Wednesday, 23 February 2011

An Unholy Riot

Normally, one of the things I love about France is how people are so quiet. Discretion is highly valued here and, as a result, especially on public transport, people tend to read or whisper to each other rather than yelling into mobile phones or listening to loud music without headphones. A couple of times I arrived in France from Italy and the first thing that struck me as I got off the train at the Gare de Lyon was the fact that there were so many people and so little noise. I tend to use my time on trains for head-space or reading, so I like it when it's quiet.

This week, however, has been something of an exception.

Coming back from our ski trip last Saturday, Understanding Frenchman and I found ourselves sharing a carriage with a group of about thirty kids from the Parisian suburbs who'd also been on a trip. As we had been up since 5am and the SNCF had considerately given us reserved seats right in the middle of the bedlam, we did roll our eyes somewhat, especially as it became clear that these kids were not likely to shut up and let us sleep. To be fair to them, however, they were not in any way offensive, just somewhat noisy (and that only by French standards). The best bit, though, was when, in between letting off whoopee cushions next to each other's backsides and yelling about the flavour of their crisps, the kids behind us embarked on an earnest conversation about whether it was correct to say un vespa or une vespa, the kind of questiom I often find myself musing upon on long journeys but not necessarily what you would expect of your average group of 12 year olds.

Another thing I love about France: even teenagers apparently think grammar is interesting.

My second experience of the week was on the RER late on Monday night. As I was about to step on to the train, I heard the sound of riotous singing and almost ducked back into another carriage but then decided the loud one might be entertaining and went to take my seat. As a Brit, I automatically assume that noisy singing in public is the result of people being drunk, but not this time. Nope, these guys had been to church. And with the volume they were singing at, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Lord, as well as being an almighty saviour, was also mighty deaf, because if three of them could make that amount of noise in a train carriage, their services must literally raise the roof.

So the singing went on for quite a while and once again, while once again it wasn't offensive (at least to me - many French people have different views about public displays of religious faith), it was very, very loud, and eventually a voice from the back of the carriage shouted out, "Shhhh!" When that didn't work, the owner of the voice, who surprisingly turned out to be an elegantly dressed woman who may or may not have had too much champagne to drink that evening made her way somewhat unsteadily down the carriage and asked them to shut up. The chief perpetrator indicated that he was getting off at the next stop anyway, elegant lady wobbled back to her seat and the singing continued, louder than ever.

When the train eventually did arrive at the next station, Mr Happy-Clappy did indeed make his way to the exit to get off ... but the doors wouldn't open. He kept pressing the button until finally they sprung apart, he jumped out, and once again the voice from the back of the carriage piped up, "Thanks be to Jesus: he's let you off the train!"

Yet another thing I love about France: when the humour does surface, it can be very, very funny!

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha! I often seemed to strike school trips - hordes of noisy kids. And rarely did I spot anyone supervising them, incidentally!