In Which Rouen Comes To A Standstill – And A Toddler Teaches Me A Thing Or Two


In  the middle of the Toussaint holidays the collision of a refrigeration lorry with an  articulated petrol lorry which had lost control on it’s approach, ‘took out’ the principal bridge in Rouen. The explosion and subsequent fire took half a day to be extenguished by 80 firemen. The bridge in question, Pont Matilde, is the main motorway link from Calais and Dieppe to the South of France and everywhere in between, if one wants to avoid Paris.

Incendie Pont mathilde

Subsequently, the only route south is through the centre of the city and the traffic is at a standstill. At rush hour it is impossible. The bridge will be closed until next summer since the heat of the blaze weakened the integrity of the steel.

This is a disaster for thousands of locals, not least my immediate neighbour and her three year old daughter. My neighbour had just returned to work and, like me when I was working, relied heavily on ‘split second’ timing and fluid circulation to get to school pick-up on time. Now it’s just not possible.

So it is that I find myself part-time carer to ‘Petit Lapin’.

‘Petit Lapin’ (little rabbit) is probably the most chic 3 year old I have laid eyes upon. She arrives at my door at 7.30 impeccably dressed in her ‘Mary Jane’ shoes and matching tights, her little jacket and a beret on her ‘bobbed’ hair. In her satchel is her ‘after school gouter’ (snack) and in her hand her yellow rabbit.

I last had a three year old under my wing six years ago, and she looks at me a little oddly sometimes when she struggles to understand the reason for something and I struggle to find the words to explain. But ‘Petit Lapin’ is teaching me a thing or two.

“monte ton chariot” I say to her the first morning. She eyes me sideways –

..”poussette” she replies and climbs into her buggy.

“mon capot, mon capot” she calls from her poussette, and I fumble in her satchel and pull out her beret, rejected from earlier. She looks at me as if I’m a little crazy.

“Non, non, non”, she laughs and points to the hood of the buggy – “le capot”

“aah”, I say and pull up the hood.

“Mon Lapin, mon lapin” she cries in anguish, and sure enough rabbit isn’t in her hand. I’m familiar with this situation. We will get nowhere without tears. First we check her apartment, and then mine. Rabbit is nowhere to be seen. My daughter has the same rabbit in green from her baby days. I pull it out of the box.

“ca va aller?” I ask giving her green rabbit (is this ok)

“c’est pas jaune” she replies (it’s not yellow)

We text her mum. Rabbit is in her satchel! Now ‘Petit Lapin’ has two rabbits; one green, one yellow. Green and yellow rabbit have a very loud chat all the way to the metro. Once the metro starts moving, ‘Petit lapin’ looks at the lady standing nearby.

“Nous avons perdu mon lapin” she says loudly, “Nous avons cherché partout. Mais maman a su, elle sait toujours”  (We lost my rabbit, and we looked everywhere. But maman knew, she always knows) she wrinkled her eyebrows in a telling frown at me before laughing –

..”Mais maintenant j’en ai deux” (but now I have two)

And so our day continues.

But thanks to ‘Petit Lapin’ when I drop her off at Nursery, I discover a secret walkway alongside a small burbling stream on Rue ‘Petites Eaux de Robec’, which runs 7 kilometres from the centre of the city to Darnetal and passes the old linen mills of Rouen. I discover that the newly restored youth hostel was once the fine residence built by the milling and cloth dying entrepreneur,  Jean-Baptiste Auvray between 1784 and 1787.

Leaving the city centre following the stream I found myself surrounded by trees on a car-less lane and I could have walked for miles, or cycled, and I will do next time.

Later another evening, having gathered her from school, my neighbour calls to say that she is stuck in traffic, and will I take ‘Petit Lapin’ to her doctor’s appointment, and so I pitch my wits against foreign medical vocabulary and ‘Petit Lapin’ twirls a borrowed minature globe in the palm of her hand.

“C’est quoi” she asks (what is it)

“C’est la monde” I reply ‘(its the world)

“Non” she says “C’est la terre” (it’s the earth)

I don’t argue, since for someone so small ‘Petit Lapin’ knows more words than me. With her words and my understanding we can decipher the French world together. I looked it up later, and neither of us is right, It’s ‘le globe’. I’ll tell her next time and we’ll both learn something new!

I wonder what she will teach me next week?

6 comments on “In Which Rouen Comes To A Standstill – And A Toddler Teaches Me A Thing Or Two

  1. amelie88 says:

    This post was so cute! This kid sounds adorable. And believe me, you are going to learn A LOT of French from her. My Spanish improved so much last year because I was surrounded by Spanish speaking children at school. You both benefit from it–you get to learn new words and she gets to feel like she is in charge.

    Also sorry to hear about the accident at the bridge :(. I hope they fix it by next year, it sounds like a lot of people depended on it to get around.

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    • She’s is quite the cutest kid! The loss of the bridge is making everyone reinvent themselves without cars. I wonder if, when the bridge is rebuilt, everyone will be so good at car sharing and public transport that it ends up reducing traffic.

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  2. I love children of that age, they’re so confident that they’re right all the time! How do you manage getting to work yourself? I’ve got to go through Rouen myself in a couple of weeks so I’m very grateful to know about the chaos in advance – luckily I’m going from Calais to Le Mans so I won’t have to worry about missing the ferry.

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    • I think motorway traffic is being redirected by Le Havre, however if Rouen is a better direction avoid 7-9.30am and 5 – 7pm and you should be ok.(route Quayside or Boulevard d’Yser and Boulevard de Belges) Lots of traffic lights but dual carriageway. It seems to have calmed down a bit over this weekend and i’m guessing that some form of ‘deviation’ is in place. Good luck!

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  3. I’m so enjoying reading your posts about life in France! Thanks for sharing the ups and downs with such humor and so many details.

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