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The (failed) art of giving directions

I was recently catching up on Episode 2 of The France Project (it’s all about stereotypes) and right near the start, an Indian guy interviewed by Katia talked about helpfulness of people in giving directions. Instead of feeling all nice and fuzzy that Paris came across so positively , I actually started to feel guilty.

No, no, I have not been rude and ignoring requests for help.

My guilt lies in that I felt I haven’t always given them the best advices.

For some reason, it’s common for me to be asked for directions. On the streets, at the bus stops, in métro stations, by tourists or otherwise. Frédéric reckons I look unthreatening (I would hope so!) so easier to approach, while another friend thinks I look as if I know where I’m going so who else to ask for directions?

But every so often, after despatching what I thought was reasonable advices (they were definitely not wrong), as soon as the person left, I mentally smacked myself – I have just thought of a better alternative to get to wherever they wanted to go, or a cheaper mode of transportations, or prettier walking route, etc.

Case No 1: A group of 4 girls (English speaking) were at the #72 bus stop called Pont d’Iéna and looking for direction to get to Moulin Rouge. Given trying to take #72 and then a connection bus could be complicated (e.g. connect to #80 at Alma Marceau, or #67 or #74 at Louvre-Rivoli, then having to walk from the closest bus stop to Moulin Rouge) I suggested they take a métro at Trocadéro to Blanche via a connection at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. That should take them right in front of Moulin Rouge. What I’ve completely forgotten was there is a direct bus #30 from Trocadéro to Blanche, which would be a lot more interesting to take than seeing the underground tunnels of the métros.

Case No 2: At bus stop of St Michel-St Germain, a woman (French speaking) asked for direction to RER A. I told her the closest station would be at Châtelet-Les Halles. She then pondered if she can take bus #21 which was stopping there. On a quick reflection, sure, #21 goes to Châtelet. Split-second advice like that was the worse kind I could have given. Anyone who has been to Châtelet and thereabout knows what a labyrinth it could be! I should have told her to go round the corner and catch RER B (station St Michel-Notre Dame) to Châtelet-Les Halles, before swapping for RER A. That way she would be less likely to get lost in Châtelet, and it would have been cheaper too, since RER B to RER A transfers can be done on the same ticket, whereas bus to RER means using at least 2 tickets. But she has already left, with a husband and two young children in tow… (guilt multiplied a gazillion-fold!)

Should I stop giving directions to people, especially if they seem to be in hurry? I get flustered very easily under such circumstances and would clumsily point them in the first direction that occurs to me, be it the best option or not. Then again, if I don’t practice more often the effortless wave to point out certain direction, I’m never going to achieve (what’s in my head) the persona of a chic knowledgeable Parisienne-wannabe ;)

I guess that means I’ll stay the non-threatening everyday girl on the street/at the bus stop etc. But there’s always one question that remains: how do I stop myself from feeling guilty over giving correct but sub-optimal answers?



Category: Paris, People

Tagged: , ,

10 scribbles & notes

  1. medca says:

    hmmm…i think all u need to do is run through your first reaction directions in your mind first and then only blurt it out hehehe…maybe by then it would be the correct version ;)

    else whip out google map kekeke

    • Lil says:

      ah but there’s so many different possibilities. even i sometimes hum and hawing over which route i should take! but when giving directions, i need to try to keep it simple. matching simple and efficient, that would take me a bit more time to ponder…

  2. nuttycat says:

    I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself about not remembering bus/subway routes properly – especially if they aren’t routes you frequent. The person asking you should be aware that asking for directions carries an element of risk (They ask for Rome, you send them to Germany :P )

    Ideas: (low effort): Add a disclaimer to directions that someone at the bus/train station counters may have better suggestions. ;)

    Idea: (high effort): Find a concise route map of the subway/buses – print them back to back, make a bunch of copies and keep a couple with you at all times. Next time you are asked for directions, whip out one of these, mark the route you mean, and give it to the person! (I’ve on occasion done it in grad school with handing out a black and white copy of the campus map to the lost person.)

    • Lil says:

      well… i did send them to rome, just in horse carriages sometimes :p

      i like your idea on whipping out transportation maps. and i won’t even have to print them since ratp gives out those babies for free. now i just need to go and grab a few from different stations so they don’t think i’m a crazy map hogging lady!

  3. Katia says:

    I can’t stop laughing. I LOVE the fact that this made you feel this way ;) Which just goes to show that you must be a NICE person because you wouldn’t feel so bad if you weren’t ;)
    I have GIVEN and BEEN GIVEN bad directions. Sometimes I’ve found myself eavesdropping on conversations to make sure that OTHER people are giving the correct directions, and last week I chased after a Brazilian couple who were heading the wrong way to Saint Germain after a French couple misunderstood their question ;) It all equals out in the end :)

  4. Ann Mah says:

    Ha ha — I’m always so flattered when someone asks me for directions (they think I’m French!) that I often get over-excited and tell them the wrong thing. I’m so glad I’m not the only one accidentally leading tourists in circles around the city.

    • Lil says:

      most of the time i was asked by the french too! even the presence of a frenchman next to me didn’t help to deflect the question to him, which is just as well, since he’s a velib’ kind of guy and knows nothing of the bus lines and little of the metro/RER, hehehe…

  5. sila says:

    you need to perfect the gallic shrug and noncommittal grunt :) or else start speaking malay “maaf, tak tahu, tolong tanya orang lain”

    • Lil says:

      lol… i need to work on gallic shrug at some point indeed. but not for this purpose. i want people to like and to enjoy paris as much as possible!

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