I have changed myself into a bus commuter these days. I realized that the French public RATP bus system is really quite good – a bit slower but much less stressful than the Parisian metro – and I get to see Paris unfold before me on my way to work. I always take the same line at about the same time so I have started to run into the same faces. Some of these familiar faces even share a polite nod of acknowledgement with me. Some of them don’t. The Bus Whisperer is one of them.
A Self-Appointed Chastiser
The Bus Whisperer is a 60-ish ordinary-looking, French lady who I suspect is retired and doesn’t want to admit it. She rides the “92” bus around 8:30 AM Monday through Friday and has taken it upon herself to enforce cell phone etiquette (as if such a thing existed). She chastises offenders with a sharp whisper like a parochial school nun would use on her students light years ago. I bowed to her self-imposed authority the first time she got me.
“Psstt, Madame,” she whispered. “Vous n’etes pas toute seule ici!” Basically, she was telling me that I wasn’t alone on the bus, which is French for “Shut the hell up!” Her comment surprised me in the way it made me think of my third grade teacher Sister Mary Humilitas. I hung up on my boss immediately and texted him an apology. I also put my phone on “silent”. The Bus Whisperer was satisfied, grinning smug, righteous satisfaction. I had made her day.
Her Daily Yell
Since then, I have witnessed her whispering technique on several occasions. She’s pretty good at what she does. I have even come to enjoy it since it helps pass the time on the way to work (now that I don’t dare to talk on my cell phone). She gets to yell at someone almost daily. I watch her closely and can almost predict, to the second, when she will jump in. Some people give her dirty mind-your-own-business looks but that doesn’t stop her at all. She continues to harass them, her whispers increasing in sound and intensity. The Bus Whisperer ultimately wins.
When Whispers Come to Blows
The Bus Whisperer met her match one day in the form of an arrogant French teen-age girl who would not bow to her authority. The girl was talking quite loudly that morning so this time I was on the Bus Whisperer’s side. She ignored about four of the lady’s searing whispers and then interrupted her conversation (but not ending it) to tell the Whisperer to go do you-know-what to herself.
The Bus Whisperer got out of her seat. All the passengers (about 20 or so) turned their heads to watch how this conflict would play out.
And play out it did. When she realized that the girl would not yield to her whispery warnings, the Bus Whisperer got louder. She made a bee-line for the offender and pushed her towards the door. She yelled about the teen-ager not respecting her fellow passengers. The teen-ager yelled back – calling her a crazy old lady who should leave her alone; mind her own business. The fiery exchange lasted about two minutes. The driver kept driving; the passengers kept watching and the ladies kept yelling.
And the Whisperer Wins!
The Bus Whisperer pushed the girl harder and harder. No one stepped in to stop her. When we came to the next stop, the adolescent hopped off quicker than an Easter bunny. I’m sure it wasn’t her stop, but, to her credit, she could not push the Bus Whisperer back. She took the high road and left, cursing all the while. The Bus Whisperer put a snarly grin on her face. Someone’s cell phone rang. No one answered.