Musings of My Rail Adventure


Riding the Train France: The Great Catastrophe of July 2014

My first full day in France was spent riding the train from Normandy to Paris. I took the train from Oissel, making four stops before reaching Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. I spent the afternoon buying a temporary pre-paid phone card, meeting with my employers, and walking around Paris in the blazing heat. I walked the Champs Elysées, saw the Eiffel Tower, and went inside the much cooler Madelaine. My train ride going into Paris went without any problems, but it was my return to Normandy that turned into what one woman called, "The Great Catastrophe of July 2014!"

We were able to board the train earlier than all the other trains, which was a nice surprise because I was ready to sit down. I made sure to take a seat facing forwards because I know I would get carsick, or in this case trainsick, if I sat backwards. Unfortunately, the only available forward facing seats were next to the toilettes. Yuk! But I was sweaty and tired and figured I could muscle through to occasional smell of French bathrooms. Yes they have a distinct smell to them. A woman sat down next to me and I was glad that the smell of the toilettes was able to drown out the smell of my sweat. So we sat there patiently waiting for the train to leave at 4:20pm. Little did we know of the chaos in store for us.

In France the train doors do not always automatically. There is a button that you must press to open the doors so that you can get in or out. If one side does not have anywhere to get off on and there is just rail, the train doors will not open if you have the button. There are also emergency buttons, for you know, emergencies. But since there are rarely emergencies, they are not used often. But on that day in July, all buttons were pressed, emergency or not.

Suddenly the conductor is screaming in the speakers telling people not to press the buttons. Us passengers had no clue what was happening other than someone did something and the conductor was mad. What they did, we don't know exactly. Thankfully the conductor reminded us that we were not allowed to touch the exit buttons and that it was punishable by law. We were able to guess that the yelling had to be related to that.

While dealing with the button pushers, the conductor was faced with another, more important crisis: a little boy that needed to use the bathroom. Normally when the train is stopped, the doors of the bathroom are locked to prevent stowaways from hiding in the bathroom. One mother and her child went to use the bathroom during the button pushing ordeal, but could not open the door because of this rule. Mama bear immediately came out of this slender woman and demanded to speak to the conductor. Her scowl and harsh tone let everyone around her know that this woman was beyond consoling, her baby had to go pipi and she was making sure that it was going to happen in the potty. She searched the entire train and found no conductor, you know, the man who was dealing with the illegal activity of pressing the buttons.

Place de la Concorde

After her failed search, she returned to the bathrooms, determined to break them down. She told everyone in the cabin that this was a stupid rule, especially when children are present. She didn't have a change of clothes for the little boy, so peeing his pants was not an option. She called it a total crisis. The most chaotic moment of her life. And my personal favorite, the great catastrophe of July 2014. Never mind Ukraine and Gaza, a little boy peeing his pants is definitely the worst thing! But then panic struck. The women began banging on the door to get in. They boy began screaming. He was going to pee his pants. He cried as he slowly started to pee, and midway through his traumatic experience, the conductor appears, opens the door, and the kid is able to at least finish his accident in the toilet. It seems this major crisis was averted, but the woman stayed mad. As much as you feel bad for the little boy, you can't help but laugh at the situation, or the mother who assumed that the bathrooms would be working on the train. In France, if you find a working and decently clean bathroom, take advantage of it. Who knows when you will find one again!

And to top off the experience of my first rail adventure in France, the train was late. One because of the door problem. Two because of the pee crisis. And three because of the miscommunication between conductors and rail workers. As one rail worker took to giving us concerned passengers an update, the conductor took matters into his own hands. The worker began announcing: "we are running a few minutes behind, we should have the train leaving the station within the next twenty minutes, but it will not be leaving on time." Just then the train started to move and we left the station. The worker immediately announced, "well I guess not." When in France, not everything goes according to plan!

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