Enter any Metro station and there you will find what appears to be all of the city's aspiring musicians and singers. Some of them are quite talented actually. Others make up for what they lack in talent by exuding a charm that is endearing. The rest are simply dreadful. These performers don't confine themselves to only the tunnels and hallways within the Metro system. They also perform for their captive audiences on the Metro trains. And that is the difference between Paris' Metro and San Francisco's BART: I have never seen anyone perform on an actual BART train with the intent of receiving a charitable contribution.
Another noticeable difference: my observations indicate that Parisians are much more charitable towards struggling musicians and singers than their U.S. counterparts. I have seen some performances that would make the worst of the worst American Idol auditions look like Grammy winners. The performances run the gamut: country, opera, rap, soul, Russian folk music, jazz- you name it, you'll eventually hear it- good, bad, and downright ghastly. And yet, for their effort, even these awful performers receive donations every time as they make their collection rounds on the train following their set. The sound of coins clinking at the bottom of a cup is almost as commonplace as the sound of the train doors opening and closing. Apparently, performing in the bowels of the public transportation system in a socialist country is not a bad way to earn a euro or two. People here take care of people in ways we just don't see back home.
The performers are very polite, as is the French custom. They greet the passengers verbally, "Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs," before launching into their set which can range from one to a few songs. Sometimes, they work in tandem- one person performs, the other collects. Many are accompanied by a portable microphone, amplifier, and speaker unit on wheels. Sometimes, just a boom box. Upon conclusion of their set they take their cup, hat, or even tambourine and thrust it towards the passengers hoping (expecting?) a monetary contribution. I have found myself fantasizing about what would happen if I contributed something other than money? My used tissue, a chewing gum wrapper, maybe even the chewed gum? Tomorrow, I can make use of my transit time by cleaning out my purse and throwing away my discards when they approach me. Just kidding. My usual tactic is to avoid eye contact at all times with any performer. I actually have given a few handouts. Not because they were good performances or extra charming, but because they spied me videotaping them (I try to go incognito by pretending my Flip video camera is a cell phone). I don't feel obliged to give them money when I am held captive and forced to listen, but in these instances of filming, I have, at that point, crossed into official audience status and a handout feels necessary.
I think I know how I'm going to earn some extra euros. I will put Nola and Raelyn to work on the Metro and create a new niche of child labor in Paris. I will equip them with a boom box blasting Katy Perry songs that they can sing along with. Mama has found her meal ticket.
Here are some performance highlights. They are short, partial clips. Be sure to have your sound up and enjoy for free on me.
Video #1: Take note of the male passenger's mistake- he makes eye contact- Doh!
Video #2: This gal gets around. I've seen her perform a few times- always the same song. She's the one-hit wonder of the Metro.
Video #3: The lonesome cowboy.
Video # 4: The holiday spirit got the best of me so these guys made some money off me.
Video #5: My all-time personal favorite is this enthusiastic rendition of Hava Nagila. Notice the female passenger in the foreground enjoying herself for a very brief moment. I felt compelled to tear a seat from its floor bolts and hoist the guy up for the Jewish chair dance, but I don't posses the strength.