Shop and Sit

Shop and Sit

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When my husband initially told me we had the opportunity to move to
France I wasn’t interested. I was mostly concerned about my ability to
manage daily life, as I knew it would be much less handicapped
accessible and I would be a long way from my family & friends
support group. Then he said to consider it a 2-year shopping excursion.
Suddenly he had my attention.
 
Little did I know that
Paris would not be the easiest place to shop while in a wheelchair.
That fact has slowed me down but it certainly hasn’t stopped me, and it
shouldn’t stop you. The day we got off the plane we headed (blurry
eyed) straight to Darty’s, a local electronics and appliance store to
purchase all the things we needed; it wasn’t fun but certainly
necessary. The store has unusually large aisles for Paris and is
completely accessible. Of course if you are coming to Paris on holiday,
I doubt you’ll want to take home a washer and dryer so let’s get on to
the more wonderful pastime of fun “real” shopping!
 
The
easiest place for us to do that sort of shopping is at the large
department stores or malls. My favorite department store is Printemps.
It’s completely accessible, has an elevator and I love the clothes and
accessories. They also have great kitchen and home products. We go to
the flagships of: Printemps (64 Blvd. Haussman), Bon Marche (22 Rue de
Sevres) and Galeries Lafayette (40 Blvd.Haussmann) every once in a
while, but usually visit the branches at the smaller malls “Centre
Commercials” in the outlying areas as they’re less crowded, which makes
it much easier to get around. These malls always have a Printemps at
one end. All stores in malls are for the most part accessible.
 
Something
to watch out for if you’re disabled are the small portable dressing
rooms. These are tricky for anyone but can be a nightmare for those of
us that can’t perform circus tricks in various stages of undress. First
they’re very small and a wheelchair can’t fit inside. Secondly, they
don’t have a chair to sit on while changing. Finally, the walls are
simply curtains hung from a rickety frame. They are frequently set up
around tourist season or the holidays and in some stores they are the
only dressing rooms available. The first time I tried something on in
one, I removed my dress and held it in my teeth to keep from dumping it
on the floor and then leaned against the back wall…uh, curtain…and the
whole thing started to wobble. I fell on my bum, hissed a little
expletive to get the full attention of the entire store, closed my eyes
and waited for the complete house of cards to fall down around me.
Miraculously it did not. Just a couple of months ago I was in a small
store and heard a little shriek coming from the dressing rooms. A young
woman in her bra and underwear fell to the floor, along with the entire
set of dressing rooms. I can only imagine how often this happens. I’m
quite sure security personnel amuse themselves by taking bets on which
ones of us will fall. Consequently, my advice to you is: it’s better to
wait for a real dressing room if there’s one available.
 
Another
reason I like Printemps is they typically have a Jacque Desanges hair
salon. We usually walk in on a Saturday; make appointments and then
shop until it’s time for them. They do a good job and they go out of
their way to make me comfortable. It’s also far less expensive than it
was to go to the French Salon I frequented in the US. Most malls have a
FNAC (Books, CDs, Cameras, PCs, etc.) and an Auchan (a large super
market). On a Saturday these stores are usually a complete madhouse so
they’re very difficult to get through in a wheelchair. There are many
small stores of interest in between. Sephora is one of many make-up and
perfume store and Etam is a great place for lingerie, especially for
those of us in small sizes!
 
 In many stores if you’re
trying on clothes, the clerks will push your chair into your dressing
room and offer full assistance if you require it. Recently at Printemps
a little girl that couldn’t have been more than 6 walked up to me and
greeted me with a “Bonjour Madame” and then offered to push me into the
cabine (dressing room). While shopping, we’ve mastered the art of using
the wheelchair on escalators. There’s never a picture of a wheelchair
on the “Safety Warning” as you get on, although by the time we leave
Paris I think there may be one. We’ve been banned from the escalator at
one Monoprix (remember it’s not just for groceries)—but in general the
French worry far less about liability, so do these things at our own
risk. My husband wheels me on with the front wheels slightly up and
then rolls me off at the top landing. When we’re going down he backs up
with my chair in front of him.

Many places in France have
what looks like a flat escalator on a steep slope, which we use the
same way, although as soon as we get on I have to lock the brakes and
as soon as we’re about to get off I release them. At the one Monoprix I
think they must have a picture of us up on a wall opposite suspected
shoplifters. If we get anywhere near the escalator the security guard
smiles and wags his finger in a non gesture and points to the elevator.
When we shop in the small stores around Paris there’s almost always at
least one step up to get inside. My husband usually tips the wheelchair
up or helps me up and then I can walk in with my cane. He then folds
the chair and either puts it in a corner inside or leaves it folded
outside. We keep an eye on it as we shop and the only problem we’ve
ever had is that two men thought it was for sale and wanted to know the
price. Be sure to have your name on your chair regardless of what you
do with it. A standard American chair will not fit in some doorways and
once inside there’s frequently not room for a chair. Many of these
quaint little stores are just too tiny. At times I sit outside and my
husband holds things up to the window for a yea or nay. In the touristy
areas the shop owners will even bring things out to show me.

 

Chain
stores are usually larger, with more room for a chair. One chain store
we frequent—Le Bonhomme de Bois—is a wonderful toy store. The added
bonus of shopping along the rue is that I’m on a first name basis with
shop dogs from Paris to Versailles and many of my furry friends lavish
me with kisses. I think this is where the term “French kiss”
originated. We do a lot of antique shopping, but that will be the
subject for another article…. Until then think about rolling through a
mall on a rainy Parisian day or wheeling through the cobbled Paris
streets into the eclectic shops to find that perfect new outfit and
then wearing it while going out for a romantic dinner of fine food and
wine. Last weekend I wore a 3-piece outfit from one of my favorite
clothing stores, Des Filles à la Vanille (56, rue Saint-Antoine 75004 –
Bastille) and celebrated my husband’s birthday at Le Violon d’Ingres
(135 rue Saint Dominique 75007 Tel: 01 45 55 15 05) . The outfit was oh
so French, the meal was absolutely divine and the company heavenly. PS
– All places mentioned by name are either completely accessible or have
gone a great deal out of their way to assist or accommodate me. For
dining reservations at Le Violon d’Ingres one can email: [email protected]

Copyright © Lara Rogers

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