Allô Maman bobo

Invasion of the electric scooter in Paris

When my kids were young, back in the late 90s, scooters came into vogue. La trottinette, as they’re called in French, was suddenly all the rage. Of course, it wasn’t the first time, as this photo from 1927 shows.

Unlike the pogs, the Tamagotchis and Tuggles of the day, I approved of the trottinette. It got the kids outside, tooling around the neighourhood, and seemed a lot less dangerous than skateboards or bikes. Besides, they seemed like fun.

Until I had to carry one home from the park one day and banged my shin on it a bunch of times. Bugger, those things were heavy. I had the bruises to prove it.

A few years later the trend hit the adult segment. By then the kids had finished with them and their scooters were gathering dust in the garage.

Suddenly, business people in suits, satchels and briefcases slung over their backs, were riding them all over the city streets. They thought they were cool; I couldn’t help but think they looked ridiculous. Absurd even. Yet the trottinette became the very ‘bobo’ (short for Bourgeois bohemian, the French forerunner of today’s hipster) thing to do in Paris and Lyon.

Lo and behold, in the era of new forms of transport like Uber, along comes the electric scooter. Now the streets of Paris have been invaded by the contraptions. Needless to say, it is causing all kinds of havoc. Not to mention a great many ‘bobos’, of a completely different kind.

A bit of vocabulary:

‘Trottinette’ comes from the word ‘trottiner’ which means to scurry or trot along like a child. Presumably this is where we get the name for sidewalk: trottoir.

‘Bobo’ is a French baby talk for what we in North America sometimes call a booboo or the kind of hurt finger that children run to Mum about.

As one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Alain Souchon, captured in this song, sometimes even as grown ups we feel like crying to our mums. It’s a terrible recording, featuring the French penchant of the day for lip-synching on live performances. But watch for a surprise appearance at the end of the clip.

Yes, that’s France Gall. The singer who won the Eurovision song contest in 1965, inspired Serge Gainsbourg and Michel Berger and, sadly, died of breast cancer early this year.

Back to the trottinette. With the advent of companies like Lime and Bird, who offer electric scooter rentals that you can pick up, ride and leave anywhere, she age of ‘free floating’ has arrived in Paris. And it’s a mess. French sidewalks are busy places, the streets filled with wobbly cobblestones and other dangers; there are not enough bicycle lanes and the roads are not places for anyone without a helmet.

The French authorities are currently reworking the law for motorized scooters and hover boards, to decide whether they belong on the street or elsewhere, and what rules should be set for their use. Theoretically, such devices have a maximum speed limit of 25 km, but I hear there are those that go much faster.

In my opinion, anyone on wheels should not share space on a sidewalk with pedestrians (except for tykes in strollers). Clearly defined rules of the road for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, skateboarders and cars – need to be rethought, and each of us from the age of adulthood should be made to demonstrate that we understand and respect them. That is the way of the future for all of our cities, as we become more aware of the need for exercise and non-polluting modes of transport. In old-world cities like Paris, it is becoming urgent.

In the meantime, beware of bobos on trottinettes!

What’s your favourite mode of transport?


  1. M. L. Kappa · November 8, 2018

    Trottinettes were useful when my grandchildren were small, since they would carry them to the park relatively fast, without us having to drag them by the hand, whining. But I still shut my eyes as I watched them slaloming—quite skillfully, I admit—amongst the pedestrians and kept my fingers crossed they’d stop at the traffic lights. I’m all for electric scooters if they cut down on pollution, etc, but I can’t see how they’ll combine successfully with either cars on the road, or people on the sidewalks. Perhaps all cars should be banned in city centers, and then people would circulate on scooters, electric wheelchairs, and such. I’m sure companies would produce very trendy little models with space for the baby and the shopping, rain protection, etc!

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      A city without vehicular traffic (except emergency services) sounds perfect to me! Glad you enjoyed the trottinettes with your grandkids and who knows? Maybe they’ll come up with a model for us oldsters!

  2. Margret Johanna · November 8, 2018

    I was in Paris last month and was surprised to see that no one was wearing a helmet on these things. They can go pretty fast and they are everywhere. I like taking the bus.

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      Oh, dear, sounds pretty dangerous also for the pedestrians. I don’t mind taking public transport in town rather than fight through traffic and pay for parking. In Geneva, our closest city, I often park on the outskirts and take the bus or even a boat across the lake to the train station.

  3. Taste of France · November 8, 2018

    These skateboards with handlebars need another name in English, like the French trottinette, to distinguish from mini-motorcycles like Vespas, which also get called scooters.
    Back in the 1990s, I saw the in-house lawyer for the big, serious company I worked for getting off the subway and stepping onto a trottinette (not electric) for the final leg to the office. He was cool enough to not look ridiculous, and it did make me rethink scooters.
    These things definitely don’t belong with pedestrians. There should be more lanes for bikes and these scooters. Maybe not skateboards–you don’t want to be on your commute and trying to navigate kids who are doing tricks. There need to be rules about where to leave them. As cities finally make curb cuts and other changes to get rid of barriers for people in wheelchairs, people on other kinds of wheels like to roll in, too. Kind of the way able-bodied people park in handicapped spots. Free riders all over the place.

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      I agree 100% that they have no place with people on foot — nor do bicycles, and in our town we have a combined bicycle lane with pedestrians on the sidewalk. I am partially deaf and sometimes don’t even hear them before they’re right upon me. Good point about the name — how about handleboards? 😉

  4. Caffe · November 8, 2018

    I had an adventure with a city scooter (see here:
    I was happy and had a lot of fun. And also becouse of that I am waiting for summer time. This wind on hair, simple freedom, but not in November:-). I love it! I was thinking about electric scooter, but, such adult woman and scooter…. what do you think?:)

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      Hi Caffe! I checked out your post and what you did was a different kind of electric scooter than the ‘trotinette’, which is basically a skateboard with handlebars. Still, very cool and kudos to you! I tried a Vespa-like scooter once and fell off. *Sigh* 🤣

      • Caffe · November 9, 2018

        Hi:-) Thank you for kudos:))) I know that there are differences between trotinette and electric scooter, and I considered trotinette at the beggining, but I would look using trotinette a little bit more exotic than in scooter:-) So, me – mature woman, finally chose a slight version, Polish Blinkee, electric and ecologic.:-)

  5. midihideaways · November 8, 2018

    The craze for trottinettes has not really taken in my little village in the south – perhaps because the roads are just too pockmarked with holes?? 🙂 My first thought on this is that if it’s motorised then it does not belong on the sidewalk. If the trottinettes are purely muscle powered then it would be good exercise, so long as the driver switches over from one leg to another. If they are electrified we’re creating more pollution and using resources unnecessarily – public transport would be a better alternative in cities since that’s running regardless. Anyhow, I’m sure the trottinette will soon be uncool and disappear….

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      Ha, ha, I wish you were right! But I fear that people love to save time and effort with the electric options (e-bike, electric scooters…) and also don’t want to be bothered to wait for the bus. We shall see — absolutely they should not be on the sidewalk, and nor should cyclists who sometimes ride far too fast right next to unwitting pedestrians.

  6. poshbirdy · November 8, 2018

    I’ll stick to using my feet, thanks. I walk for absolutely miles, and running is my means of relaxation. I have tried and enjoyed using my daughter’s scooter when she was tiny and it saved carrying it, but NOTHING would persuade me to ride one of these things alongside normal pedestrians – it’s a recipe for disaster!

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      That it is! Glad you enjoy getting about on foot so much. I only wish I found running relaxing! 😩

  7. weggieboy · November 8, 2018

    There was a fellow in my town with one of these things. Apparently he thought the sidewalk wasn’t the appopriate place for them because he rode his on the strreets, along with autos and the vehicle of choice in this region, pickup trucks!

    Not only didf he ride without a helmet, the law hadn’t caught up with the device to require any license or special usage (like where it could be used…).

    It was a fright, as a motorist, to have this slower device pop up in front of you when you turned a corner or he cross an intersection because he took no precautions for his safety or yours.

    Evcentually, the police convinced him (I guess) to keep off the roads for his and the safety of others, but tjhere were a few weeks where this thing was a road hazard. I can only imagine the complications they make en masse on the sidewalks of Paris and Lyon based on my experience avoiding just one!

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      Interesting. A lot of people around here talk about how the electric scooters should go on the streets but I really can’t see how that would be safe. Even with a helmet, there is just not enough room! In your parts all the big pickup trucks must make it even more hazardous for cyclists and scooters. Glad your cops got him out of harm’s way.

  8. memoirsofahusk · November 8, 2018

    What a beautiful song. I suddenly thought of the two 45rpm discs I have of French children’s songs… ahh. And the rest of your post served to remind me how far apart the Englishes across the pond sometimes are. Booboo here is a mistake. Oops, made a booboo. Tykes? Long time since I heard that word, in the past it usually applied to a mischievous, cheeky child or more commonly, in my experience a rude coarse man. Stroller? Pushchair. Sidewalk? Pavement. Separated by a common language maybe, but cultural accommodation and translations supplied by films, literature and now, blogging!

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      Ah, that reminds me of a cassette tape we had of children’s songs that I really loved. Will have to remember to dig it up and get it transferred to digital before the cassette recorder is completely extinct! Yes, the language differences are quite amazing, eh? Even that ‘eh’ is an example — we Canadians say it a lot and our American cousins make fun of us for it. My kids were always cheeky and mischievous (as was I…) so perhaps tykes has stuck with me for that reason! 😄

      • memoirsofahusk · November 8, 2018

        I think if Dick Van Dyke is anything to go by Cockneys use it!! Yes, I rather like the Canadian ‘eh’. I use it too when very tired and my old Yorkshire dialect days come back and I say it instead of sorry, or what 🙂

  9. Suzanne et Pierre · November 8, 2018

    I can’t imagine what Paris looks like with these new contraptions. I had heard of them recently but haven’t been to Paris is over 3 years so I haven’t seen them. Being a pedestrian in many cities these days (including Montreal) can be difficult and I have never found that sharing the sidewalks with bicycles or other motorized vehicles work very well. Hopefully, Paris authorities will find the right balance to give spaces to all mode of transportation in a safe way for everyone but rules aren’t sufficient you have to enforce them which isn’t the forte of French people.

    • MELewis · November 8, 2018

      I haven’t been to Paris in a couple of years either but I saw some recent reports on the news about the rise in accidents involving pedestrians and scooters. You are right — it is crazy enough to navigate in cities without such contraptions! Of course, in Montreal, which I remember as being much more like a European city but still North American, and to some extent in Toronto, you also have the complication of heavy snows in winter. Presumably that makes scooters and bikes, even electric, out of the question? Perhaps one day we will all float around town by drone😜

      • Suzanne et Pierre · November 8, 2018

        Floating would be fun…As for bikes, they are more and more people who actually cycle all year round. In Montreal, the city clear the snow off some of the bike paths and the die-hard cyclists will be on the road in all type of conditions…

  10. Garfield Hug · November 8, 2018

    Oh we have our terrors of E Scooters as errant users knock over old people, run over pedestrians as they speed at break neck speeds on the road. An e scooterist got killed by a bus. So, our government is now enforcing speed limits, no driving on roads and reminding them to respect pedestrians. Our side of the problems with them and oh their e scooters are left overnight charging and it burns down their homes!

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      Sounds like it’s even worse in your little red dot! That’s funny that they don’t allow them on roads — around here they’re thinking of not allowing them on the sidewalks. Very scary to think that the charging could cause fires though. 😩

      • Garfield Hug · November 11, 2018

        The batteries have really burnt alot of homes here. If you own an E Scooter or have friends who do, remind them not to leave it on charging overnight. At least in the day or under supervision of the eye, the fire can be arrested once the sparks ignite. We had too many accidents on the road so the law was passed this year to prohibit them. Stay out of their way as some soup it up to zoom about at 70 km/hr. Scary!!

  11. Katherine Wikoff · November 8, 2018

    Bird dropped these scooters in Milwaukee this past summer, and I and other pedestrians very narrowly escaped serious injury from really rude or stupid people riding them in the sidewalks. I was reaching the point where I intended to start vandalizing every unattended scooter I encountered in the sidewalks. Thankfully Milwaukee banned the scooters before I became enraged enough to embark on my life of crime.

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      Ha, ha…glad you avoided both injury and a life of crime! Wonder if they’re banned everywhere or just on the city streets?

  12. Heide · November 8, 2018

    How distressing to hear these gizmos have invaded Paris — as if the traffic wasn’t chaotic enough already! They’ve proliferated in my city too, where I’ve witnessed a couple of near-collisions in just the past few months. Hopefully they’ll decline in popularity as city governments and users alike become aware of the horrific injuries these things can cause. In the meantime, perhaps riders should be required to wear enormous orange helmets that read “BOBO” on the side. 🙂

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      I do like your helmet idea, Heide! 🤣
      Sorry to hear that you are suffering from the scooter invasion as well. Hopefully at least they will pack them away for the winter?

      • Heide · November 11, 2018

        My god. I hadn’t even thought about the scooters skidding all over the place this winter! But I have no doubt they will continue operating because it’s a fool and his fad are loath to be parted. 🙂

  13. zipfslaw1 · November 8, 2018

    Thanks for “trottiner”! Hadn’t run into that one before (no pun intended)… A friend got hit by a young man on a Ve’lib’. He was super-nice and stopped to help her, and has stayed in touch since then. She didn’t get hit hard, BUT she did hit her head on the way down, and was still out of work the last I heard, a couple of years after the accident…

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      Sorry to hear about your friend’s accident. Even a minor fall can be serious if a head injury is involved. I got knocked off a Vélib by a car while in a cycling lane in Paris a couple of years ago — nothing serious but it sure made me realize that French drivers and bicycles are not meant to be.

  14. acflory · November 9, 2018

    That was fun! I had a scooter when I was about 7 or 8 and I still have fond memories of riding it, downhill. Uphill was something else again. Maybe us ageing Boomers should get motorised scooters too…fresh air, sunshine, a bit of exercise. 😀

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      Yes, let’s invent scooter parks for hip seniors! We could have spongy floors to prevent injury and medical teams waiting to care for us in case of any bobos. 😆

      • acflory · November 11, 2018

        -giggles- I’m in! I think I still have some knee guards somewhere from when I thought I could do inline skating. And a bike helmet. Might have to upgrade my insurance though. 😀

  15. Lisa @ cheergerm · November 9, 2018

    If it’s close enough to avoid using a car, I still prefer the old legs… maybe a Segway would be worth a try? (Just kidding…. what a scary and horrendous thought.) Great description of hipsters on scooters, have witnessed the same phenomenon here too… hilarious.

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      Segway? I thought they looked like fun at first until I heard what happened to their creator! 😩 I’m with you, Lisa, as long as our trusty old legs will carry us, and time allows. Funny that this really is a global phenomenon, like the dreaded hipsters. Avocado toast, anyone? (Which I do love, BTW!)

      • Lisa @ cheergerm · November 11, 2018

        I just googled that and oh my! That’s a dreadful way to go. 🙊 Yes, all very hipster including avo toast (which I too still love as well.) 😂

  16. benkorita · November 10, 2018

    I also have one trottinette – not a motorized one. I resisted for the trottinettes for years, but as summer came this year, all streets were barricaded by construction works, and couldn’t get from one part of my city to any other by good ol’ public transport. Now I am a bit faster riding than walking to work (35 mins vs. 45 mins), and more reliable than public transportation (anywhere between 35 and 65 minutes). I thought I am fast: I rode with full speed on an otherwise empty sidewalk, the wind was blowing in my hair… when a young gentleman outran me. He kept his velocity for two corners, then disappeared.
    A bread-and-butter fueled trottinette reaches the same speed as a jogger, quite nimble and not any wider than its passenger. It is not ‘cool’: it is a practical and convenient way of personal transportation at certain places.
    I would not use an electrical scooter: the roads and the pavements are full of potholes and cracks, and those little wheels get caught quite easily. Diving in concrete with 20 km/h is not the best experience for me.

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      As long as it’s powered by our good old legs and not a motor, why not? If it gets you there quicker. I tend to care less and less how things look these days but I do try to avoid close encounters with concrete! 😭 Glad you are able to get around by trottinette, even if the joggers go faster!

  17. benkorita · November 10, 2018

    Yes, I forget: it is not ‘cool’: it is a practical, convenient AND silly-looking way of personal transportation at certain places.
    It is really fortunate that at the dawn of motorized transportation our ancestors rather found a way to accommodate the new method rather than simply chase automobiles to play at some sort of go-kart tracks:-)

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  19. turningparisian · May 28, 2019

    Great article! I just published a similar one 🙂 Have a great day!

    • MELewis · May 28, 2019

      Interesting…did you get a reply from Mme le maire? I wish they’d ban the bloody things on city streets!

      • turningparisian · May 29, 2019

        No, no response…I think she’s working on the ban though, along with a few of the Maires of the different arrondisements. Totally agree with you!

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