Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français


I’ve just returned from a trip to Paris and the south of France with 11 wonderful students from my school. They did themselves, their school, and their families proud by receiving compliments for their good manners wherever we went. Our flight attendant on the return leg yesterday said that they restored her faith in the future generations. Well done, mes amis!


When I would ask them about their favorite part of our trip, many of them made an identical comment, “I loved Monaco. It was so clean!” I must admit; this cut me a little. Monaco isn’t even in France! I find it boring and artificial. I do have to admit, however, they were right. Monaco was sparkling clean and France looked a little shabby by comparison. We took the train a lot, hopping from one town on the Côte d’Azur to another. I hadn’t been there for five years – was the graffiti as bad back then or did I only notice it now that I saw it through the eyes of my students? And I don’t mean “artistic” graffiti, but gang tags scrawled in spray paint. One train car’s windows were almost totally obscured by the filth. The areas around the stations, too, could most charitably be described as “sketchy.” “Stick closely together!” the other teacher and I chorused, as we steered our gaggle of sheltered suburban students past sex shops, drunken men, and vaguely menacing groups of teenagers. “All areas around train stations are sketchy, ” I intoned sagely.

Gare de Monaco France

Hah! Then there was Monaco. The station was a symphony of marble. The area around the station looked like a Disney theme park. And the principauté itself sparkled. No graffiti. Anywhere.

The SNCF or Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français (sew-see-ay-tay na-see-on-al day shuhmahn duh fair franseh) is very aware of the problem and spends millions cleaning trains and stations each year, but they are clearly out-gunned by an army of taggers armed with spray paint.

untitledOn the train line that connects Paris to Versailles, however, (the RER C), they’ve come up with a wonderful alternative to graffiti. The interiors of the train cars have been transformed to look like rooms from the château. Ornate paintings and golden sculptures adorn every surface. One even has a faux library. Seven different areas  of the royal chateau and its grounds are represented,  including the Hall of Mirrors, the Gallery of Battles and Marie-Antoniette’s  estate. The transformation was created by layering the interior walls of the train with a high-tech plastic  film. I hope it’s graffiti proof.

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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