Ça roule

I am struck by how many French expressions there are to say that things are going.

There’s ça va, ça marche, and my personal favourite, ça roule. Meaning: that goes or that works or literally: it rolls.

‘Rouler’ generally describes the action of wheels – les roues. We are big fans of wheels here in France and what I am most struck by (not literally, merci!) is the number of bizarre, noisy and exotic motorized contraptions that come out in the summer months.

It starts with the Tour de France. While those crazy cyclists bust their bananas (again, not literally one hopes…) racing around France, the crowds turn out to see something called the Caravane du Tour. This is a publicity parade of sponsored vehicles pimped to perfection. To wit:

(Note: I personally abstain from following any form of televised sport, but when le Tour comes to any French town, it is a very big deal.)

This is followed by the annual mass migration for summer vacation – les vacances. Essentially this means that everybody and his oncle hops aboard whatever vehicle they possess and heads cross country. If you live in Paris you go south to the Cote d’Azur. If you live in Grenoble you head to Bordeaux. If you live anywhere south you probably go to Brittany. You get my drift.

Aside from epic traffic jams, this is usually when those who work for some major form of transport – rail, air, ferry or even toll collectors – decide to go out on strike. ‘Ça roule?’ is transformed to ‘ça circule ou..?’

Then, when all of those tourists, French or otherwise, get to wherever they are going, they get on a motorized vehicle and trawl around town. Motorcycles, vespas, convertibles, anything goes. The louder and more attention-getting the better.

Whatever the preferred mode of transport ,soon everyone will ride back whence they came in time for la rentrée.

“Ça roule, ma poule?” (How’s it going, my little chickadee?) will be heard echoing throughout France, as we get back to school and business, still fresh from our holiday adventures.

From the fabulous French movie, ‘Les Intouchables’

How do you roll? Got a favourite set of wheels?


  1. coteetcampagne · August 17, 2017

    Ooh, those noisy irritating little moped-things that farmers and kids seem to favour all over mainland Europe…

    • MELewis · August 17, 2017

      Agree! They seem to come out like annoying wasps mostly in remote country villages…presumably illegal on city streets.

  2. phildange · August 17, 2017

    I’m not sure that “ça roule” be directly related to any vehicle . Just remember some old French colloquialisms that were kept alive far away better than in France such as Louisiana “Laissez le bon temps rouler !”.
    In your list of “things are allright” we can add “ça gaze” and “ça boume”, both seeming related to mechanical engines . After all the cycling Tour de france was founded by the newspaper “L’Auto”.
    Beware, “rouler quelqu’un” also means swindling the poor patsy .

    • MELewis · August 17, 2017

      Ha, ha…thanks for reminding me! Do you really mean ‘let the good times roll’ was stolen from French?

      • phildange · August 17, 2017

        My bad, as we say “ça roule” and as in Quebec they kept many archaic forms I made a wrong assimilation . It rolls comes from English, just like it rocks . What I always loved : rock’n roll and motorbikes, my favourite wheels . Rolling on Arizona roads riding a Harley listening to Creedence or Canned Heat, this is a cherished memory of “your serviteur” .
        Oh, another one for your collection : “ça colle” .

      • coteetcampagne · August 17, 2017

        Clearly you are of similar vintage to me

  3. francetaste · August 17, 2017

    Re the last photo (and yes, lovely movie, with a beautiful score), I am seeing more wheelchairs around. Historic architecture wasn’t very accessible. Cities and property owners seem to be finding ways to make it work. Finally.
    I am interested in a Twizy, although I would need 3 seats, not just two. My dream car would be a Citroên 2CV if it came with an electric engine.
    My least favorite vehicles (aside from the noisy mopeds) are the microcars favored by retirees who have lost their driver’s permits.

    • MELewis · August 17, 2017

      Yes, we are making some headway in France on wheelchair access. That’s a good thing, even if it does seem far beyond crazy for certain sites, like Mont Saint Michel. Your dream of a Citroen 2CV with an electric engine sounds like a good marketing opportunity for an astute car maker. As for the electric vehicles, while I sympathize with the need for elderly drivers to get around, I’ve never understood how they can be allowed without a valid permit. You could still do a lot of damage if you don’t respect the rules!

      • francetaste · August 17, 2017

        Those microcars aren’t electric. They run on gas. Aixam, Microcar (it’s actually a brand name), these little things that can’t go faster than 60 or 70 kph.

  4. Osyth · August 17, 2017

    Not forgetting that when they all arrive back in Grenoble from Bordeaux they will be on their blasted scooters (adult and child alike) on the pavement along with the cyclists even though we have a fantastic network of cycle lanes and paths in the city and this lady will be shouting at them as I play skippedy-dodge hop whilst trying to buy my baguette. Meanwhile in the Cantal I’m dodging fleets of quad bikes aimlessly Haring round the little lanes and seemingly blind to Franck (my trusty bright yellow SEAT – when they do spot him, just in the nick of time there is generally a double take as he is on local plates but the driver is on the wrong side … I haven’t managed to tip anyone off yet but it’s only a matter of time 😉) In spite of it all, I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world 😂

    • MELewis · August 17, 2017

      You are a braver woman than I to be driving on those country lanes — and with the wrong-side steering! I wish I had a magic wand to make drivers, cyclists and pedestrians happily cohabit, but no matter where I go I see bad the same challenges. Bikes that think they can ride across crosswalks, cars that think it’s okay to cross a solid line on a curve in order to pass a cyclist, and pedestrians who cross any old which way. Glad to hear you’re happily back home in Cantal nonetheless! xx

      • Osyth · August 17, 2017

        Back in Grenoble today but the sojourn in Cantal was fun and reminded me why I love it (notwithstanding sharing the road) … you are so right about the challenges of getting road users to share nicely – Mary Poppins, where are you when we need you? xx

      • phildange · August 17, 2017

        I’m still puzzled when I discover the “Anglo” perception of French drivers . I mean it, it’s not a sort of teasing . I never find anything of what you all imply when I drive . Maybe it is like fishes who probably find natural to roll inside water compared to us in the same element . ” Truly, truly, I say to you : In the Beginning the Almighty created TWO kinds of humans beings” .

      • Osyth · August 17, 2017

        I will write a piece on driving one of these days. It will be a comparative study of English, American (New England at least) and French driving with a frisson of Italian thrown in. It will be entirely democratic because the fact is that we are all as bad as each other but each nation does have specific habits that pervade – not necessarily GOOD habits 😉

      • phildange · August 17, 2017

        Oh yes sweet poet ! I ‘m looking forward your insightful prose.

      • Osyth · August 17, 2017


  5. coteetcampagne · August 17, 2017

    Ooh them quad bikes. We have them part out ici

    • MELewis · August 20, 2017

      We actually don’t have them around here. No idea why….? Plenty of mopeds, scooters, Harley’s and tractors. Oh, and the kinds of cars I call ‘big penises’: for old men with more money than taste!

  6. acflory · August 18, 2017

    Oh! Do you still have mopeds? I tootled around the Perigord area on a moped. Once. A very long time ago. 🙂

    • MELewis · August 20, 2017

      Lol. I can just see you tootling. Rural France on a moped must be fun, if deafening.

      • acflory · August 20, 2017

        -blush- It was a very long time ago and yeah, it was great fun. Wouldn’t have seen as much of the region as I did without the trusty moped.

  7. Susanne · August 18, 2017

    This is poetry: “Ça roule, ma poule?”!! And note to self: Don’t take a road trip in France in the summer. Holy smokes, what dreadful traffic! I roll in a small car (Hyundai Elantra) and have a quaint commuter bike like something Julie Andrews rode in the Sound of Music.

    • MELewis · August 20, 2017

      Holy smokes indeed! I remember the first time I rolled down the window for air in a hot (no A/C) car. Gasp! Diesel fumes. Small car plus bike sounds like a good solution for keeping you carbon footprint down.

  8. Mél@nie · August 20, 2017

    ça baigne, aussi… 🙂 looking at your pix, I can’t imagine driving to vacation spots during July & August… and we don’t do it! 🙂 autrement, on se déplace à pied, à vélo et en auto ou en avion – ça dépend de la distance et de la destination.
    * * *
    bon dimanche à toi, aussi et à+! ❤

    • MELewis · August 23, 2017

      Agree! We try not to go away now in July and August in order to avoid the crowds and also enjoy the best weather at home. Yet we are surrounded by those who do as we’re lucky enough to live in a place where other people come on vacation. Enjoy the last days of summer!

  9. Piddlewick · August 23, 2017

    This is the first year we joined les vacances (train/airplane/taxis, out of France). Normally we do not have the opportunity to go away in August. I do have to say northern Bourgogne is mercifully, relatively unchanged during les vacances, the exodus making up for the influx, I guess.

    Because we spend most of our time at home, my favourite wheels are our orange tractors. It can do anything, I swear.

    • MELewis · August 23, 2017

      Hmm…given my driving talent I’ll happily leave the tractors to you! You should post a blog about your orange wheels!

  10. suzlearnsfrench · September 16, 2017

    Ça roule ma poule – love it. Never heard this one.

    Great blog !

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