Paris metro etiquette

If you follow Parisian rules of etiquette on the metro, your visit will go more smoothly. Here’s how to do it.

enleve son sac a dos
“He who travels with his back loaded removes his back pack in order to be less bothersome.” Picture source: photo that I took of a sign in a metro station.

If you look on question-answering web sites like Quora, or even just do a quick Google search, you’ll see many people asking this question: Why do Parisians hate tourists?  The answer: Parisians do not hate tourists.  On the contrary–Paris is very aware that tourists are part of the life-blood of the city, and they are happy to have foreign visitors in droves.

However: there are definitely things that tourists do that can interfere with the flow of your daily life here, and those things can be irritating.  A lot of those things happen on the métro, the Paris subway system.  Every morning, 2.5 million people get on that thing for their commute to work, and then they do it again in the evening.  In hopes of preventing you from being one of those tourists who irritate the locals, here are some notes on metro etiquette.  You’ll note here many instances of what I understand to be the basic principle of French behavior: don’t inconvenience the other guy.

  • Entering/exiting: When you’re waiting to enter a subway car or train, stand off to the side of the door so that you’re not blocking it.  People will exit through the center, and then you enter at the side, or through the center if it’s not obstructed.  (This is a really common rule for tourists to break, and it’s really irritating during rush hour when lots of people are trying to get off and into the cars.  Don’t be that tourist.)
  • Hold gates open: When you go through the gate, hold it open behind yourself for the next guy.  You don’t have to stand there and wait for him, but if there’s someone right behind you, this is the polite thing to do.
  • Luggage: Be considerate about trying to wrestle your big, bulky suitcase through the turnstile when there are lots of people trying to go through it–wait until traffic lets up, so that you’re not keeping everyone else from getting to their train.  Some stations also have a space next to the turnstile for luggage, so look for those.  Also note that you shouldn’t be taking your @#$% luggage on the metro anyway–see this post for reasons why that’s a bad idea.
  • Strapontins: Subway cars in Paris typically have a couple of folding seats right next to the doors, called strapontins, believe it or not (it’s the general word for a folding chair).  If the car is crowded, don’t sit in them–you will see French people who are using them stand up when a bunch of people enter the car.
  • Be quiet: If you hear someone talking or laughing loudly on the metro, they will probably be speaking English.  If you hear someone speaking on a cell phone, they will probably be a foreigner.  In general, Parisians tend to be quiet on public transportation.  See here for a funny story about what can happen if you’re not.
  • Backpacks off: If a car is crowded, take off your backback–even if it’s a little one.  If you don’t, it’s super-awkward, both for you and for everyone else.
  • Offer your seat to pregnant/elderly people: Even kids from bad neighborhoods will offer their seats to an old person or a pregnant woman on the métro.  You should do the same.
  • Say pardon: You will often have to squeeze by a few people to get on or off of a crowded car.  The polite thing to do is to say pardon when you do so.
  • Don’t block the quai, stairs, or escalators–move to the right.  If you’re walking along the subway platform or going up/down stairs and escalators, stay to the right.  People will pass you on the left.  Similarly, if you need to stop and figure out which way to go, don’t stop in the middle of heavy foot-traffic–get out of the way while you get your bearings.
  •  le strapontin: folding seat, jump seat.
  • le quai: platform, dock, quay.
  • le wagon: subway car, train car.


5 thoughts on “Paris metro etiquette”

  1. Good list: most tourists break at least 3 of these rules… and can be so annoying! With backpacks, apart from the fact they’re lethal for others, you should be aware of thieves anyway. So if it’s a small one, just wear it in front – on your chest – for the duration of the metro or bus trip 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In my experience, most of these rules (especially the first one) are broken by most people (tourists and residents alike) on most subway / metro systems in most cities of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. On the Berlin U-bahn, many thoughtful passengers carry, and use, musical instruments to entertain their fellow passengers and brighten their day. Buenos Aires too — I still remember a great drum solo from a recent metro ride there. Also in Buenos Aires, the polite passenger carries a box of candy or similar, and distributes one to each other passenger in the car.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s not just a French thing , it’s all about manners.

    Sadly they are a disappearing quality ; I like that the French still instil these into their offspring. I wish the British did.
    And yes, I am making this statement from an informed position; I am not just some old granny ranting, I am from a generation where manners madeth the man and MY kids have them.
    My school teacher daughter would say, sadly, that many young people do not. Fortunately she takes it upon herself to fill the gap left

    Liked by 1 person

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