The City of Light is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pushchair friendly place.
There are narrow pavements, with great, hulking trees growing out of them at regular intervals, causing you to swerve around their cobbled or grated bases and the refuse which habitually collects there. There are cafés with tables overflowing outside, leaving only a sliver of tarmac to negotiate through. All it takes is a swinging shopping bag on the handle of a pushchair for drinks to take flight. Then there are people brandishing their lit galloises precisely at pushchair level, insouciantly flicking ash onto baby’s head. There are wheelie bins. There are clochards stretched out across air vents, taking a nap.
And of course, there is the thing which Paris is most famous for: excrement coated pavements. Depending on which arrondissement you live in, and how often the street cleaners do their rounds, you will be faced with an obstacle course of dog and pigeon droppings, the avoidance of which demands considerable dexterity (and occasional use of two wheels only, provided baby is securely strapped in).
Should you wish to cross the road, your first task is to locate a pedestrian crossing where access is not obstructed by a parked car. No mean feat. After waiting patiently for the little green man, advance with caution, bearing in mind that some traffic still has right of way, other drivers may choose to ignore traffic lights altogether, and that motorbikes, and even cars, might unexpectedly take it upon themselves drive the wrong way around a traffic island, on a whim. As I edge gingerly out onto the open road, I am always painfully conscious of the fact that the pushchair, which precedes me, is even more vulnerable than I am.
Travelling further afield in the French capital, if you don’t own a car, means a ride on a public transport, or in a taxi. The Parisian métro with a pushchair is not for the faint hearted. First, ensure that you have a narrow buggy which fits neatly through the metro turnstiles. Then be prepared for steps, steps and more steps. Even in stations with lifts or escalators, you will invariably find yourself at the bottom of a flight of steps at some point. They are unavoidable. Which is why, when I think about it, I have never seen a wheelchair-bound person in the métro in the decade I’ve lived here.
What amazes me the most however, is how little French shops cater for parents with very young children. I’ve lost count of the number of shops selling baby clothes and puériculture equipment whose wares are spread over several floors but which do not boast a lift. Surely it is in their best interests to help mothers and fathers spend their money? If they can’t make the effort, then clearly no-one else will.
So, if you ever happen upon an Englishwoman in North East Paris cursing a sour-faced old lady whose poodle is fouling the pavement, giving an emphatic bras d’honneur to a thoughtless driver or muttering insults at the man who has just narrowly missed her toddler with his hawking and spitting, it just might, conceivably, be petite anglaise, in the throes of pushchair rage.
And if you are tempted to park your car across a pedestrian crossing, I would advise you not to do so in my neighbourhood, unless, that is, you fancy acquiring a few fresh scratches on your bonnet.
Because, you see, I carry a set of keys in my pocket for that very purpose.
Petite Anglaise / Expatica
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