Four Thousand Miles Across the Sea

Meghan McCallum

I know I already mentioned this in my first column, but I really can’t get over the transportation system here. The tram is, in a word, fantastic. Just under 24 miles long, the Nantes tram network is reportedly the largest of its kind in France. For about $40 a month, and with a little dedication to the tram’s schedules and destinations, I can get pretty much anywhere I want. And I’d be surprised if anyone got lost taking the tram. The two main lines, line 1 and line 2, run east-west and north-south — pretty complicated, huh? There are stops in all the big city squares. Inside the tram, there are maps of the routes, screens saying the time, the tram’s destination, and the closest stop. And just in case all that isn’t enough, there’s also someone that I’ve come to call the “Tram Lady”–she’ll get an explanation later.When I first came to Nantes, I definitely did need all of those extra signs and announcements telling me where I was going. Anyone who has been in a car with me knows that I’m awful at finding new locations, even in Appleton. After living in Nantes for a couple months, however, I know exactly where I’m going each time I get on tram. Instead of searching frantically for the right tram stop, I feel free to sit back, enjoy the 20 mph ride, and make some observations about my surroundings. These surroundings vary, of course, depending on the time of day and so forth; but they always include the Tram Lady, other passengers, and various interesting noises and smells.

The Tram Lady is a voice — the same on every tram — that at each stop announces the stop name, the line number, and the tram’s final destination. Always helpful, the Tram Lady makes sure that everyone knows where he’s going. In many ways, she makes my ride around town more interesting; be it in the morning, afternoon, or night. For one, she has an uplifting voice; she never fails to sound overjoyed about the tram’s latest stop. On the days when I get up early the Tram Lady’s cheerful announcements are almost comforting, despite my fatigue. On the other hand, she’s just loud and insistent enough to keep me awake when I’m alone on a late-night tram.

The Tram Lady — like many parts of Nantes life — also amuses me, though I don’t see the same reaction in the other tram passengers. It may be that the others are too wrapped up in their mp3 players and cell phones — or their mp3-playing cell phones — to notice the humor in some of her announcements. However, I discussed with my host family several statements made by the Tram Lady, and they approved them as funny. For example, on Line 1 going west the most common “terminus,” or ending point, is called Francois Mitterand. When I get on a tram with this destination, the Tram Lady announces, “Ligne 1, Terminus: Francois Mitterand!” There is, however, a different terminus for Line 1, called Jamet (pronounced “jah-may”). This name happens to be pronounced the exact same way as the French word “jamais,” which means “never.” So, several times a week I’ll get on a tram only to hear the Tram Lady announce something that sounds like, “Line 1, ending point: Never!” Needless to say, the first time I heard this I was slightly scared about whether or not I’d ever be able to get off the tram.

The second-place prize in my list of the Tram Lady’s funny statements goes to the stop on Line 2 called Cinquante Otages. The stop is right next to a monument recognizing members of the French Resistance who were taken hostage and/or killed by German soldiers in 1941. In English, the stop’s name means “Fifty Hostages”. Because of the subject matter I don’t feel comfortable publicly giggling about it, but I can’t deny it’s pretty amusing to hear the Tram Lady say, very happily, “Fifty Hostages!” when we reach the stop.

One of the tram’s few frustrating components is also something I find amusing, depending on which role I play in the scenario. At each stop, the tram stays in place for several moments, waiting for passengers to get off and on. After these few moments, the tram locks its doors, stays put for another second or two, and then continues. Now, if someone is in a hurry to get somewhere, and he’s not quite at the tram stop yet, he’ll start running as soon as they see the tram coming. This sometimes makes him look ridiculous, but it’s worth it to not sit around waiting for the next tram. However, this situation can get a whole lot worse. Sometimes someone will run to the stop to catch the tram, and he’ll make it there before the tram continues. He’ll be so happy that he made it on time. But then when he presses the button to open the door, it doesn’t open. It’s too late; the tram has locked its doors and sits there just for a split second longer: enough to really make the would-be passenger both frustrated and embarrassed. For me, this situation is hilarious, though again it’s not something I laugh about out loud. Of course it’s embarrassing when it happens to me, so I try to avoid it at all costs.

Overall, I really enjoy the tram, but not for the reasons I thought I would. Sure, it’s convenient: it takes me wherever I want to go, and there are stops right by my house, my school, and the place I play Frisbee every Thursday. I think when I’m back in Appleton, I’ll miss not only this convenience but also the small amusements it provides.