’t just the metro- it’s impossible to walk down a street without seeing somebody with a “J’ai faim” sign. Are they forgotten people? Have we trained ourselves to tune them out, treating them as ghosts?
I am not in a position to be able to criticise the help being given, or to suggest a solution, or even to examine the reasons why this an increasing problem here. I am simply saying that I’m surprised. It is almost unbelievable how this is the norm: the homeless are invisible in plain sight, and this is what I can’t get my head around.
With Paris Fashion Week, the glamour of Paris is on show even more than usual, and if you aren’t living here, it’s easy to get swept up in the beauty of it all. But I’ve been here long enough to know that there is a whole other side to Paris, and it poses a real challenge to the stylish stereotype that is more commonly heard of.
— Photos taken by Sophie.