Sun sets in Paris : Parisian subway

Allie Lang Qin is a chinese exchange student who studied at Fudan University in Shanghai until 2011 which enabled her to spend a year in the US. She starded a Master in sociology at the University of Tsinghua in Beijing and decided to enjoy our french and parisian way of life. She tells what strikes her the most. In chinese, Qin means « sun ». That’s why we entitle this column, Sun sets in Paris – and we appreciate the play on words !


As a newcomer in Paris from China, I have been strongly touched during the first 3 weeks by the musician beggars (I call them) in all metros of Paris. In my opinion, it’s them who have made Parisian metros the most attractive in the world. Compared with beggars in Beijing subway, they bring enjoyable music to tourists along the journey rather than noise.

In Beijing, the subways might be the most crowed place. At rush hour, there is no room for beggars to come. Beggars could only start to work after the rush hour in the morning. So they are luckier than Chinese businesswomen or businessmen. But when they start to work, the Beijing subway changes to an unpleasant place for tourists to stay because What they do is only begging without any pleasant acts. Most of them are old or disabled people or kids. Sometimes, those disabled people are fake. To do this is just to gain compassion from people around. About 10 years ago, Chinese people might still hope to help these beggars, but more and more fake disabled beggars have harmed social trust. So far, almost no beggars could make a good living in China. As a sociological student, I am always thinking about the problem bothering beggars in China. Despite institutional aspects (too boring to be discussed here), one reason is mentioned that social trust has been harmed by fake disabled beggars. Second reason could be known by comparing beggars in Beijing subways and in Paris metros.

The first time I saw a beggar in Parisian Line 6, I did not think the man was a beggar! He was playing saxophone with a partner. The music from his saxophone is so fascinating. All tourists looked like audiences in a grand theater, enjoying the music quietly and smiling at the musician. The musician played 3 songs. Before La Motte Picquet Grenelle, his partner began to beg for money. Till then, I realized they were beggars. But I would like to call them musician beggars. With no doubt, I gave them 1 euro. I have not given money to beggars in China during recent a few years. How could the musician beggar play such beautiful music? I gave money not because they were begging, not because of my compassion, but because they did bring enjoyment and great moment to my journey in the metro so they deserved the money! They did not fake anything, but took advantage of their talent and brought joy to people around.

That day was a surprising day. I met musician beggars in every metro line during my journey! Besides the saxophone beggar, I met a musician beggar playing accordion. I thought that “wow I already met 2 musician beggars so it seems I have special link with music today. I will give 2 euros if I meet the third one to demonstrate this link”. Then I met an other musician beggar! He was using some exotic musical instruments such as a very small guitar, a special bell and a kind of harmonica. Five minutes later, he even began to sing! I could read his journey in deserts and his longtime lonely from his voice. What a surprise! I did not know how it worked, but his voice did open a gate to link me with his history! I already reached the destination but he did not finish his song, so I had to disrupt him and “begged” him to take the 2 euros.

Those musician beggars in Parisian metros has been bringing amazing moment and experience to my journey around this city. But it does happen in Paris. The biggest difference between Parisian musician beggars and their counterparts in Beijing is that they could bring joy to you and actually you do not pay for their begging activity, but pay for their music, the enjoyments and your own great moment. You are not a donor any more, but an audience. You are not who is subjected to condemnation if not giving money, but who could get smile back from the “musicians” and from your own peace. This is my feeling about the musician beggars. The feeling about beggars in Beijing subways is totally opposite. I hope one day in my motherland, there also could be musician in the subways, not begging for compassion, but earning money by moving people. If so, it will be a historical victory for my country and my people.

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