When reading a letter sent from the Côte d’Azur, you might expect a narrative bejewelled by tales of glamorous encounters. Instead, I’m taking this opportunity to wow you with some public transport anecdotes, a theme which I thought I’d abandoned with the rest of my French GCSE syllabus. My purse, scattered with an obscene amount of used bus and train tickets, forced together and left to swelter, epitomises the lives of many here in Nice: the daily grind – métro, boulot, dodo.
If you speak to the most of the locals here about public transport, the first response you will receive is “il faut faire attention dans les transports en commun, il y a des fous!” (“Be careful on public transport, there are some crazy people.”) But I’ve made several delightful acquaintances on the trams, trains and buses here – from a homeless guy named Mohammed who wanted to practise his English with me, to a 6’8” Sudanese bouncer named Trésor, to a Chinese student on a working holiday and a tall, dark and handsome stranger who offered me his seat and his number (which I ironically lost when clearing out my abundance of used tickets).
Life isn’t all a bed of roses on the number 23, however. There are several aspects which me font chier (really piss me off) The first thing to note is delays. Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité, Delais. The laid back way of life here seems to extend to sticking to timetables and as a result I’ve been left waiting for a train for 2 hours far too many times for my liking. Although, this can be handy when you yourself are running late – being able to reassure yourself that your train will be at least 5 minutes en retard always helps matters. Of course, delays go hand in hand with strikes – which, incidentally, do not mean days off work. Using transport strikes as an excuse would be akin to missing work due to rain in the UK (a more valid reason for absence here in the South of the France, might I add).
Once finally on board, you have another three things to deal with. Firstly, there’s the unconceivable amount of PDA you will witness. There must be something about public transport that really revs French people’s engines. Sitting opposite my 15 year old students snogging and gyrating is always enough to put me off my pain au chocolat.
Secondly, the etiquette of giving up your seat here is painfully awkward. In England, it’s simply a matter of good manners to stand up for your elders. Here, I’ve learnt the hard way that it causes mortal offence for a female to offer her seat to a man, no matter what his age. Now, I always stand.
Thirdly, you have to escape the wrath of the Transport Police. They rarely make an appearance, but when they do they strut down the aisles as if members of the CIA – making everyone flinch as they walk past. It is tempting to stop buying tickets when you are only checked once every blue moon. But the one time you choose not to will almost certainly be the time that the Gallic Dementors decide to sweep into your carriage and inflict their kiss upon you, in the form of €100 fine.
Despite this vent, on the whole, j’aime le transport en commun here in Nice. It is like a best friend; erratic and quirky but it is difficult to stay angry at it for long. It’s a big, mundane part of an otherwise exciting and enriching Year Abroad. It keeps you grounded. Je vous remercie le transport en commun.