Robin's Blog

Small Notes from a French Country

My fiancee is studying in Lille, France at the moment, and I spent last week with her in Lille, including a two-day trip to Paris. During my time I noticed a number of interesting (or at least semi-interesting) things about life in France:

  • Pedestrian crossings are scary! When the green man is shown it does not necessarily mean that it is safe to cross. What it actually means is that you are protected from traffic coming straight ahead, but not from those turning right or left. In practice this means that most foreigners (and a lot of natives) sprint across the pedestrian crossings to try not to get killed!
  • The number of bakeries per capita in France is awesome. Within 30 seconds walk from our hostel there were three awesome bakeries. This pleases me very much.
  • For some reason nearly every street corner in Paris seems to have a condom machine on it. I have no idea why they need that many machines.
  • The street sellers at the bottom of the funicular railway in Montmartre are very pushy. Both times we walked past there one of them tried to tie some sort of piece of string to my fiancee’s hand. Strange.
  • The Paris metro has a lot of lines – 15 standard metro lines, plus 5 RER (a sort of express metro) lines. In comparison London Underground has just 11. This means that they’ve run out of colours for the metro map – meaning that you have a number of lines which are similar colours (particularly greeny-olive-brown colours), making it very difficult to tell the difference (particularly in low-light conditions).
  • However, the amazing thing about the RER lines is that they have double-decker underground trains (see the picture below). This is awesome.
    Double Decker RER train in Paris
  • The Arc de Triomphe is more interesting than I thought – there is a good exhibition in it about historical events that have happened there. The tomb of the unknown soldier is there, and the flame over it is lit every evening.
  • French railways seem to be a mixture of very high-tech and very low-tech. For example, TGV trains are very fast, and work very well, but their departure boards at Paris Gare du Nord are the old-style clicky boards (the ones that click round loads of times to show the right destination and time).
  • It’s amazing how much random French I know. For example, the emergency stop signs on all the metro trains have a notice by them saying “… … sera puni”. From the old song Que sera, sera I know that “sera” means “will be”, and therefore not to press the button as I might be punished! Also, trains in France are retarded (actually “retarde”) when they are late, another thing I realised I knew.

(P.S. Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island and Notes From A Big Country are very good books, and yes I did steal the title idea from him)

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This post originally appeared on Robin's Blog.

Categorised as: Humour, Short Interesting Things

One Comment

  1. Jake Brand says:


    Great blog!!

    I too also almost got run over in Paris!! I crossed a GREEN light and someone sped at me!!

    I was in shock!!



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