Everyone knows that the French are masters at complaining. And Parisians even more so. You only need to sit next to a couple of Parisians on a terrace or overhear a conversation on the metro to realise this. Instagrammers (including me) may try to lead you to believe that la vie est belle in Paris (#parisjetaime), but don’t be fooled. There is plenty to complain about in this town: the weather, the RER (the Parisian regional train line), the price of living, taxes, the gilets jaunes (yellow vest protesters), strikes, landlords (or tenants), the administration, politicians, congestion; the list goes on. And I am the first to complain about most of these things.
It took me a year or two in France to get into the swing of it. At first, I was all too forgiving of Paris. And I lacked the language skills to join in and râler like a true Parisian (râler is a wonderful, informal verb meaning “to complain”). But after a few years here, as my level of jadedness grew, and as I picked up on some key expressions needed to râler, I found myself becoming the ultimate râleuse (the female adjective of râler, literally defined as “one who complains all the time or at every opportunity; synonym: Parisian.” OK, kidding about the last part).
For example, there are a number of phrases to express your personal frustration with something (e.g., “Ça me soule !” “Ça me gonfle !” or “J’en ai ras le bol” etc.). These can be used generously in conversations with your friends and close colleagues when talking about your commute, the rudeness of the person from la sécurité sociale who you spoke to on the phone that day, how much you absolutely need a holiday, etc.
Then, there are those phrases needed to express more general dissatisfaction with the state of things. For example, “Ce n’est pas possible !” “C’est n’importe quoi !” “C’est insupportable !” (which I use often), and my personal favorite (reserved for special occasions), “C’est scandaleux !” I tend to use these when I am throwing a complaint out into the universe (usually while shaking my fist at a motorist of some kind, but I’ll come back to that), or having a mutual whinge with a stranger about something (e.g. sympathising about a long or nonsensical line, a broken ticket machine, etc.). In a city where you rarely speak to strangers, complaining with other Parisians can bring a great sense of camaraderie and belonging.
Complaining also gives you an instant source of debate with lesser-known acquaintances or work colleagues with whom you are expected to make conversation. The French are notoriously bad at small talk. Parisians, who can be more reserved than some of their provincial compatriotes, are even worse. But if you get them started about the price of real estate in Paris or the difficulty of finding a place in a crèche, you’ll have them going for hours. You can also mention the reforms led by the current Mayor of Paris (Anne Hidalgo), notably to the city’s roads. Depending on whether they are a motorist or a pedestrian, you’ll either be in for a diatribe or a glowing endorsement. To prepare (especially for the former), just ask a taxi or Uber driver about Madame Hidalgo the next time you’re coming in from Paris Charles de Gaulle (it should easily occupy most of the journey, even in peak hour traffic).
This brings me to my most recent bête noire: les trottinettes électriques (electric scooters).
Let me explain: the first fleet of these trottinettes, Lime-S, arrived in Paris in June 2018. At first, I don’t recall paying much notice to their arrival, apart from thinking that they looked only slightly less ridiculous than the segways that tourists sometimes jaunt around on.
But then, in the weeks and months that followed, a number of other brands of trottinettes jumped on the bandwagon, including Bird, Bolt and Jump, to name but a few. In the blink of an eye, we had at least 12 operators running fleets of trottinettes and literally thousands upon thousands of electric scooters throughout the city. And they really get my goat.
My list of grievances is long, but I shall limit myself to three.
First, there seems to be an assumption amongst a number of trottinette users that they are allowed to ride on the footpath (trottoir). Cyclists, on the other hand, very rarely do this (if ever). And I happen to live on a one-way street with perhaps the city’s narrowest footpaths (no more than 1 meter wide in parts). This means that there is barely enough space for two lanes of foot traffic, especially in the parts of the street where queues form outside popular ramen restaurants or which are currently undergoing road works (merci Madame Hidalgo) and are encroached upon by scaffolding. Add trottinettes to the mix and you can imagine the frustration.
Second, trottinettes électriques are in “libre service” (or “free floating“), meaning there are no dedicated charging racks (or “bornes“) to park them. This means that people can leave them wherever they want; in front of buildings, across footpaths, etc. This is not only highly inconvenient for those pedestrians trying to navigate narrow footpaths (see above), or who have mobility issues and find their access blocked by one or several scooters in their way (French actor Vincent Lindon recently had a fabulous rant about this on Yann Barthès’ evening news show Quotidien), but it also creates a damned unsightly form of visual pollution. In a city renowned for its aesthetics, the piles of fallen scooters scattered in and around parks and outside monuments are a veritable eyesore.
Third, I simply don’t believe that these trottinettes électriques have had any positive ecological impact on the city. As far as I can tell, the people using them are mainly tourists or les jeunes having a lark (oh yes, I’m complaining about “young people” now…it’s come to this), often with two of them piled on one scooter. These are not Parisian motorists who think to themselves, “I’m not going to take my car to cross le périphérique today, I’ll roll over to work on a trottinette!” Nor are they people who have the means or needs to take a taxi or an Uber to their destination. These are people who would, for the most part, otherwise be travelling by foot, public transport, bicycle, ‘velib or (shudder) segway.
(And OK, quickly, grievance number four – trottinettes can reach speeds of up to 25 km an hour, have a notoriously crappy brake system, and riders do not have to wear a helmet or seemingly respect road rules. All of this means they are prone to accidents. I saw this for myself recently in the pedestrian area under the new canopy at Les Halles – a woman was bowled over and had her collar bone broken by two jeunes on a trottinette who quickly fled the scene. Of course, in true Parisian style, I angrily tweeted to Mayor Hidalgo about the incident and vented about it to anyone who would listen.)
Thankfully, Mayor Hidalgo heeded the call of the anti-trottinette movement earlier this year and established a series of measures aimed at curtailing the reign of the trottinettes. She introduced fines for riding on the footpath (€ 135) and for badly parked trottinettes (between € 35 and € 49) and also provided for the impounding by the city of the same (with fines for the operators to recover them), along with increased taxes for the operators and the creation of dedicated parking areas, etc. These are all good things, and further measures will hopefully be taken in the coming months. Time will tell if they succeed in reducing the number of trottinettes zooming around (and lying all over) the city, or in eradicating them entirely. And if they do, I shall have to find something else to complain about (which, as you should have gathered by now, will not be so hard…).