I have never lived in a city where mass transit was an accepted mode of travel. I've been on a New York City subway, I've ridden on trains in Chicago and Philadelphia, and I've taken a taxi or two in my life, but that is about it. These last two weeks in Paris have been a great way to learn the mass transit life. First and foremost, I've learned that getting on the right line is not as important as getting on in the right direction. Learn the final destinations of your lines, and you'll have no trouble switching from line to line. Our main line is the number 4 metro, which either heads towards Porte d'Orleans, or it goes in the other direction, towards Porte de Clignancourt. I've never been to either of these stops, but I know which way they are. We've learned that the Metro is very fast, often crowded, but easy to use. The people have always been polite and we've never felt that it was dangerous or anything. We take care to watch our pockets, but there has never been a problem of that nature so far. It is fun to watch the locals as they settle in and read books amidst the crush and bustle. They are often carrying groceries home in the evening. It is almost always relaxed and I've never seen an unkind act or heard a harsh word. Young men will give up their seat for the older ladies (or the pretty ones too!). Many parents ride with their kids. I will add that we've never been on it very late at night. I cannot attest to the atmosphere then.
I'm learning bus lines too. The 95, 84, 96, and 69 run around our neighborhood in various directions and making crazy turns in these narrow Left Bank streets. I usually use an Internet cheat to plan our routes for the day, but I'm learning to improvise. We like the buses; they are less crowded, and the pace is more to our style. Also, you can watch the Paris streets (and people) go by. Today, we learned a new form of this commuter madness: the RER. These trains are bigger, with more room and nicer seats, two decks for passengers, and these big trains go very slow. At least they seem to, since they stop so often and it takes them awhile to get going. We used the RER C train to get to Versailles. It helps to learn how to read the maps provided on the interiors of the trains/metros/buses. Then, pay attention to where you are in the city, and listen to the French chick who says each stop out loud. I don't understand her, until I look at the map, then I see which words match up with what she said. It is a great way to learn the language. Even Jennifer loves to hear the pronunciations of the bus-stops. I would never have been able to guess how to pronounce Barbes- Rochechouart. If you want to hear the proper pronunciation, just ride the number 4 train from Denfert-Rochereau to Marcadet-Poissonniers and listen carefully. You'll hear her say it near the end of your trip. Then take the steps up out of the Metro and enjoy the city wherever you happen to pop out.