For many people in Paris, owning a car is neither necessary nor desirable. Transit service is good and parking is difficult. But that means that when your groceries include, say, containers of milk or orange juice, bottles of wine or San Pellegrino (San Pé to the Parisians), cans of soup or cassoulet, or jars of jam or tomato sauce, the walk home can feel very long. So do your arms.
What you need is a bundle buggy (a.k.a. chariot de courses, sac à roulettes or caddie). Fill it up and wheel it home. We decided to get one for our daily shopping trips.
But first, some market research. This meant looking at what other people were using, and checking out the shops.
We wanted something sturdy and capacious. This one looked too flimsy. And too small.
We wanted one with a drawstring closing, so our groceries wouldn’t fall out. This one looked insecure.
No cartoon characters or cute animals.
And affordable. The shop called Perigot sells a whole range of chariots in trendy patterns, including camouflage, but they cost about three times what we were willing to pay.
That requirement took us to the 14th arrondissement. We had stayed a few times in this area, and we knew they had shops that sold relatively inexpensive chariots.
The first shop we tried on the rue Raymond Losserand had a simple, sturdy black number, but the manufacturers (we assume it was made somewhere in Asia) had tried to jazz it up with English words: “You Be Satisfy.”
No, we thought, we not be satisfy. We are not walking through Paris with silly English words on our buggy.
After looking in a few more shops in the area, we found another sturdy black one that said “New-Star.” We figured we could live with that, even though the hyphen was surplus to requirements. So we bought it for 29 euros.
It had a rectangle of sturdy particle board on the bottom that could support 6 bottles of wine or San Pé standing upright, or three lying flat. There were two extra pockets on the back, solid-looking wheels, zippers on the sides to allow for expansion, and a comfortable handle.
Before leaving the area, we did some shopping at the mammoth Monoprix store in Montparnasse and brought the loaded chariot home on the bus without incident.
However, our local Monoprix is the one on the Champs-Elysées. And it was Christmastime. The broad boulevard is full of tourists and families out admiring the lights and the Christmas market. Pedestrians stop suddenly to take pictures, wander aimlessly back and forth, and move about in groups. Progress with a chariot is slow.
And when you get to Monoprix, the groceries and packaged goods are in the sub-basement, down two flights of stairs. There is no escalator. Norman had his work cut out getting the filled chariot back up to the street. (When Philippa went a few days later on her own, and was slowly bumping the New-Star up the stairs, the young woman behind her on the stairway grabbed the bar at the bottom and helped her carry it up, all without interrupting her conversation with the friend beside her. Many Parisians are like that – they do you a good turn without appearing to acknowledge that they are doing so.)
At least the Champs-Elysées is nice and wide. On smaller streets, you must hold the chariot underhand, with your hand held behind your back, so that you and the chariot are single file on the narrow pavement. Here is a picture showing the approved method, although it was taken in the broad allées of the Parc Monceau. Presumably this young woman was simply accustomed to holding it like that all the time.
In the shops, there is a protocol for chariot users. If you enter with an empty chariot, you may fill it with your intended purchases, and then take them out and put them on the counter when you get to the cashier. However, if you enter a shop with a chariot that already has purchases in it, you should leave it at the door or with a cashier and, if necessary, use one of the metal or plastic caddies they provide.
You also have a new responsibility. Towing a chariot through the city makes you look like a resident, so tourists and even Parisians have a tendency to ask for directions. It helps to know the quartier well enough to direct people to major destinations, although Philippa was stumped when a woman with a small child asked where to find the office of social services.
Most of the chariot users we noticed were women, but Norman, who often goes grocery shopping with Philippa in both Paris and at home in Toronto, had no problem being the charioteer. Here he is window shopping on a rainy day with the New-Star in tow after a visit to the Nicolas wine shop.
When we left Paris, we had to leave the New-Star in the apartment we had rented through friends. But we’ll be back and we know it will be there, ready for more adventures.
Happy New Year to all our readers.
Text and photographs by Philippa Campsie