The time I tried to use a Velib in Paris

So a week ago I was in Paris, and as they always say, “when in Paris be chic as the Parisians are and try to rent one of those cheap city bikes and bike by the Seine because that would be, as the French say, supa cool”. The rental system is €1.70 for a day (thanks French socialism!) and is called “Velib”, i.e., a mix of velo (bike) and liberté (freedom!)

Zipping around Paris on a little “freedom bike” sounds sweet af, non?

So one morning I create a little account thing on one of the machines, get a bike, all good. feeling capable, chic, adult, might I say almost Parisian? I haven’t had to talk to anyone and reveal my fundamental North Americanness so maybe I can pretend like I almost belong in this city after all.

But then I get like half a street down on this bike and the left pedal is iffy, and I’m like, how great would it be if I’m like halfway down the Seine and like this entire pedal falls off? not great. Apparently it’s supposed to be easy to swap bikes to get one that actually works, so I go back to the terminal and check in the bike, and everything beeps the way it’s supposed to beep, no problem.

But then when I try to put in my pin number attached to the ticket the machine’s like NOPE, WRONG NUMBER so I stick it in again, real quick, and it’s like NOPE and I, without checking if I’m maaybe typing it in wrong, stick it in again and it’s like NOPE SO MUCH YOU CAN’T TYPE IT IN AGAIN, YOU TICKET THIEF, GO THINK ABOUT YOUR LIFE CHOICES and I’m like my life choices have been perfectly fine actually but THANKS for FRAMING ME FOR A CRIME I DIDN’T COMMIT

Anyways so the terminal call-for-assistance doesn’t work, and I’m not sure why, but I can only assume that it’s because this city is viscerally rejecting my North Americanness, so I have no choice but to walk back to my apartment in the increasingly very hot Paris sun, to call the Velib help number from a real phone. I feel a small kinship with a partier who has accidentally spent the night with her best friend’s ex and drunk-called her own ex(es) several times in a single night and is, on sunday morning walking down a main street clutching broken heels in one hand and not enough change for bus fare in the other and is ultimately feeling rejected by life. Just a small kinship though, she probs had it harder than me, but maybe she should remove her exes’ numbers from her phone or she is a little bit asking for trouble.

I was also hoping to stop by a bread place to get some nice bread to feel Adult and PseudoParisian but given the bike situation I can’t really do that now, but there’s a very nice bakery a few doors down from the apartment with light blue accent walls and a constant display of pasteries and cakes plus a guaranteed Nice score on Google, and I’m like, okay, get a pastry or two from there, whatever.

The shop assistant’s all like “bonjour madame” and I’m like “bonjour! Can I have…” and I feel like maybe the shift where he’s annoyed that Yet Another Tourist has come into This Nice Parisian Bakery, I Wish Those Damn Entitled Americans Would Stop Coming In Here and Buying Stuff Even Though It Pays the Bills Because They Treat Paris Like Some Fantasy Disneyland And So On Eugh I Am Too French To Explain My Hatred of American Tourists To You But I Do Not Like Them causes him to mishear my request because he gives me the wrong pastries but at this point I’m so defeated (and by nature I am bad at being assertive) that I’m just like “whatever I bet everything’s good” and pay. (Let’s be real, he just made a mistake and I’m overblowing the situation, but that’s What I Do.)

Only in Paris do you have trouble getting in to your own house, because the doors are heavy and the locks are sticky and mysterious. I can only assume that these are efforts to keep out revolutionaries who, every few decades or so, might bash into your house and demand something which is probably reasonable but might not require that many guns. But I can’t even order French pastries correctly so who am I to talk about French politics.

Anyways cue me standing outside the apartment on the street, punching in yet another code multiple times as I can’t get the damn door open, and cue one of those extremely attractive young French men walking up, this leggy lithe neatly dressed man with curly hair and a nice smile, waiting for me to open it so he can get in as well. Paris is unfairly full of these people. They seem to have got all the dibs on casual attractiveness. Vancouver just got all the nice tap water, which admittedly may not be as nice to look at but doesn’t make you feel humiliated when you can’t open your own front door.
I concede the third defeat in the space of 5 minutes as I step back and mumble “sorry” as he chiquely steps over to the keypad and prettily shoves open the door and beautifully walks up the stairs to his apartment. As I trail in behind do I acknowledge him? (maybe) Do I say thank you? (yes) Do I ignore his existence? (no) Whatever the correct thing to do is, it probably is not “vaguely nod and avoid eye contact and half-run up the three more flights of stairs to get to my door”, but apparently that’s all I can do.

Almost home(ish)! Back to the few square metres where I can be disgustingly, unchiquely North American and maybe figure out how to not have spent 1.70 euros to bike up and down half a small Paris street, or decide that 1.70 is not that many euros and the bikes are too heavy anyways so maybe I don’t need to call about that damn pin number. Either way these pastries do need to get eaten.

Of course, I’ve been travelling with-family the whole time so someone else has always opened the door instead of me, so… I have no idea how to unlock the door, I don’t know what sound it makes, I don’t know how heavy the door will be. In regards to this door I know nothing. So of course I spend like a minute and a half struggling with the lock, one hand full of pastries, head full of the sinking, deep-seated feeling that I am and will never be chique and casual enough to be European, let alone Parisian. Every so often I push the key in too far and the lock literally springs the key out, ejecting me and throwing it on the floor like a mouth spitting out food in disgust. Door, I know. I’m not meant to be here but you could at least let me in so I can dejectedly eat these expensive croissants.

Eventually I just give up and knock on the door, and I have a history of fucking up locks (e.g., the one time at a film premiere when I borrowed a key at the Fox Cabaret to grab my stuff from the balcony room, accidentally unlocked the door permanently and couldn’t re-lock it, and just apologized vaguely to the barstaff without explaining what I might have done wrong and just ran into the night) so of course my time messing with this lock means that when someone comes to open the door for me they can’t, and I stand in the hallway as I hear them go get another key and unlock it from the inside (thanks, weird Paris architecture).


I never even called the number. Those bikes were too heavy anyways.

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