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Planes, Trains & Too Many Transportation Faux Pas

As an American student, I am used to driving my car to get everywhere around town. Now that I have relocated to a new place without my main mode of transportation, it is a whole new ballpark. If public transportation were a game, I could write a novel on the faux pas that I have learned throughout my time abroad so far. Let me just say that between all the non French students and I, we have compiled a big list of hilarious and somewhat embarrassing transportation stories.

The most common method of transportation around the city is the bus. In my last blog post ("Fitting in with the French"), I mentioned the story about my personal bus experience where I did not read the sign on the front of the bus and it brought me to a stop where I stepped off then walked back to the first stop from there. Then the same bus picked me back up again and brought me to the correct location. If only I had waited and read the sign on the front of the bus.

 A ride on the "Envibus"

For most buses, you can buy a monthly renewable bus pass to ride it but you need to be sure that if you bought one that needs renewal at the beginning of the month to renew it. If you do not, you may just end up holding up a huge line while you continually try to swipe your card and receive only a big red beeping “X”.

Also, many students and I have run into the same problem of not flagging down the bus. After watching the bus pass us one too many times, we finally got the “stop bus!” wave down. Even if you’re the only one at the bus stop, it will not stop unless you wave it down. My friend Grace, a sophomore in the CEA program tells about a story trying to flag down the bus, “I saw the bus far away and decided to take a run to it. As I was nearing the bus, I reached the rear, not even 10 feet away from the door and it drove away.” The buses wait for no one if you don’t flag it down; when it’s 7:29 and it is scheduled to depart at 7:29, there is no 7:30.

All transportation also has city wide strikes. There was a national bus strike day that happened to inconveniently fall on a school day. Sometimes you will hear about the impending bus strike, while other times you will be waiting at the bus stop 30 minutes past it’s arrival time only to finally realize it is probably not running that day (oops).

Now, you could always try renting a car to navigate your way around Europe as well. During a weekend visit to Italy, my friends and I decided to rent a car so we could have a little more freedom. Plus who wouldn’t want to take a road trip through Italy?! We knew that most European cars were manual but one of the girls, Mei, a senior in the CEA program, reassured “I’ve done it before, don’t worry!” Little did we know she had only practiced one time before. With confidence we hopped in our rental car and started on our way--or so we tried. After 30 minutes, we escaped the parking garage only to be overtaken by Europe’s crazy traffic. We lasted a few more minutes of stalling at intersections and constant backseat cheering before we returned the car. Lesson learned: Ask for an automatic car if you don’t really know how to drive a manual. Plus a foreign place is probably not the best place to learn and practice driving a manual.

 Road tripping through Italy in our (now) automatic car

While you study abroad, you will most likely travel. From where we are living in the French Riviera, it is imperative to take a train to the airport. And even if you do not need to take a train to the airport, you will probably end taking a train sometime during your experience. Train tickets are a whole other faux pas in itself. Places in the U.S. sometimes allow you to buy your ticket on the train. But you will see that in France, that is definitely not the case. My friend Nicole, a junior in CEA program and I were in Rome and we were required to pay a large fee for trying to purchase our tickets on the train itself (our wallets cried a little that day). After successfully purchasing a train ticket, you should also not forget to scan it at a machine and validate it. This is the step I, along with many others, always forget. Trains also go on strikes which will impede your travel and transportation plans. Always be on the lookout and plan ahead in case of these last minute emergencies.

Lastly, check once, check again and then triple check when buying plane tickets that all the information is correct. I bought the wrong ticket home and did not realize it until I was trying to leave Rome and they would not let me through security because I had the wrong date on my ticket. So alas, I had to purchase a new ticket at the airport. And I learned my lesson the hard way that I should always check the ticket date to make sure I can avoid this situation. But hey-- turned the situation into a second trip to Rome. Some things are simply fate!

Going to a new place means adjusting to their ways. Using public transportation is definitely something you will see often in France and something you may have to adjust into using. After hearing and participating in many funny experiences and learning countless faux pas, I have finally started to understand the ins and outs of public transport.

Cici Holmquist is the Fall 2015 MOJO Blogger in the French Riviera. She is currently a Sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University.

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