In a big city like London, there are unwritten rules to walk, get off the Tube, hail a cab or even catch a bus. You need to realise that living here is a well-oiled choreography. If you don’t know the dance, you will feel strangely out of place, with people looking at you in a funny way or sighing noticeably when you walk past them. This is the sign of an urban faux-pas aka a missed dance step. You haven’t done things properly. To make matters even worse, the urban choreography is different in Paris. No wonder it took me so long to get it right.
For instance, in Paris if you want to catch a bus you need to lift your whole arm above your shoulder and waive vigorously. If you do this in London, people will think that you are, well, slightly weird, and possibly completely mad. This is because over here you need to keep your arm close to your hip and lift it a bit. That’s all. That’s also why I always had a seat on the bus initially : people probably thought that I was a bit deranged. Well, I have learned my lesson and I am now doing things the right way (at least that’s what I think), and usually I have no seat any more, which tends to prove than I don’t stand out.
Likewise, let’s say that you are on a packed metro in Paris and need to get off at the next station. The proper etiquette is to push everybody who dares to stand in your way and mutter ‘Pardon’ (‘I’m sorry’). Everybody will understand and if you don’t do it in this very order (i.e. push, shove and then vaguely apologise) you simply might miss your station. Now you are warned.
Things are slightly different in London. You need to close your bag, stand up if you are seated or simply do something that indicates that you want to get off and people will usually magically let you get off, some will even go on the platform to let you out. Failing this, just say a very clear ‘excuse me’ and the person in front of you will usually answer that he or she is getting off at the next station too. Unbelievable.
The list of choreographic differences is simply endless, and it is far too easy to get it wrong. Because of such choreographic differences, I witnessed a funny situation no later than this morning. Two cars were coming in opposite directions and wanted to turn on their respective righthand sides. Over here, you pass the other car on the outside. But in France, for a similar manoeuvre, you need to pass the other car on the inside (this means that you almost have to turn around the other car). One driver wanted to do it it the British way, and the other the French way. They started tooting their horn, because each of them was convinced that he/she was right. I wonder whether they managed to turn in the end. I need to see whether they are still there. If an accident had happened, do you think that you could argue that the cause was a cultural difference? I wonder what the insurance company would say.
In short, even after the best part of the decade, I feel that I am still learning. It is a never-ending process.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London