Scooters — they’re so cute …

… and so unsupportably annoying!

Okay, I admit it. I’m rapidly becoming a grumpy old man and there’s no use denying it. Michel has even called me “grumshy” — a word he apparently coined as a hybrid of “grouchy” and “grumpy” while searching for one of those two words but failing to find either one. And he’s right. I’ve found that the older I get and the longer I stay in France (two things that are coincidental at the moment), the less I can stand sustained buzzing, screeching, whining, high-pitched noises.

Case in point: Parisian scooters

© 2007 Spidernet
© 2007 Spidernet

I’ve always known that scooters are far more popular in European cities than they are in American ones. Paris, in particular, has a reputation in this regard. Quite simply, they are ubiquitous here, and that makes sense. Many of Paris’s streets are very narrow and congested, and one needs a smaller, more maneuverable mode of transport. Judging by the sheer number of them on the streets of Paris, I’d say that the supply has definitely satisfied the demand!

Despite the fact that I have lived here for more than a year, however, I don’t think I’ll ever be prepared for the full-on sensory assault that scooters can inflict upon you, especially when they swarm in large numbers. No matter where you turn, you’re bound to run into them … and by “you’re bound to run into them” I mean “they’re bound to run into you.” They are on every street and every sidewalk, so you must never make the mistake of ambling along some picturesque, cobblestone alley thinking you’re safe from the approach of a scooter from behind. They’re very stealthy, these scooters. Despite sounding like weed-eaters with a bad attitude, they have a knack for sneaking up on you when you least expect it, so be prepared to dart out of the way at a moment’s notice. In some neighborhoods, the noise is almost ambient. You might think that you could find respite by retreating indoors, but that’s simply not the case; the din searches out—and finds—every acoustical point of entry. The drone of the scooter is simply an inescapable fact of life here.

Whew! They're parked. Enjoy the silence.
Whew! They’re parked. Enjoy the silence.

To make matters worse, most of the time the offending scooters aren’t even cute little Vespas or Manurhins, whose noise is at least mitigated by their vintage charm.

Take, for instance, this ridiculous contraption (very popular among the coat and tie crowd of the 8ème):


Or these guys (imagine a fleet of them darting here and there, between cars, up onto the sidewalk, back into the street):

even in Paris © Peter Tarach (
even in Paris © Peter Tarach (

Or this … thing (for which I still don’t have the words):

He's a teenager. The "scooter" looks like it's built for a 4-year-old.
He’s a teenager. The “scooter” looks like it’s built for a 4-year-old.


Maybe I’m just jealous because I don’t have one of my own, you might be saying. After all, the experience of being on a scooter has to be much more pleasurable than the experience of being next to one. Perhaps it’s high time that I join the swarm instead of running from it. I mean, if little Audrey Hepburn can have such a fabulous time tooling around Rome on a 2-stroke Vespa, why can’t I do the same thing here in Paris on a Manurhin MR75? Come to think of it, I’d be really cute on my way to school on this little baby, sporting my corduroy jacket and a cashmere scarf flapping in the breeze … and I’d probably be a lot less “grumshy.”

Don’t you think?

1956 Manurhin Scooter
1956 Manurhin Scooter

June 17, 2013 P.S. — After posting some old family photos on Facebook today, a friend pointed out the photographic evidence that I was, in fact, destined to live in France on day …

In 1978 (almost 6 years old), already imagining my future terrorizing tourists on Paris's sidewalks
In 1978 (almost 6 years old), already imagining my future terrorizing tourists on Paris’s sidewalks

© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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