Today after lunch I hopped onto the Bus 83 at the Place d’Italie. I always try and make an effort to say bonjour to the driver when I enter at the front of the bus (on the longer buses you can enter through the rear doors), but today the driver beat me to it, giving a boisterous “bonjour, bonjour” to each person as we validated our passes. I noticed it, but didn’t think too much about it. After all, it was a gorgeous, sunny day, why not be in a good mood?
The driver of Bus 83 waving goodbye to the passengers who just disembarked.
But as the bus made its way along the Avenue des Gobelins, the driver starts talking cheerfully to the crowded bus:
(my rough translation into Franglais)
“The next stop is ‘Banquier’, but don’t bother going to the bank, c’est la crise.”
“On your left is the Manufacture des Gobelins, where they still make tapestries.”
A woman who got on with me says to the man next to her, “He’s giving commentary?” “Ah, oui!” he responds with a smile.
Each time we stop to let more passengers on, he gives each one the same friendly hello. A few give him a suspicious eye, then can’t help but notice that all of the passengers are smiling. Candid camera?
We pass the Hotel Lutetia (“that’s where the Germans stayed when they occupied Paris in WWII”) and the Bon Marché (“it used to be ‘bon marché’ to shop there, but today it has nothing to do with that”). I’m leaving out a lot of the fun facts he gave us, but as a guide I must say that he certainly knew his history. As we approach Solferino, he asks if anyone needs to stop before Pont de la Concorde. No one says yes, so he turns the bus right and announces that we’re taking a deviation. An elderly woman who has just boarded asks why.
“Un petit parenthèse touristique!” he responds. “You’ll see here on the Rue Solferino, that on your right there are buildings, and on the left there are more buildings. Mais oui, c’est Paris; c’est normal.”
As we turn onto the Quai he points out the National Assembly and the Pont Alexandre III, which is his favorite bridge but “could use a bit of a clean-up.” To this one of the passengers replies, “But they just cleaned it two years ago, look how shiny the golden statues are!” They banter back and forth a bit, then the driver leans out his window to chastise a driver who is trying to perform some illegal maneuvers.
As he drops off passengers, they exit at the rear of the bus (amazing how well-behaved we all are now) and wave to him as they pass by the driver’s door. He waves back. Everyone’s happy.
When I see a Parisian friend of mine later in the day, I recount my ride, musing that maybe someone hijacked the bus, since I’ve never seen a city bus driver give sightseeing commentary. He tells me how the same thing happened to him on bus 38 the week before, and that the driver actually quizzed the passengers on different historic sites they passed, teasing the ones who got the wrong answers or cheated by asking others for the answers. “I think the drivers get depressed because no one ever talks to them,” he says. “Maybe they’re being encouraged to interact with the public more now.”
The thing I like most about this is that, as most longtime Parisians know, it’s easy to forget what a beautiful city this is and how lucky we are to be able to have the views we do as part of our daily commute around town. I hope they keep it up!
Have any of you encountered a particularly friendly city bus driver in Paris?