This is our TGV from Gare de Lyon to Annecy. Beware: if your train is scheduled to leave at (say) 14:50, it will leave at the start of the minute of departure, not at the end. (We had about 15 minutes to spare.)

We're sitting on a TER train travelling between Chambéry and Lyon. (It's travelling at a leisurely 160km/h, well below the TGV's top of 300+km/hr.)

Thanks to my obsessive reading of how French Trains work, I was able to guide ourselves through the correct process: buying tickets from the machine that used a big green wheel with a bullseye button to navigate, validating the ticket as you entered the platform (using the yellow validators, keeping it well to the left, etc..)

Once we sat down there were various announcements in French, including several telling you that if you had been unfortunate enough to be unable to validate your tickets as you passed by the six validation machines at the entrance, could you please kindly draw this to the attention of your conductor so that he could validate your ticket without penalty.

None of this seemed to be possible for the woman sitting in the seat near to us.

Here's the conversation she had with the conductor thirty minutes into the journey:

C: Your ticket hasn't been validated.
W: Sorry, I didn't have time.
C: So why didn't you tell me?
W: I thought I should wait until you asked.
C: I walked past you as I came up and down the carriage, maybe ten times.
 (Here does a little dance to simulate walking up and down, with a big smile on his face). That's when you were supposed to tell me.
C: And this is a ticket for a TGV, not a TER.
C: And it's a ticket for yesterday, not today
C: Oh well, I'll validate it for you without a penalty.
C: But really, you'll need to move down from first class to second, since it isn't a first class ticket.
W: Oh, is this first class?
C: (He gives her a funny look, but he's still very relaxed.)
W: (She leaves. She doesn't try to return. I think she realises that there is a limit to the conductor's good humour.)

At the expense of having one (or two?) conductors on the train, this process is much more civilised than Melbourne's packs of ticket inspectors. Had you dashed onto the train - ticketless - with ten seconds to go, the SNCF would have quite happily sold you a ticket after you boarded the train (at a slightly higher price.) These people want you to travel by train. They don't want to turn you into criminals.

Point of information one: These trains leave at the start of their scheduled minute. A train scheduled for 11:00am will depart close to 11:00:00. If you get to the platform at 11:00:59, you're probably too late.

Point of information two: The difference between first class and second on TER seems minor, except the seats are covered in soft fabric instead of plastic, and you get to see women in tracksuit pants being kicked out. There are also some power points.

Point of information three: Our carriage has a little picture of a sleepy phone. Before we started we were told that we should avoid phone calls except in cases of extreme urgency. A gentleman near us has stepped outside of the compartment each time he has received a phone call. Very civilised.

Point of information four: Internal doors on French Trains make a pshhhh noise, just like those on the Starship Heart of Gold. Thankfully they're not made by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, so they don't try to chat with you.

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Anthony Holmes September 29th, 2011 06:47:11 AM