Public Transport Marketing has Failed Montreal and Istanbul Alike

A lot of travel writing engages fairly safe themes such as “underneath our different exterior, we’re all basically the same,” “I connected with locals so deeply even though I only met them for a few hours or days,” and “look at this beautiful nature and how cheap the booze is. You too can live such a glamorous life, and set yourself apart from the rest of the sheep in wherever the hell it is that you even live. Yay.”

None of these themes generally reflect my travel experiences, but today one of them does. “Underneath our different exterior,” I thought to myself as I bashed out this piece “we’re more similar than we realize.”

“How?” you might ask, perhaps envisioning something slightly orientalist and condescending, a written navel-gazey contemplation on the fact that me and people whose reality of life I will never truly understand share the common experience of having to prepare food (or something).

Nope. It’s – tada! – about how public transport marketing portrayals can fail to live up to reality across oceans, cultures, and time.

Have a look at these YouTube videos. The first is 1970s commercial for the subway system in Montreal. The dancers sing “It’s nice in the subway. Everybody’s feeling gay and sunshiney. Our subway is the most beautiful in the world. It’s nice in the subway (and in the subway’s little brother – the bus). Long live the subway!”

Some Montrealers took issue with this propagandistic picture of the public transit system, and create a parody entitled “Il fait chaud dans le métro” – It’s too hot in the subway – a tribute to the famously high temperatures of the Montreal underground.  The heavily paraphrased lyrics of this song? “It’s too hot in the subway. Everybody’s sweating from head to toes. The price of the monthly pass is as high as the temperature. Our subway’s going to be the hottest in the world for 50 years. It’s even hot in the flipping winter!”

1970s Montreal marketers tried to present an idealized version of the subway in a bid to solicit more passengers. 40 years later and thousands of kilometers away, the directors of the IETT, the Istanbul public transport system, would do much the same with similar results.

The IETT commercial is even more laughable than the Montreal one. While riding the Montreal metro is indeed a bit warm, being forced to ride the IETT might actually have inspired a 21st century Dante to write a sequel to the Inferno.*

Have a look at the real commercial. The key words spoken by the slightly hypnotic voice are “safe, secure, comfortable, fast, good quality etc.” The IETT is not really any of these things (although I’m still thankful that it exists.)

Then have a look at this parody, a remarkably faithful representation of what it’s really like to ride public transport in Istanbul. The only thing the comedian missed was the experience of being groped and not being able to move or slap the hand away because it’s too packed, that moment when you finally get a seat only to have somebody very elderly enter the bus at the next stop, or the second you suddenly realize that your hand is on a 55 year old man’s crotch, and has been there for three minutes (true story.) Oh, and what it feels like to miss your stop because it’s even more packed than in the parody and you can’t push through the people to get off.

The takeaway of all this? If you visit either Montreal or Istanbul, slap on a few extra layers of deodorant and if in Istanbul, pay attention to the placement of your hands.

*Just imagine, The Divine Quadrilogy Part II: Constantinople

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  1. Paul says:

    Hahaha, those parodies are fantastic!


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