When we're not talking perpetually about the weather or complaining about French mannerisms, there's something we British expats love to discuss more than anything else: travel. And by travel I don't mean jetting off to the Canary Islands, sipping cocktails on the Beach in Malibu, CA or telling relentless tales of what we got up to on our Gap Yahs. I mean that ceaselessly boring system called public transport which involves coexisting in a confined space for what seems like an eternity. No-one likes it; in fact, we all loathe it. But in short of splashing our student loans on limousines and chauffeurs, we don't have much choice.
Public transport in Paris has become the bane of my life. Why? Well, mostly because I rely on it too religiously which can only end in disappointment. However, if you are in the habit of arriving hopelessly late for rendez-vous' with your friends, it can provide the perfect excuse for being en retard (French word for late, not "retard" à la "The Hangover") to a lunch date or evening drinks. I.e.: "Soooo sorry daaahling, but the metro has been at a standstill for the past twenty minutes and it's taking an aaage" - a typical text message written whilst applying that last lick of lipgloss in front of the mirror in your very cosy Parisian apartment. Not once in the message have you said you are actually on the metro so you can be (slightly) forgiven for lying through your teeth.
But it seems that my British friends in Paris are divided between the Paris Metro and the London Tube, which got me thinking: which one is better? Or, should I say, which one is the least crap? The winner is in red!
- The Tube has been operating since 1863 while the first metro line in Paris didn't open until 1900, with the core underground network completed by 1920. Tube wins for its ripe old age. It's so vintage it could pass as fashionable.
- The Metro serves 33 more stations than the Tube, with an eye-popping figure of 303. The Metro is also the second busiest underground system in Europe, after Moscow. Metro wins for quantity of stations but loses to the Tube for being so busy!
- Since last year, free wifi access has been available to customers on the Metro and using a mobile phone is quite the norm, while travellers in London are scraping the barrel for non-existent phone signal. If you find yourself caught up in an underground strike or you are experiencing delays, the Tube is your worst enemy whereas the Metro phone coverage keeps you in the loop! Metro wins for technology efficiency!
- The underground passageways in Paris are wider and more spacious than in London which often feels overwhelmingly claustrophobic. The train ceilings in the Metro are also much higher and there are more places to sit. Metro wins for space and comfort!
- The Metro system is better connected and the trains tend to come more frequently (London's circle line via Liverpool Street must come about every 10-15 minutes which is shocking). In Paris, you also don't get multiple trains heading in different directions on the same platform like you do in London (which can be confusing!) Metro wins for efficiency and clarity!
- I know London is much bigger than Paris which might explain why the distance between each station is so much longer, but it seems to take a decade to get anywhere! Metro wins for speed.
- The closing of the Metro doors could lose you a leg if you're not careful because they're automatic and stop for nobody, and I mean nobody. While they do give plenty of warnings about how quickly the doors shut through use of overhead tannoys and posters, I think the best solution would be to avoid overly violent door closure on the trains. More than once have I seen someone almost get their head sliced in two and I've definitely had to haul my handbag through the gap on a number of occasions before the door squeezed the life out of it. It may be irritating when the Tube doors open and close all the time but it definitely wins for passenger safety.
- The Metro is always breaking down, whether due to an "unwell passenger" or "technical problems" and the delays always occur at the worst possible moments. At least they actually warn you in advance with the Tube since more often than not it's "planned engineering works" rather than "uh-oh, Houston we have a problem". In London it's always the same suspects - for example, between Paddington and Edgware Road - while taking the Paris Metro is always a spontaneous adventure. I.e. you know the train will break down somewhere, but when and where remains a mystery. Metro loses for being unreliable while the Tube loses for non-stop maintenance.
- The Metro stinks like crazy of urine and other foul matter and it's filled with homeless people asking for money, being sick, picking at their feet and rifling through bins. It also seems to be the hide-out for perves and creeps whose hobbeys include staring at young women and attempting to feel them up or invite them for coffee. We all know what that means. Tube wins for classier clientele and cleanliness!
- The way out signs for each Metro station are numbered and named and there are always close-up maps to help advise you which exit to take, unlike in London where you can waste valuable time waiting around at the wrong exit because they're unnamed and they decided to put a Starbucks at both ends (#takingthepiss). Metro wins for simplicity.
- The levels of pickpocketing are much higher on the Metro and bags are regularly getting slashed. Be careful of those little gypsy kids. They'd make Oliver Twist's Fagan a happy man! Tube wins for safety.
- The Tube is less jerky and you don't need to hold onto a railing for support unlike the Metro where people are always falling into strangers' laps and tripping over. The French are also much less forgiving of these accidental slip-ups unlike the English who apologise all the time, even when it's clearly not their fault. I was once called a "putain" by a middle-aged French woman for accidentally knocking into her. This can be translated to mean either "Damn it!" or "Whore!" I'm hoping it was the former. Tube wins for better train drivers and less bitchy people.
- To slightly follow on from my previous point, the French (or people in France) don't really understand the concept "personal space". The Metro may be busy but that's no excuse for sticking your arm in someone's face, plunging your elbow into their back, stepping on their feet or wacking them in the face with your rucksack. Being spatially aware is important; something a few people need to work on. Tube wins for spatial awareness of clientele.
- The Metro is much noisier and often makes horrible high-pitched shrieks when it moves. It's also brimming with annoying musicians who can't sing to save their lives who then attempt to play their out-of-tune instruments which only succeeds in bursting your ear drums. Tube wins for being quieter.
- Metro generally closes at 1.30am on weekdays and then an hour later at weekends while the Tube closes as early as midnight or 12.30am latest. Metro wins for staying open for longer!
- London's Oyster cards are rubbish compared to the Navigo cards available in Paris. Travel in Paris isn't dirt cheap, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper than London as you pay a standard weekly or monthly fare which will get you unlimited travel unlike Oyster cards which rack up a hefty sum. It works out at about £13/week for unlimited travel in Paris with the Navigo card while you can spend the same amount in two days on an Oyster. Metro wins for value for money!
Metro: 8, Tube: 8
Ground-breaker: Which one do I least want to have a mental breakdown on? This is a hard one, but probably the Tube because English people tend to annoy me less than French people.
Maybe if we combined the good qualities from each underground service we'd be able to get a result which wasn't half-bad and we could name it either The Tetro or the Mube. On second thoughts, the former sounds like an alien aircraft and the latter like a saggy man boob.
Let me know your thoughts!