I've been keeping a journal of my commuting experiences and here is what I've compiled so far (from now on, posts will be regular)
Claustrophobia on the metro seems to be more and more common for me with each passing day. People jammed so closely together - breathing, talking, laughing, sneezing and twitching - for up to two hours each day is enough to drive anyone crazy or to a certain level of anger/hostility against the world.
I've found that sitting near the window helps significantly. When I'm sitting in front of someone and feel like I will strangle them the next time they twitch or do something annoying, I just have to look out the window and remember where I am - PARIS - and if I happen to be in a tunnel, I am greeted by a very familiar, slightly less annoying face - my own.
The first morning I took the metro to work, I wondered how people who take the same train at the same time every day interact. Do they say hello to each other? Do they become friends? Do they remain completely oblivious to the other's presence forever?
On the way home Wednesday, I took line 6 from Etoile instead of my usual trek down line 1 to Bastille. I sat in front of what just might be one of the most normal people I've encountered on the metro yet. He was old, old enough to be my grandfather, and wearing a red scarf like mine. He sat quietly typing on his BlackBerry. A few stops into the ride, a group of very loud, very annoying girls hopped on the train behind him, and I could see in his grimace that he was just as annoyed as I was. He continued to look down at his phone and let his eyes roll from time to time. At Pasteur, he got off the train, and all the way home I thought, that man is a much older, male version of myself. (I used to live at Pasteur)
Around three in the afternoon, when I'm digesting and falling asleep at my computer, I start thinking of everyone I saw on the way to work and what I'll wear the next day. Is this shallow? YES! Is it better than falling head first into my keyboard? Definitely! As I ponder the contents of my closet and the people I've seen since I woke up in the morning, my head goes through a rolodex of images - people dressed like they've jumped out a magazine, people dressed like they're going to work, people who look like they got dressed in the dark and people who belong in a different time period. It's a shallow and meaningless way to spend the afternoon, but as I work (because I don't actually stop working to think about these things) the thoughts and images just pop into my head.
Finally Friday and the bus ride back into civilization gave me the idea to stop at La Defense for a little shopping on my way home. It's the first week of work, first week of the soldes and I felt the need to celebrate with a purchase. Unluckily for me but luckily for my wallet, I found nothing of interest and wandered back onto the metro. At Etoile, standing in front of me, was the man in the red scarf. I was in shock of how coincidental and how surreal it was for me to be standing in front of him again. Sure enough he sat down, took out his phone and typed all the way to Pasteur. Although I did not sit directly in front of him, and I don't know him at all, I was happy to see a familiar face on the train.