IMG_6214About two hours before the cyclists of the Tour de France pass by, there’s complete craziness on the route as the beloved caravane parades through, tossing goodies to bystanders.P1100568No homemade homecoming floats here. It’s all professional, promoting the official sponsors of the race. They are simultaneously slick, professional advertisements and laughingly absurd.P1100548Take, for example, the Gaulois chicken brand. Yes, chicken–the cigarettes are Gauloises, feminine. The first vehicle had a chicken on a bike. Yes, it’s the Tour de France, and it was all bicycles all the time. But I learned during a trip in Mali that really tough chicken is called poulet bicyclette–bicycle chicken–so hard to chew that it must have been raised riding a bike, which doesn’t seem like an image to promote. On the other hand, the number of spectators who have eaten tough chicken in Africa is probably low.P1100549They also had nuggets…”Crousty Chicken” is quite the franglais mashup. “Crusty” in French is croustillant.P1100551Gizzards (you KNOW you’re in France when gizzards are all over your salad, whether you asked for them or not)…P1100552And very tantalizing brochettes. They didn’t forget the bun (petit pain--little bread–when something sells like hotcakes here you say “c’est parti comme des petits pains”).IMG_6226It takes a certain nonchalance to drive such a beast, no?

I don’t remember what they were throwing to the crowd, but we didn’t score any. Keychains? Magnets? The top photo shows Vittel, and they handed out bottles of water (no throwing those!). Then a float came by with people spraying the crowd with mist. Years ago, people would dance and jump in the mist, arms in the air, but this time everybody hurried to protect their phones.P1100560This one is very Parisian, n’est-ce pas? The lamp post, the advertising kiosk….Krys is an optician chain.

The floats are an opportunity for people to live out their superstar fantasies. Parading past adulating crowds. Several floats were like Krys, with booming party music and somebody pretending to DJ, and usually some dancers. Never mind that the crowds want freebies and don’t care about you. A person can dream! IMG_6222P1100571Cochonou (cochon is pig; Cochonou is a brand of hard sausage), with its iconic red gingham on iconic Citroën 2CVs. It’s definitely the crowd favorite–they distribute little sachets of sausage. Where else, right?P1100539Juice…P1100535Mickey Mouse magazines…P1100562Madeleines….and they throw out little packets with two madeleines in each! P1100541P1100542This one cracked me up–the family biking and the mother and daughter are smiling but the dad is grimacing. Skoda is a brand of cars built in the Czech Republic, owned by Volkswagen.IMG_6227Candy is dandy…and of course that’s what they tossed out.IMG_6225IMG_6224Laundry soap…we scored a sample of that.

I noticed that the people on the floats were wearing harnesses that were attached to the vehicles. It was kind of odd to see the ones who were on bikes (not on the road but atop the floats, a common theme) or dancing tied to the float. The ones who were throwing stuff really leaned out, and I suppose the sponsors didn’t want falls, even though the floats go much more slowly than the racers, at least in towns.IMG_6217Promoting the movie Hotel Transylvania 3…IMG_6218IMG_6219FDJ is France de Jeux–the lottery operator. Notice the symbol is a four-leaf clover. IMG_6221McCain is a brand of French fries. Notice that they’re in a fryer basket–there’s even the handle on the back.IMG_6223Bic pens, native to France, are so iconic that many people don’t say stylo (pen) but instead say Bic, the way people refer to a photocopy as a Xerox or a paper tissue as a Kleenex.

Lots of fun, with lots of scrambling for prizes. If you want to see an old guy race a young kid, just throw a free refrigerator magnet in between them.

On Tuesday, I did a post about the actual cyclists. And if you missed them, you can see the posts from when the Tour came to Carcassonne two years ago: the caravane and the race itself.

Did you know about the Tour de France caravane?







32 thoughts on “French Floats

  1. I love the caravane!! I’ve found that the trick to getting absolutely everything thrown at you, is to stand a little isolated, away from the crowds, and to have a child or very old person with you!! Worked great the last two times the tour came through Saint-Chinian!! 🙂

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  2. What an iconic slice of French life you have captured and shared! This took me many, many summers back, when I used to sit on the side of these French roads for hours in the sun, waiting for our favorite racers but even more so, for us kids, la Caravane! I’d still root for Cochonou today. It manages to highlight two French icons! Thank you for the memories. Will be sharing with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community on Saturday morning this week 🙂 — Véronique

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  3. We were back in the UK when the Tour de France was in Carcassonne but did manage to watch this stage on television. When I was a student, in Tours, I have very happy memories of the Tour passing through a nearby village. It all happened very quickly but the fête that went on afterwards lasted all night. I have to confess that I have very little memory of what we actually did! Make of that what you will…

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  4. It’s interesting to see how different the “floats” are from what we’d see here in the US. The Tour de France is a real spectacle, that’s for sure. How fun that you get to see the cyclists race past you!

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    1. I can’t think of a U.S. equivalent–there, the parades are THE event, whereas here the cyclists are the event and the sponsor floats are just a kind of pregame show.


  5. Marvelous pictures. I knew about the candy and trinkets, but it sounds as if you could eat lunch from the goodies tossed at you.
    The Gaulois red-and-white bucket looks awfully like KFC, so I hope their product is better.

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    1. KFC is here, too. I’ve only been once. The corn on the cob was passable, and in any case it’s impossible to find corn on the cob here so I would have been elated even if it weren’t good.


  6. The Caravane is such fun! I’d love to drive that chicken truck. McCain are the biggest name in fries in Britain too and they are neither British nor French …. clever marketing wins every time. 🥔 🍟

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      1. Ah but, as we still do, the ‘developed’ world went out a-conquering and a-trying to change the natives to our own ways. The Spanish Conquistadors took potatoes back triumphantly to Spain (hurrah, Patatas Bravas and other wondrous Spanish spud dishes) and Walter Raleigh took them to Ireland (all hail Champ and Colcannon) where later the population would be almost half wiped out when the ‘Potato Famine’ struck in the 1840s. The humble ‘tater was a turning point in history for Ireland, for Britain and for the USA …. and one of our favourite meals is Ajiaco Bogotanos – it all goes full circle in the end 🙂

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  7. The Caravane is the best! I stood by the roadside in Saint Chinian a few years ago to see the Tour, and two years ago here in Provence (Mazan) to see it again, this time with a table reserved at the local restaurant right on the route. I never catch the really good stuff, but then I can’t jump as high as I used to ….. It seems that each year the floats get more elaborate, I too would like to drive the chicken, especially every day…..
    bonnie in provence

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  8. Absolutely wonderful! Do you think they did that in Paris too? Love the Vichy check car but they’re all great. Much better/more fun than those elaborate commercials played at half-time at the Super Bowl Imho.❤️

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  9. There is something so autrefois about a parade — yet at the same time, this is so slick and commercial that while fun and comical at times, it feels like something of the old fashioned parade is missing. Have never experienced the caravane du tour before. How fun that you were able to be on the scene for all of us! 🙂

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