A journey in the metros of Paris – by a Ugandan

It was not my first time in Paris but my first time taking a metro.

To clarify: Metros in Paris are underground and above ground, it is a combination. When it comes above ground, it is pulled up and flying over everything because there is not enough space.

First of all, I bought a ticket. The people at the counter didn’t speak one word of English and with my small knowledge of French I ended up at a machine. They were a lot of different options but after a while I got the right ticket (actually I got two, so one too much…).

I bought a map of the metro, which helped me to find out the itinerary. However, it is not enough to know where to go, the bigger challenge is to do so!

I asked a young girl who seemed to know the place to give me directions but she didn’t understand me as well and walked away after a few minutes of trying to understand me. In the end, I was standing on a platform trying to find out in which direction the metro was going by looking through the window of a metro at the display panel inside of it.

Fortunately, a Greek noticed my desperate attempts and offered me his help. By chance, he had the same journey and he accompanied me for most of the traveling. I assured his guidance by praising his country to the skies marvelling the important role of his country in regards to contributing to democracy and Olympic Games.

When getting off, I observed that everybody was running. Not only when going out of the metro but also on the streets, even women wearing high heels! In Kampala compared to most of the people, I have a fast walking pace but in Paris everybody was passing me… Finally, I arrived very relieved (and late) at the conference.

However this experience didn’t stop me to take the metro again a few days later in order to reach the airport.

The receptionist at the hotel I was staying speaks only little English, he comes from Algeria. He asked me “Have you been to Algeria? Nice country. You are from Uganda? Where is Uganda? Come to Algeria, nice country.”  That’s why I responded that he should come to Uganda, it is a nice country.

The son of the receptionist gave me direction to get on a metro and then take a bus. However, his father urged me not to take the bus, “No, no, bus, no good” and recommended me to go to another station called Olympiades. It was still early because my flight was at 9 p.m., so I decided to go to that station.

When I reached Olympiades, I was shocked. Normally, you have to walk down the stairs to get to the station but here, there was nowhere to walk down. On the opposite site, I found a tiny lift. A lift, leading down to the underground! I did not get it. Therefore, I asked the people where the metro station is, “metro, metro station?” and made signs to the people walking by.
A woman with a baby bypassed me and pressed the button, entered and went down with the lift. Then, a second man stood next to the lift, looking at me but keeping quiet. I asked him “Eh, where is it going?” When I saw that he entered, I followed. Whooooooo, it went down. I asked myself, “You people! Really, where am I going?”

When reaching the bottom, I found a wide space underground and through looking around, I discovered a ticket machine.

After picking the ticket, I was looking around again to find out where to go but I just found a metro to Saint-Lazare. You know, as usual people were running, just passing me, running down. For me, I stood in between, people running down the steps, others getting the escalator going down. I thought the best was to follow the crowd. But now, there was an old woman holding a stock who was looking at me, she was a bit disabled and probably recalled me from the lift. She started beckoning me, she wanted me to follow her in the opposite direction of the crowd. She was talking in French, reluctantly I started following her. Apparently, she knew I wanted to get to the metro.

She took me to another lift again. I could pick a little bit of French, she stopped the door from closing and was saying, “This is only for people who don’t have luggage, you have your luggage, you have to take the lift, so you enter, you enter.” So, again I went down.

That’s when I found the metros. Now, the metros looked like planes. Very nice and big. In the inside, the seats were fewer than in the one I took before; they are designed like the seats on the plane, very nice ones. She told me to get in, so I followed her. However, I wasn’t sure if it was the right direction. I looked around and I only saw strangers. I said to the people around me “Eh, Charles de Gaulle, Charles de Gaulle, Charles de Gaulle airport?”, now they were looking at me but nobody answered. When the metro was about to leave the station, I jumped out.

I said to a guy on the station, “Charles de Gaulle airport. Où?” Fortunately, he took me one of the diagrams of the metro lines and explained me: “First, you go to Châtelet, Châtelet is here, get out, then there is the metro B you have to take.”

Finally, with his help, I reached Châtelet. This station has a really big network, underground – self-evidently. In Kampala, we are just playing over the ground, in Paris there is so much underground, we are wasting space here, we didn’t explore it yet. You cannot imagine this is all underground!

When getting out of the metro, I tried to ask people to give me directions. The first person I asked ignored me and walked away. The second one also just walked away. Therefore, I started following a group running to one direction. The crowd I saw there was impressive, I was wondering from where the crowd was coming from. Everybody was in a hurry and was colliding, a little bit like Owino Market. At one point, I had to stop. People were bypassing me, otherwise if I would have continued I would have collided with somebody. Even people from the opposite direction came, I think the metro just arrived and everybody came out.

Then, I saw a lady walking very gently. She was medium in term of the size, medium height, fat but gentle. She was even walking like she would not go anywhere. She spoke very good English. The woman explained me to climb up from one level and then to follow the arrows, they will lead me to the right metro. I thanked her and arrived relieved at the right station to the airport.

They have electric panels on the station to tell how long it takes until the train is arriving. Very good. It will even show you which one has arrived. This is a very good thing. So I waited for the one going to the airport, 20 minutes remained. So, then I told myself “let me relax” and I relaxed. I waited, 5 minutes to come, I started to get ready, 2 minutes, about to arrive and when it arrived it said ‘now’.

So that is an experience I have never had before. I have learned more of Paris through the metro. You know, sometimes it is good to be in a situation where you struggle. There are those days you walk to the conference and you walk back and you did not learn anything.

Now I am a better person; now I can take everyone around Paris. Have you been to Olympiades? No? Well, let me take you around!

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