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?

Chasse à la chasse

Hunting season has been open in France since September. On Sunday, a cyclist was killed not far from where we live in the Haute Savoie town of Montriond, near Morzine. It’s an area we know well enough. My husband’s cousin runs a hotel there and we often go skiing or to stroll around the lake.

The cyclist was a British man in his 30s, and in a stranger-than-fiction turn of fate, may not be mourned by all who knew him. But that doesn’t change the fact that each year, lives are lost to la chasse in France. And not just those of the prey.

It seems the hunter, a young fellow just starting out, mistook the cyclist for the target. They were hunting wild boar and so the bullets are big enough to kill instantly. Often, when it’s small game or birds, the rifles use buckshot. The fellow who fired the fatal shot has been hospitalized in a state of shock but an investigation is ongoing.

Sadly, it happens more often than you might think. One of my husband’s uncles was killed by a member of his own hunting party years ago in Normandy. Recently, though, the number of deaths from hunting accidents has been dropping each year. So does the popularity of the sport, which, along with fishing, remains one of the most popular in France.

Hunters are generally thought to be good citizens, who are careful and follow the rules. They must have a license to hunt. They are respectful of nature and only hunt the species and numbers allowed. Still, as I’ve posted before, running across men with guns while out for a walk on a Sunday is far from reassuring.

It’s not always very obvious that you are near a ‘réserve de chasse’ (hunting ground). There will be the odd sign but they are not necessarily visible if you come through a forest path. Sometimes main paths and small roads will be blocked off with a sign that says ‘Attention, tir à balles’, indicating that a big game shoot is happening.

I am not a fan of blood sport, but I do support the right of those who practice la chasse to pursue their hobby within the framework of the law. Should that law allow hunting to go on just steps from where people hike, ride bikes, walk their dogs? On a Sunday? Not in this blogger’s opinion. One very simple change that could save lives would be to set one day of the weekend for hunting and leave the other for the rest of us. Even better, allow hunting only during the week when most people are at work.

In the meantime, you are strongly advised to wear brightly coloured clothing, make a lot of noise and strap a bell on your dog when out walking during hunting season in France.

I’m game for that. And you?

Où pisser?

I was going to be polite and title this post ‘Faire pipi.’ That is the more polite French expression for urinating. Non-French natives, take note: ‘pisser’ is only used for animals or among males.

But then I thought: why mince words? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m pissed (annoyed, not drunk) about how often the topic of where to go still comes up. And why, after all these years, so many stairwells and street corners in every French city still reek of urine?

My original post about the dreaded Sanisette is one of the all-time most viewed on this blog. And my ode to Madame Pipi was also highly appreciated. By now I would have thought we’d exhausted the subject. Mais non! Imagine my surprise when this video landed in my newsfeed.

Seems that comic Swann Périssée was commissioned by the city of Paris to make a point about the blight of public peeing. It certainly captures the essence of the problem in authentic French fashion. Someone apparently thinks that humour will work where fines and public outrage have failed. I’d say that rather than fancy campaigns they should invest in a few more pissoirs or public urinals.

Mais, I hear you say, they have! Et oui, that the was the scandal of the summer. The new ‘uritrottoirs’ – a scanty public urinal in a flower pot that has Parisians making rude mouth noises. And they decided to test it on the ultra-chic Île Saint Louis of all places!

Firstly, where is the female version? Surely we are not intended to sit on the thing?

Secondly, even for men, it provides almost no privacy. While the French are obviously far less concerned about modesty, the proximity of this urinal to passing tourists on the banks of the Seine leaves little to the imagination. I fear that in many cases the shy bladder will prefer a dark corner of the ‘trottoir’ or sidewalk rather than these highly public places.

This report from France3 emphasizes the ecological component but at a cost of 25,000 EUR to operate just a few on an ‘experimental’ basis, economic is not part of the equation. And I am not convinced they offer an improvement over the original vespasiennes.

Interested in knowing more about the history of the urinal in Paris? Check out this excellent post from Parisian Fields.

And, believe it or not, there is even a guide book on where to pee in Paris.

Do feel free to add your own wee comments!

A vos marques

On your marks…today we are off for a quick tour of some iconic French brands. Oddly, the same word for brands, les marques, is also a literal translation of the word ‘mark’ in English. I suppose there is a link if you think of it as a trademark or a mark of quality.

While people here in France are often somewhat resistant to marketing campaigns, French shoppers are nonetheless big on brands.

My late Belle-mère swore by certain brands as being a sign of quality performance, superior workmanship or good taste. She believed that a good product did half the work for you, whether cleaning the clothes, cooking the food or making you look chic.

Being even more resistant to this kind of thinking than the French, I had to disagree. But after a few years of shopping in France I must say she had a point.

Bottled mineral water is a big thing in France and I’ve blogged before about how we have entire supermarket aisles devoted to it. Badoit, pictured above, with its choice of finely or intensely sparkling bubbles, is still one of my favourite French brands.

When it comes to the other kind of bubbly, it’s a different story. I’ve often heard that the best champagnes are the smaller houses rather than the big brands, by my Beau-père swears by Nicolas Feuillatte. And it’s often more competitively priced at the checkout.

 

As for the stinky cheese, the Languetot brand of raw milk camembert is one of the best name brands. ‘Au lait cru’ and ‘moulé à la louche’ are two signs that it’s one the good old fashioned way. Along with the ‘appellation d’origine’ that means it’s the real deal.

Le Petit is pretty good, too.

 

 

As the old ad campaign went, il n’y a que Maille qui maille…

Maille really is the only mustard for me. Dijon, smooth or grainy, and with no mayonnaise mixed in please! I also have a strong penchant for their cider vinegar as posted with my vinaigrette recipe awhile back…

House brands, which many supermarkets do offer in many product lines, are usually cheaper but not always of the same quality as the original. On the other hand, some are very good value for the money; it’s just a matter of trying your luck.

For those who smoke despite all the warning labels, and an appallingly high proportion of the French population still do, Gauloises cigarettes are a classic. Slightly less stinky than the horrible Gitanes.

By sv1ambo (1975 Citroen DS23 Pallas) [CC BY 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons
One of the first cars I noticed on the road here was the old Citroen DS. A big, hulking, low-to-the-ground classic of French engineering. Most French people tend to be true to one  of the big three: Renault, Peugeot or Citroën.

Petit Bâteau is a classic brand of kids’ clothing with the iconic sailor stripes. The 1920s brand expanded into clothes for adults a few years ago. The quality of the cotton is particularly good.

There are many more, of course. My morning would not be complete without a probiotic yogurt of the Activia brand. Nature, bien sûr… With a slice of wholewheat toast from Jacquet.

These are just a few of the marques that have marked my experience in France (for which I have received no promotional consideration, I hasten to add!). What are some of yours?

 

Millésime 1957

The year I came into the world people drove cars with fins that looked like this.

Just about everybody smoked.

Men and women still wore hats to work. Women dressed like this.

A new house cost less than $12K, and a yearly salary was around $4,500.

Elvis Presley was all shook up. Fans flocked to see him star in the movie Jailhouse Rock.

Heart throb Harry Belafonte crooned his way to fame with the Banana Boat Song (Day O) while bombshell Brigitte Bardot headlined in the French romantic comedy La Parisienne.

The frisbee was invented.

The cool kids were watching American Bandstand.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz filmed the final episode of I Love Lucy, a TV comedy about a screwball redhead married to a foreign guy with a funny accent. (Years of watching reruns of that show as a kid may have influenced me slightly).

The Russians launched Sputnik, starting the space race. The Soviet space dog, a stray from Moscow called Laika, was the first animal launched in space and, sadly, the first to die.

John Diefenbaker became Prime Minister of Canada, leading the Progressive Conservative party to victory for the first time since 1930. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Canadian parliament.

The Suez Canal crisis ended. Canada’s Lester B. Pearson, who would later be prime minister, won a Nobel peace prize for deescalating the situation with the first UN peacekeeping force.

The Treaty of Rome was signed, bringing about the creation of the European Economic Community.

The 44th edition of the Tour de France was won by Jacques Anquetil, who went on to win it five times.

French fashion designer Christian Dior died while on holiday in Italy. It was never confirmed whether the cause of death was choking on a fish bone or from a heart attack after a strenuous sexual encounter.

In 1957, the peak of the baby boom years, the life expectancy in the US was 66.4 years for a male and 72.7 for a female.

Millésime, by the way, is the French word for vintage or a year in which something special is produced. 1957 was a very good year and I am happy to have been born on this day.

Even happier to be here today to remember so many things that have happened since.

Where were you in 1957?

Or where were your parents, if you were still just a gleam in their eye?