More haptic than thou? : The sense of touch in Paris vs London:

Grateful Graduate Project: Reasons 213-217


How much of the sensory experience of living in cities, and in Paris and  London in particular, engage the sense of touch?  Or, in more convoluted academic language, how much of the experience of navigating cities is ‘haptic’ (related to the the sense of touch)? And, between Paris and London which of the two places is more haptic than the other?

In fact, on a more basic level, how does touch actually enhance the experience of  being in a place? Does it  actually enhance  the memory of being in an urban space and make our narratives  of lives lived in great cities richer?

Touch suggests proximity – and cities are often spaces where distance is enforced at any given chance. We can engage our sight, our ears, but touching is more of a contentious sense to deploy.

One would be hard pressed to find many opportunities to be tactile in Paris and London, apart from a few instances :

1. There are the metro and underground experiences in both Paris and London’s that depend on touch – from the use of touch screens to purchase tickets and recharge Oyster cards/ NAVIGO cards, to validating entry/exit onto the metro/RER/ underground. Movement and mobility is interestingly made possible through the sense of touch. I am grateful to have that simple capacity of touch – in as much as it makes it possible to  experience movement within the city with little inconvenience.

2.   The ability of passengers to regulate traffic flows at intersections in London depends on a system of buttons. Once again, the sense of touch plays a role in regulating movement albeit in a very small way.

3. Summoning elevators in some of Paris’s metros and in several of London’s underground stations  (as a matter of course) depends on touch, a tactile  press of the button. Once again, the sense of touch makes movement, displacement, possible.

4. The side rails of staircases  are also a part of the city’s furnishings that we all get to touch as we navigate our way through the city…

But beyond these surfaces, the  social spaces of Paris and London have rules about touching and contact with other people, I am particularly thankful for (5) a more tactile Paris.  Hugs,  air kisses and more direct forms of kissing are more acceptable than in London( I’ve almost leaned into give the double kiss in London to only meet very bewildered and horrified facial expressions).

As the experience of studying in these two places becomes a deeper and more enjoyable experience, I hope to explore more of how touch shapes the experience of urban physical and social space. As it stands, haptic sense is  vital to enabling one to move within the city by having access to public transportation. I am grateful to have a functional sense of touch and that it enhances my capacity to be mobile.  More than that, I am thankful for the rules that govern social life in Paris – you get more human contact through touch, which is also an important way of feeling connected to a space.