A Tale of Two Continents: On Getting Home Late in Paris
The question I’m most often asked about studying abroad in Paris is what my friends and I do at night. My response is the same every time: “In Paris, you go hard or you go home—literally.” I’ve stuck with this response because I find it witty and because I’m not very creative. However, I also answer this way because it’s true—in Paris, you literally go hard, go home early, or get stuck.
I am not generally an “out-all-night, come-home-with-the-sunrise” type of person. My style is more “moderate-level craziness, get home around 2 a.m., and watch 30 Rock before going to sleep early enough to be first in line at brunch.” That’s my life at Wesleyan, but in Paris it is literally impossible, thanks to the timing of the Metro.
On weekends, the Metro closes at 2:15 a.m. (depending on the line), and reopens at 5:30 a.m. Cabs are virtually non-existent and expensive when they materialize. The Noctilien—the night bus—is unreliable and confusing. Walking? In heels, late at night, while drunk, on Paris’ cobblestoned streets? I think not.
Late-night revelers are therefore left with two options. The first is to pack up and leave at around 1:30 a.m., simply in order to avoid the unfortunate experience of making it to a transfer station, finding out that the train stopped running, and getting stuck until they all start up again at 5:30. The oft-preferred option is to stay out until 5:30 a.m. anyway, joining the masses of drunken people heading home, McDonald’s in hand.
Everyone on my program has countless stories of how the absence of trains in the wee hours of the morning has led to memorable experiences. For example, I have a friend—“Celeste,” we’ll call her—who got stuck at a transfer. Her phone out of credit, she approached a group of French youths to ask to use one of their portables. Though they obliged, the person she called did not, failing to pick up his phone and come to her aid. The kind youths took pity on Celeste and invited her back to one of their houses, which was nearby, until the Metro opened again. She ended up making new acquaintances, getting offered—and declining—cocaine, and finally arriving safely back home soon after the Metro reopened.
Being forced to be out until the sun comes up has its perks. The other night, several friends and I arrived at a club on the last Metro of the night, which meant we would be there for a while. We knew that the same group of young partygoers would be at this club with us for the next three and a half hours minimum, and it lent a kind of solidarity to our gathering. We felt like a cohesive troupe—we all went in together, we all left together when the first train came in the morning. Knowing that we couldn’t go home even if we wanted to made us see the best in every boîte, even if the DJ insisted on playing electro slightly too quietly all night.
Planning for the night always has a slight air of deviousness and mystery. What seems like a short walk home from a Metro stop during the day turns into an eternity at sleep-deprived dawn. Unfortunately, I happen to live between two stops: Charles de Gaule-Étoile, to which many trains go, and Ternes, frequented only by the 2 line. Ternes is much, much closer to my house, but the 2 doesn’t go anywhere besides one club that I know about. It’s not the best club, and it’s far away from just about anything else that’s fun to do, but it’s on the 2. Guess where I suggest we go every time we’re figuring out what to do? So far, it hasn’t worked.
If you wake up early enough—or, I suppose, get home late enough—you can see the tail end of the homeward migration that continues as late as 8 a.m. There are only a few at this hour, but if you look closely, you can spot the girl with the scarf wrapped around her face, high heels on, eye make-up slightly smudged; or the group of guys, loudly complaining about how tired they are, making fun of the one nodding off in the corner, none of their eyes in focus. They crowd around the vending machines to buy Volvic water flavored with lemon and stumble up the stairs from the streets of Paris. From personal experience, it’s a cold comfort knowing you’re not the only one.
Being forced to arrive home late—or early, depending on your perspective— isn’t all bad. One of my favorite memories of the first few weeks in Paris was waiting for the Metro to re-open. We had been to a 90’s party at a club, and decided to leave around 4. After trying in vain to find a cab (as I’ve said, in some parts of Paris, finding a taxi is like finding a four-leaf clover), we decided to decamp across the street to a café that was still open. We ordered a selection of French cheeses and two plates of escargot. Though half the table only wanted water—annoying the waiter, but we didn’t care—we had a great time talking about the night and eating French food at an atypical hour until we could trek back to the Metro station for the morning rush.
In the end, I’ve decided that this is really what studying abroad is about: combining typical French food with a typical, end-of-the-night American hour, then going home to collapse in bed and dream about it until the next night’s drunken revelries.