Bobos in the South of France


We live in a world of acronyms and abbreviations. Bobo is a great one to describe the people, and as a result, the area, in which I’m staying for a week in Marseilles.


Home for a week.

In case you just did a WTF at the mention of bobos — not to be confused with boo-boos — allow Cafe Babel to explain. Here’s their descriptive definition of bobos and their American counterparts: You can’t sip a coffee in NYC without catching a glimpse of their horn-rimmed glasses, vampirically pale skin and American Apparel trews. They claim to be vegan, yet flaunt vintage leather boots. The hipster, derived in the 1940s after the nickname for opium, ‘hop,’ has one essential characteristic: their self-consciousness of their alternative lifestyle. Their French counterpart is the bobo, short for bourgeois-bohème (bourgeois-bohemian), who is a middle- or upper-class Parisian who chews on organic food and dons all-natural fibres, yet couldn’t live without their industrially mass-produced iPhone. The contemporary hipster sidesteps politics, but the bobo originated from the May ’68 generation in France: extreme leftist student rebels.

I, of the yuppie generation, found myself eating lunch amongst the bobos in Le Cour Julien, a trendy, graffiti-filled (bobos probably prefer “street art”) public square a hop-skip-and-a-jump from our studio apartment in Marseilles.


Le Cour Julien.

My husband, an old hippie, and I tried to figure out what the bobos were rolling and smoking at the sidewalk cafe where we stopped for a late lunch. I lost count of the electronic cigarettes, but verified with the old hippie that it wasn’t marijuana being rolled at the tables around us. We concluded it was simply tobacco since the French apparently never got the memo on the carcinogens coursing through the plant. Even the bobos pushing baby carriages puffed away. That’s what I call a bobo no-no.

Okay. I will STFU about the bobos.

We arrived in Marseilles via train, an hour-and-forty-five-minute ride on the usually blazing-fast TGV which ended up being 30 minutes late due to a delay in Lyon.


John leads the way at the Marseilles-St. Charles train station.

This port city in the south of France is the second largest in the country. Paris, of course, is numero uno. Marseilles has been around a while, first inhabited some 30,000 years ago. It became a key trading center in 600 BC when the Phoenicians arrived and set up shop.

I learned in my high school French class of its ties to the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. The town on the Mediterrean happily embraced the French Revolution and sent hundreds of volunteers to Paris to defend the revolutionary government. The song they sang on their march from Marseilles to Paris, became known as La Marseillaise, now the national anthem of France.

Revolutionaries and bobos. Marseilles is bound to be fun.


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