I’ve been in Paris now for almost a week and I’m slowly learning the grammar of the place: its nouns (What are: un passe Navigo, une carte orange, une prise peritel, une ligne a haut debit? where can I buy a pair of scissors, a thimble, a telephone, a chair, a fork and spoon, a mug?), its verbs: which bakery is open on Sundays, which on Mondays, which never in August, which never in July, which until 7, which until 7:30? until when is Prisunic open? what should I do to get a debit card, to recharge my metro card, how long do I have to wait to get a PIN number for my debit card, to get the telephone installed, to get hot water installed? But mostly it’s the Parisian syntax that gets to me. I am told the metro is cheaper if I buy a Navigo pass by the week or the month. I stand in line for one whole hour before I am let into the office at the metro station Republique that issues the passes. After checking my name, my date of birth, my address, the guy takes my picture and hands me a laminated card and explains: “This card is valid for one week or one month..” – “One month starting any time?” – “Ah non, on n’est pas en Grande-Bretagne! Ici, c’est un mois calendriel”. He explains: the week goes from Monday to Sunday, the month from the 1st to the 30th/31st. Note also that in order to prevent cheating, there may not be more than one use of the card within 1/8th of an hour . I laugh: such an example of Cartesian logic and mathematical precision. Could it not be: “within 10 minutes of the next use?” why must it be “1/8th of an hour”?
I exit the office, the line is twice as long as it was an hour ago. In my delight to have achieved at least that today, I head for the nearest turnstile, place my new pass on the electronic eye, the door opens. Hey, it worked! when I suddenly realize I need to look at the map and the map is on the other side of the door. .. I exit, check my destination on the map on the wall, and head again for the turnstile. To my dismay, the electronic eye refuses my pass and issues a buzzing sound and a bright red X instead. Cartesian logic at work ! Implacable. I have to exit the metro altogether, and head for another metro station a few streets away. Here, my pass seems to work thank God. Wow! The system won’t allow any mistakes, will it! I catch myself thinking: “.…like the guillotine”.