Sorry about the less-than-stellar photo. I was trying to take a picture in a hectic métro station, and when there was a break in the frenzy of commuters, I tried to get my shot. But soon the people behind the glass in the information booth started taking notice of me snapping a few pics of the high-security features of the métro, like metal railings and door handles.
So I snapped quickly and packed up my camera fast, especially when I saw one of the guys stub out his cigarette (a sign I took that he was really serious about coming out of that booth), fearing he’d ask me what I was doing. Then I’d have to explain that I have a food blog but I write about Paris as well and I was going to do a post about something called ‘Métro Hands’ and wanted to take a photo to accompany the text for the edification of my readers which was all in the name of fun but sometimes encompassed serious topics, although often shrouded in stories that are either offbeat, funny, poorly-written, lively, contains typos, insulting, unedited, over-edited, timely, insightful, amusing, pathetic, or when all else fails, is accompanied by a recipe for a chocolate cake or cookies.
(I doubt that he would have understood what I was talking about, though in his defense, I can’t blame him—neither would I.)
Anyhow, I don’t know if the French have a phrase that corresponds to this, but when you arrive at someone’s house or at a restaurant, often one will excuse themself shortly thereafter to wash up, claiming a case of ‘Métro Hands’, which usually gets paired with a slightly queasy expression. I’ve seen both French people do this, as well as Americans, who many folks view as a band of raging germophobes (although curiously, you can’t touch produce at the market, and men must wear bathing caps and a barely-there Speedo in a public pools in France, for l’hygiene…mais oui!.)
So what are ‘Métro Hands’?
Simple. They’re your hands after you’ve ridden the métro.
I’m not a hygiene freak, although I avoid shaking hands with someone who I suspect has been picking their nose, or who just took a leak outdoors in the dark corner of some building. And although they tell you not to touch things at the outdoor market pour raisons d’hygiene, I like to touch my fruits and vegetables before putting it in my buying them, and I will confess to once trying on a swimsuit at some store (I’m won’t say where) sans slip. But I mean, can you really tell how le string is gonna look if you’re wearing BVD’s underneath?
And I wash my hands pretty frequently. After years in the food-service industry, it’s a good habit to avoid passing along any maladies I might be festering in my palms to unaware patrons, which we saw in a delightfully-informative film in chocolate school called “Uninvited Guests”, which was like having Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle brought to life. Except in germ-riddled chocolate factories in place of the gory stockyards. Thankfully, the film was animated.
And I avoid that Purell® stuff, which they’re starting to sell even over here. (A note to mes amis americains, please don’t whip out a bottle of it and pass it around the table in a restaurant, especially in a three-star one. Do your sanitizing and other personal grooming in the private, like us normal people. You wouldn’t whip it out and relieve yourself in the corner of Le Grand Vérfour, now would you?)
But the dreaded Métro Hands freak me out mostly during the winter, when everyone has a cold and people sneeze into their bare hands, then re-grab the metal bar. Then they get off the métro, and I get on and grab the same bar. C’est pas bon. Hard-core germophobes might carry their own métro strap, but I’m sure I would get even more menacing stares than I do taking pictures on the métro if I whipped out one of those things.
Luckily in the winter, one can discretely wear gloves, so I rarely suffer from métro hands. And I have the most wonderful gloves in the world, lined with luxurious cashmere. Each time I stick my hands into those leather babies, I sigh in pleasure as the finely-knit wool inside embraces my hands and fingers, cuddling them in soft, silky comfort wherever I go. I depend on them for avoiding métro hands. Without them, I’d be lost, and probably sick a lot more often, which would inhibit my ability to write this blog and take pictures in the métro.
But the other day, something terrible happened. I was leaving the apartment, and could only find one glove. I normally don’t lose things. I’ve had several pairs of stiffly-priced Oliver People’s sunglasses for many years, and haven’t lost a pair yet. I’ve not lost a mobile phone either. Nor my mind. (Although I may be close.)
So where was my beloved glove? Being late, I just grabbed my mittens and split for the elevator in my apartment building (which is about half the size of a phone booth, and I got stuck in yesterday, which is a whole other story for another time.) But when the door opened…
Voila! There was my glove!
Parisians have a peculiar but terrific custom, at least I found it peculiar when I moved here, that when you lose something on the street, invariably someone will pick it up and put it somewhere safe so you can find it when you return. You see eyeglasses, scarves, keys, gloves, and other things that are easy to drop resting on ledges and tucked between iron grillwork around the city. (Although I’ve yet to see any Oliver People’s sunglasses lying around…)
I don’t think Parisians are any more or less honest than people in most other cities, sauf Tokyo, but it was the first time it happened to me and I was so excited and thankful that I could barely stand it.
So I’ll continue to defensively wear my gloves each and every time when riding the métro, careful to avoid the railings and handbars during the cold season.
And luckily, it’s not swimsuit season, although I’m not really much of a swimmer anyways. I’d be really surprised if I ever saw anyone wearing a skimpy swimsuit on the métro, even though the French are notoriously uninhibited. So it’s doubtful we’ll ever hear the phrase ‘Métro Cheeks’. (And thank goodness we probably wouldn’t have to witness folks doing their ‘sanitizing’ in public down-there either.)
But if I ever find a skimpy swimsuit tucked into a hand-railing somewhere around here, I’ll be sure to track down the owner, to pass along the good karma for getting my glove back. And not to worry; I’ll bring along my camera as well. Just for you.