Secret Cycling Society of Paris
City of lights, sights, and sites but cycling?
When you move to a new city, people tell you it takes time to integrate. You find places to “break in”; clubs, organizations, work, activities, etc.
What they don’t tell you is that some societies are more closed than others.
Another thing they don’t tell you is that you integrate in levels. Similar to Mario Kart: you gain cooler tools and vehicles for your integration road, so to say. (Perhaps more on this in another article…)
A society revered (perhaps feared) by all is the cyclists of Paris. In a conversation with one newly immigrated Parisienne, she stated “riding a bike here is committing suicide”.
In another conversation with another newly immigrated Parisienne discussing the possibility of riding a bike here the reflection was “it’s way too intimidating” even for one who knows how ride a bike.
But what is it that makes riding a bike scary in Paris? Perhaps the cyclist promoting initiatives of Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris which have increased the use of bikes on the streets of Paris.
From personal experience, the most intimidating aspect of cycling in Paris is the secret society of the activity. What is this secret society? Ok. well not exactly a “secret society” but rather the mimicry of cycling in Paris to a society. It includes an initiation period, a nonverbal code, and a kinship into a community, thus integrating one beyond just the status of living in Paris.
One must pass the initiation period, which is just to have the nerve to get on a bike and dare to ride in the bike lanes. Which, with full disclosure, are not excluded to bikes. Unknowing pedestrians, scooter-riders, the occasional roller-blader, and drivers (yes of cars) may inhabit such lanes. Not to mention the pace of cyclists. This ranges from Tour de France level to your local french grandma (which are NOT slow…). Needless to say, the pace ranges from fast to fastest.
Once one has surpassed the initiation period, and one will know once they stop looking at the Eiffel Tower every time it’s in view and stop taking photos of every monument they see on their journey, one moves to learning the nonverbal code. Once one can pass without engaging in such behavior, one will know they are passed initiation.
The nonverbal code is difficult to gage, and I imagine, varies on the experience of the cyclist. It’s as subtle as a nod or eye contact with a fellow crazy cyclist. Perhaps a toothy smile from a properly geared cyclist to one not properly geared but properly drenched from the Paris downpour. Or even a nod when a fellow cyclist flicks of a car who runs a red light. The nonverbal code constitutes the interactions of the society which connect this community.
The final level is the acceptance of kinship. It’s the silence while waiting in lines for the pedestrian light to turn green, the pedaling among dozens of commuters in a parade along the Seine at 8 am in the morning. It’s a comfort that one finds freedom from ones daily tasks to fly, to connect to ones humanity, to ones own being, to ones city.
And one doesn’t have to speak a word of french….