Things to know about riding the train...
This goes for the metro as well...
I can look back now at this moment and laugh because getting around Paris is actually rather easy once you know the do's and don'ts. I will share some tips that Thomas and his friends shared with me.
1. Don't stand near the edge of the platform. (near the tracks)
Yes, an obvious but very important first rule! Apparently when the trains get busy, or people are messing around, people can actually be pushed on the tracks!! This is true, my friend Florian said it's happened to him twice!! As I said very important!
2. Don't touch anything! (If possible without falling into the person next to you)
The trains must get cleaned at some point (I'd hope) but chances are they weren't wiped down before you got on. All kinds of people use the trains as transportation in Paris, even ones that are begging for money (when's the last time you think they had a shower?). This rule goes for even when you're walking around the train stations, railings, doors, don't touch it.
3. Always carry hand sanitizer.
In conjunction with the last rule, if in case you do touch something you're gonna want this as there are not many public restrooms to wash your hands. We once saw a man pick his teeth the entire train ride to Paris, and wiped it in his hair. Then he proceed to slide his hand all the way down railing on his way off. (True story) So always keep a hand sanitizer on you, at all times.
4. Don't drink to many liquids before riding.
I learned this one the hard way. I typically would drink a cup of coffee or two, before starting my day but now I know better than to do so before taking the train. They do have restrooms in some carts (but that brings me to my next rule)
5. Don't use the restroom on the trains.
Beyond unsanitary, and I have been told people do drugs in them along with other illegal activity. I don't care how bad I had to go to the bathroom on the train, I have still not let it come to that. I would rather go in an ally, heck everyone else does that around here!
6. Do not lose your train ticket or get it confused with your other ones.
People in Paris are not patient, and that includes the hard workers of SNCF(basically like those cops that write meter tickets except checking for valid train tickets). Not exactly the best job in the world so I can understand their lack of sensitivity. But when they come around to check tickets, you make sure you have it ready and available because they don't like to wait.
7. Always keep any bags in front of you at all times!
You may or may not have heard about the pick-pocketing in Paris but the stories are true. It's not always your stereo typical thief either. They don't all wear ski masks or bandannas to make it so obvious (too many movies). Not just men but also the women and children have been known to steal. I will state, most are not necessarily french but from surrounding countries who come to France illegally. But even a back pack, KEEP IT IN FRONT!
8. Be sure to have a fully charge iPod before riding.
This may be more of a personal preference but I have found my iPod to be useful in more than one way. (Please note my iPod is a less expensive shuffle: you don't want to pull out your iPhone or iPod touch in front of just anyone, easy target) Daily, traveling from home to my destination, I would get asked for money on avg. 4-5 times. In the beginning I was more on the generous side, but if you do the math you will see that could get expensive, so I learned. When I would spot them coming I would just look out the window or in the opposite direction, and if they tried to talk to me I "couldn't" hear them, without being blatantly rude. Thank you iPod! It also helps to drown out the sound from the sometime squealing train tracks that sounds worse than a thousand nails on a chalk board. Although I will add, sometimes people have some real talent, so you have to know when to take the headphones out too!
9. Always arrive early in case unscheduled changes or cancellations.
Relying on the train as your only source of transportation is convenient in many ways but it has its downfalls. Yes, you save gas money, no traffic, and no searching for parking. On the other hand it can be cancelled without any warning, so if you have meeting, or class you can not be late for you may want to take my advice and arrive early. With this in mind, I arrive to everything about 30 minutes early usually left having to kill the time, but on occasion I have been so thankful for the extra 30 minutes.
10. No eye contact and don't smile!
Last but not least, no eye contact and no smiling! I actually had to practice my train face in the mirror a few times before using it. You see you don't want to smile and look like an easy target, but you also don't want to look angry, which also might make someone want to mess with you. This is also where the no eye contact comes in to play, if you don't look anyone in the eye, it's as if you are invisble. Straight face, No smile, Don't Forget it!!
Paris Metro and Train(RER) Map