Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘bike share program’

No. 120: Chic Bicycle Helmets

Before I moved to Paris, I wore my bicycle helmet religiously. In fact we shipped all our helmets from the U.S. before we arrived. But Parisians are not big on wearing bicycle helmets when they commute to work or run errands, and since living here I have been totally swayed by the herd mentality, and rarely remember to wear mine, unless I’m going for a long weekend ride. There is something about the Vélib bike share program and being able to hop on and off a bike at will that makes me feel footloose and fancy free, and think, hey, I don’t need safety equipment.

I realize this is completely STUPID. And actually everyday when I hop on my vélo, I have the same passing thought, “I wonder if this is the day you will regret forever not wearing a helmet?”

Still I’ve become lazy and annoyed by the chore of lugging it around while je fais les courses, and as much as it shames me to admit it, wary of what Parisians will think about how I look.

Mais, the other day when I was out walking with Taz, I saw a family of three (mom, dad and teenage daughter) on their bikes with some very chic headgear. “Leave it to the French to make bicycle helmets pretty,” I thought, and went home to do some research.

When I opened my email, a monthly newsletter popped up, and one of the top features was this:

folding bicycle helmet closca turtle VERSIONS

Exactly the chic chapeaux the French family had been sporting. I took it as a sign. After more research, I discovered that not only did these helmets (by Closca) look good, but also they are collapsible and safety certified. Apparently I have been totally out of the loop. In most big cities around the world, collapsible bicycle helmets are the latest trend.

And guess what? This particular one is not designed by the French, but created by two Spanish entrepreneurs and design engineers.

Bien hecho! Y muchas gracias!

And I then I found these by Yakkay:

Don’t tell Superman. Who knows, maybe he will find a bicycle helmet cover obsession easier to relate to than a shoe obsession?

Which one do you like?


Bien hecho! Y muchas gracias! Well done! And thanks a lot!

Je fais les courses: I run errands; I do the shopping

vélo: bicycle

No. 116: American Optimism

I haven’t posted for a while because, frankly, sometimes the French just get me down. And lately they’ve really been bringing me down.

Some days, some weeks, some months, it seems like nothing is possible in France. I hate to go down the road of crabby expat, but lately many things (from the smallest thing—trying to pay for a baguette with a 20€ note, to things on a grand scale—looking into applying for a work visa, have been branded by the French as: “Ce (n’est) pas possible!”


I was pushed to my last nerve this afternoon as I was biking to a birthday lunch. I was riding against traffic in a clearly marked bike lane, following all the rules of the road. (Bike lanes on streets in Paris are marked with a picture of a vélo and an arrow pointing in the direction you should be biking.) Twice, I found myself blocked by a car driving or stopped in the bike lane, leaving me absolutely no room to pass. There were three alternatives. Hastily hop off my bike and walk it on the sidewalk around parked cars and pedestrians; squeeze into the lane of oncoming traffic and pray the drivers would move over and let me pass rather than knock me over; or three, gingerly tap on the window and ask the driver if they would, “Please move.”

Being the polite (and stubborn) sort, I chose to tap on the window and ask (as if it wasn’t already obvious to them) to move their car, s’il vous plaît.

s'il vous plaît...

s’il vous plaît…

The first time I tried this, the woman just shook her head and muttered, “Ce pas possible.” Although there was a good five feet ahead of her to scoot into, she rolled up her window, refused to make any more eye contact, and laughed aloud like I was the most hilarious thing she had ever come across.

The second time I came fender to fender with another faultlessly coifed femme d’un certain âge, before I could even open my mouth, she told me defiantly, “Ce n’est pas possible!” Then she glowered and added, “Ce n’est pas ma faute.” Well friend, then who can I blame for you driving in the bike lane?

At this point, only 10 minutes into my 30-minute ride, I lost it, and went into my why-are-you-frickin’-Parisians-so-damn-mean-and-rude diatribe, en anglais, bien sûr, because, sadly, I can’t argue or swear in French. (Note to self: work on French “fighting words”.)

The result, of course, was nothing more than a tight-faced smirk from la femme and a feeling of helplessness from moi. When she did finally move, she made sure to hit me with her mirror, c’est normal!

Although my day, thanks in large part to an Anglophone/Italian birthday party held at a new Paris resto run by a native South Carolinian, only got better, I found myself thinking of those two encounters on and off. I felt sullen and defeated as I mounted my bike for the ride chez moi.

But then something small and wonderful happened when I came home and turned on the light in the kitchen. There spread across the rustic fruitwood table were six freshly planted window boxes waiting to be place on the sill…ready and willing, and against all the odds, planning to grow me some herbs.

window boxes

Now this might not seem remarkable, but remember, it is only January 21.

Donc, this Francophile was reminded of one of the great things about NOT being French. For all my countries faults and follies, I am grateful to have grown up in a country brimming with optimism. If Superman wants to try and grow an herb garden in the middle of winter, well then dang it all, give it a go! What have you got to lose? A couple of Euros spent on seeds, and some happy time spent dreaming.

You know what, my dear French amis and enemies, “C’est possible!”

Vive l’optimisme américain!



amis: friends

C’est normal. That’s normal; as usual

C’est possible! It’s possible!

Ce n’est pas ma faute. It’s not my fault.

Ce (n’est) pas possible! It’s not possible!

chez moi: (at) home

en anglais, bien sûr: in English, of course

femme d’un certain âge: literally, woman of a certain age, which in France implies a certain type of sexual prowess, or when it comes to bike riders vs. cars, radically rude women over 50.

la femme: the woman, lady, wife

moi: me

s’il vous plaît: please

Vive l’optimisme américain! Long live American optimism!

vélo: bicycle

No. 110: Musicians on the Métro

Paris MetroI ride the métro a fair bit, especially when I am taking French classes. It’s not my preferred form of transport, that would be my feet or the Velib (the fantastic bike share program found throughout France). If those options won’t get me where I need to be, than I try to hop on a bus before heading underground.

But when I do have to head down under, the Paris métro is fast and efficient. It could be a little cleaner and I’d like it if it was less crowded, but all in all, it’s a marvelous system. Some days though, like in any big city, jumping on the métro in Paris can just be a slog. Everyone is cranky, no one smiles, and sometimes people smell.

It always cheers me up though when I open a carriage to find a musician entertaining the commuters. I’m not sure how the French feel about them. Not many travelers open their wallets when the musicians pass their cup, but they always brighten my day, and if I have cash, I toss something in.

Sometimes they are just singers alone with their speaker and microphone. Sometimes one musician may have six instruments. I have even seen a five-piece band. I was completely devastated when I missed the Hungarian sting quartet struggling to get their cellist off the métro just as I was getting on.

Paris Musicians on the Metro

And in case you are wondering, there is absolutely no shortage of accordion maestros in this town.

I’ve heard a lot of really bad Frank Sinatra, some so-so Edith Piaf, some crazy, lyrical poetry jam, some pretty decent opera, and a lot of average Paris café music.

Paris musicians

I give these people a lot of credit, we are not the friendliest crowd. But I for one am glad they choose to get up every day and try to earn a living. The good, the bad and the great, they all make me smile.