I’ve been absolutely swamped since I arrived in Paris. I have been naively trying to live a normal life (cook for myself, work out, go out, read, etc.) in addition to getting settled in a new city. But there really aren’t enough hours in the day to do this. In fact I am only able to write anything at all on this blog because I spend two captive hours on the train every day – and even this time is crammed with studying French and reading.
This hectic lifestyle has led to several instances in which “dinner” has consisted of grabbing a sandwich from a street vendor and eating it on the metro or while walking to French lessons. At first I did this without a second thought. After all, I was hungry and in a hurry; it’s what you do in these situations.
I am not exactly sure what made me stop to think about it later – maybe it was an odd look from someone at the station, or just a subconscious feeling of being “different” while stuffing my face with a baguette sandwich. Whatever it was, I became acutely aware of the fact that no one else around me was doing this. At first I figured it was just a coincidence; but when I stopped and thought about it, I really couldn’t remember seeing anyone else doing it. So I started keeping an eye open for it, only to eventually confirm my suspicion: people just don’t do that here.
A related experience was my initial surprise that food was allowed on the metro – especially given the fact that the train ticket wardens will reprimand you pretty harshly for putting your feet on the seats. They definitely care about keeping things clean, but there are no signs prohibiting food. However, neither are there are there any signs prohibiting painting, for example, or other messy things that you would never do on a train. Rules arise out of necessity; people don’t prohibit what their citizens or customers don’t do.
(Incidentally, I am writing this on the train right now, and three guys just got on my carriage sharing a bag of popcorn. Though it wouldn’t have exactly disprove my point, I thought it was ironic – until I realized they were Russian.)
The point, of course, isn’t just that the French don’t eat on the trains; it is that they don’t live rushed enough (the critic might say “ambitious enough”) lives to feel the need to eat on trains. And although the French appreciation of leisure isn’t exactly a secret, there was something intriguing about seeing it manifested in such a simple and unexpected form.