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January 11, 2011



by soundlandscapes

I USED TO BE AN aficionado of the London Underground – or the Tube as they call it over there. I prided myself on being able to travel around London on the Underground with ease and without having to use a map.

Not any more I’m afraid. After twelve years of living in Paris, most of what I used to know about the London Underground appears to have been consigned to some dark corner of my brain, seemingly lost forever.

I was though, reacquainted with my old friend some time ago on a visit to London. Everything seemed to be much as I remembered it. That is to say, everything except the incessant security and health and safety announcements that were quite new to me and which seemed to pollute every corner of every station.Out of this maelstrom of new sounds, one stood out from all the others – “MIND THE GAP!”

It seems that, presumably in the interests of the great God, Health and Safety, or more likely, to protect the Underground authorities from litigious passengers, someone has decided that passengers or, as I believe we are called these days, customers, must be warned of the danger of falling down the gap between the train and the platform. Hence the public address announcement – “MIND THE GAP!”

Health a Safety and litigious customers travel with the wind so, not surprisingly, “MIND THE GAP!, has travelled across La Manche to the Paris Metro – although, as so often, the French do it far more elegantly.

“MIND THE GAP! – The French Way:

As always, The French use three words for every one word in English so “MIND THE GAP!” becomes, “Attention a la marche en descendant du train” – more of a request than a command.

The question is: “What constitutes a gap?”  And how big does the gap have to be to warrant an official warning to the great travelling public? Who decides?

This gap at the Metro Station Concorde on Line 1 warrants a warning, as does a similar gap at Charles de Gaulle – Etoille. Several other platforms have a similar warning but the same gap on other Metro station platforms do not. Why?

Is there “gap” prejudice?

As so often in France, a fonctionnaire in an office somewhere, appointed but not elected, clearly has the supreme authority to determine the course of our lives – to authorise whether or not the travelling public should be warned to “MIND THE GAP!”

Line 1 from Tuilleries to Concorde – including advice about “pickpockets” and, of course, “MIND THE GAP!

Wherever you travel, stay safe and, above all, “MIND THE GAP!” – with or without a warning!

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Peter (the Other)
    Jan 23 2011

    Just watch out when they start calling you “guest”, as they do now in the states. A customer can have some expectations, a “customer” can always be right. A customer pays and therefor has respect. A “guest” might rightly be expected to behave properly, not complain, be grateful and understanding (or so it seems I was somehow instilled with this kind of behavior). In commercial matters, I prefer being a customer. When most transportation systems were publicly owned, passengers were really a kind of inspecting owner citizen, an employer. When they were privatized, the lawyers rubbed their hands together in glee, for they make money winning or losing, coming or going in these fields of litigation.

    Over here in LA you get “The city of Vernon has spent more than $54 million on lawyers in the last five years… “ and that is for a city of 100 citizens! No, you don’t want to fall in to the gap.

  2. Jan 27 2011

    Very nice binaural recordings there, Des. The standard warning in London used to be ‘Mind the doors please!’ and this was put to humorous use in the 1970s Hammer horror film ‘Death Line’. A degenerate, cannibalistic family lurk in the nether reaches of the Underground and are the descendants of Victorian railway workers. One of them croaks ‘Mind the doors!’ as a kind of war-cry.

    • Jan 27 2011

      Thanks Ian,

      I thought the contrast between the Tube and the Metro was interesting.


  3. Pascal
    Apr 18 2011

    Actually, some stations of the Paris metro have only a small curved section at one end of the platform. This is the case in Concorde for instance. Hence the “Attention à la marche” sentence! I guess that you have to warn “customers” even if it concerns only one carriage!


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