TGFGM (Thank God For Google Maps)

In The Art of Travel, 2. Getting oriented, Paris by Zoe1 Comment

Twelve blocks down, one over. 15th Street and Union Square West to West 4th Street and Washington Square East. Home to class and back again – with maybe a slice of pizza thrown in in either direction. Easy as that.

Paris, though, is different. No more grid system with sensical numbers and East/West. Instead, Rue Brillat-Savarin to Boulevard Saint-Germain takes… a train? In college, I’ve never lived more than a ten-minute walk to campus but here, I take the RER B train six stops to the Notre Dame exit. I do feel like pretty darn cool whenever I whip out my Navigo – the equivalent of a monthly unlimited metro pass – although my wallet doesn’t seem to feel that same cool-ness. A necessary “evil,” I suppose. It’s an odd stress if I can even call it that, commuting to class. I’m jammed in like a small sardine every morning at armpit level of most of the other commuters on the train. (I’m short). Will I make it on the train? Probably. Will I be pushed by eager and busy commuters? Definitely. Is it still fun? Yep.

It’s a decompressing experience, a relatively quiet one. As an American, that has been a funny part of the commute – I find that my friends and I are practically the only ones who talk on the train, relatively loudly at that. But people here also aren’t buried in their phones like in New York or even reading books. Headphones, sure, but they’re just there, looking up and everpresent. Public transportation is always fascinating, even in New York. You’re within feet, maybe inches, of people who you don’t know and probably will never know. They lead lives drastically different than yours, ones that you’ll likely never get to understand, even though they’re so close in proximity for at least a few fleeting moments. There’s a common path but what’s their destination? So many people, so little space, so little time. Maybe next time I’ll try striking up a conversation with my broken French in an attempt to amend that, even with one person.

Anyways, the arrondissement system in Paris is something admittedly I still do not understand. There are twenty different administrative sections of the city (called “arrondissements”) that are arranged in a clockwise spiral within the  “snail shell” of Paris. It starts in the middle on the Right Bank, which is by the Louvre, and circles around the city. My dorm is in the 13th and school is in the 5th. The 13th, amongst a few other arrondissements, were new additions within the Haussmannian era as an expansion effort in the 1850’s, as per my Urban Ethnography class. It’ll take some getting used to but for now, thank goodness for Google Maps. Aside from my first-day catastrophe of a dead phone and no knowledge of getting around, I’ve been getting lost a lot less than expected. I can even sort of get around without a map, which is a big feat for the girl who tried going to Brooklyn on the subway and ended up deep in the Bronx. Onwards and upwards.

(Image: Neon Map of Paris ; Source:


  1. Zoe, I totally feel the same about Google Maps, it’s such a godsend since I feel like each day I get worse and worse at figuring out how to get from one place to another. I also agree about the train situation, how its just college kids talking loudly and everyone else is in their own little sphere without smartphones. And then German people do this thing where they sort of look at you out of curiosity and then you make weird eye contact but like the German person doesn’t actually want to talk to you, then they go back to their thing.

    Also one thing that I really like is having a tiny fold-up pocket map of the city in my wallet, like those ones that tourists get at hotels in those brochure racks. Its always a nice thing to have a backup if my phone dies, and sometimes I feel like I learn a place better if I’m looking at a big map that doesn’t have a search button.

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