The chariot on the Champs-Elysées

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.

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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.

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We wanted one with a drawstring closing, so our groceries wouldn’t fall out. This one looked insecure.

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No cartoon characters or cute animals.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
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20 Responses to The chariot on the Champs-Elysées

  1. Marjorie says:

    love this P and N your blogs are always terrific. Can I borrow it when I’m in Paris next year if they don’t have a chariot?

  2. Kenneth Edwin Vogstad says:

    Thank you for this super chariot adventure. This helpful hand is something that is so discreet yet so wonderful and it is not like this of asking may I help you which often times is replied, no thank you I can manage. These are the discreet way of helping others without all the fuss, just a wonderful appreciation of being a living person. This would not happen in many other countries or cities but Paris is her own, a city of marvels.
    Happy New Year 2013 and look forward to your blog!

  3. I’d be tempted to buy one of these just to hide my camera/travel book/map and NOT look like a tourist:) One of the highlights of my French travels was the day a woman stopped me on the corner in Avignon and asked me directions to the post office. As fate would have it, I had just been there. I replied in my best French and really felt like I had passed myself off as a French person for the first time in my life! Love the way you make the most mundane thing so informative and enlightening.

  4. Richard McDonough says:

    comme toujour…merci et bonne annee

  5. Richard McDonough says:

    la s manque!

  6. Meg Morden says:

    I loved this entry on the ins and outs of chariot usage! I also love that they are called chariots!

  7. A chariot de courses sounds so much nicer than a shopping trolley – you could almost tempt me to buy one! I used my mother’s once to do her shopping, and it was a nightmare bumping it up and down kerbs, avoiding dog poo, and trying not to bang it into people.

  8. Sherry says:

    I have had this exact chariot for 11 years and it is still good. A couple of small holes at the bottom corners and the plastic on the handle is cracked, but it still works. Good chioice

  9. Ken Bowes says:

    Norman and Philippa: I may be forced to forward this to Patrick to store on a central drive for student who may wish to do a thesis that involves city carriers such as these. Thanks!

  10. katemai says:

    That Monoprix is my closest one, too, and the stairs are a killer when you are on your way out! I wish we had paid the big euros for the kind with three wheels that goes up stairs. Next time….

    • In late December, construction workers appeared to be putting the finishing touches on a street-level Monoprix food store, complete with self-checkout (!) at the back of the store, with an entry off rue La Boetie. So when you go back to Paris, you may find your shopping trips a bit less onerous!

  11. barney kirchhoff says:

    Personally I find these “chariots” a pain in the ass. They take up a lot of space. Many people with them pay no attention to how they are blocking or potentially tripping other people on the sidewalk. They make a lot of noise on subway steps. And lots of people with them often stop dead as soon as they get inside the door of a Metro car and block or partially block the entrance. They are a convenience for the people with them but they are a nuisance, and sometimes a danger, to other people. The problem is not the chariots themselves but the vast number of inconsiderate jerks who use them.

    • Dear Barney,

      I’m guessing that you don’t do a lot of grocery shopping yourself. Please tell me how these things pose a “danger to other people.” I wouldn’t want to be guilty of such a thing myself! So I would welcome your advice.

      Philippa

      • Sinuaisons says:

        Some people drag the chariot behind them without noticing that they may hit the legs of others, or roll on their feet. It is OK most of the time, but in a crowd (market, train station : suitcases) you should _push_ the chariot/suitcase in front of you to control what it does when you stop, when you turn, etc.

  12. Marnie Keith murray says:

    Very helpful to hear of this research. Funnily, we were at May’s last night and we spoke of you! I have a problem with a hip right now and I woke up in the night thinking, I must get one of those carts, and there you were this morning having done my homework!! I go back to Paris for four months on Wednesday night. My best to you both……Marnie Keith Murray

  13. I am originally from Ottawa-I have lived in Bloor St west-many many years ago-I always thought these we for old lady’s until I went to Paris and then decided they were hip. I always come home with a shopping basket from Paris.

  14. Pingback: The Paris Blog: Paris, France Expat Tips & Resources »Blog Archive » More Parisian Than a Beret

  15. Jan says:

    The chariots are wonderful. I live in the U.S. and use mine for shopping and for taking lunch to the park when I have grandchildren with me. They can stuff their jackets and other items inside when the weather warms up. My daughter, who lives in Orléans, has a chariot with triple wheels that enable it to “climb” stairs easily. It was well worth the added expense.

  16. Sedulia says:

    I have a large, sturdy chariot, but far better than a chariot are those three magic words “livraison à domicile”! Most places deliver if you ask.

    In my neighborhood (16th), it is Not Done to trail a chariot around so I always feel a little countercultural when I do!

  17. Pingback: The chariot on the Champs-Elysées | Josephine Robin Dalton

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