A Conversation for Driving Etiquette - France
Driving in France
dough Started conversation Apr 23, 2001
My wife and I are Australians and we regulaly holiday in Europe. I have also driven in Africa, Asia and the Americas and I have to say that the best country in the world to drive in is France!! Yes, better than even Italy.
Here are a few of my reasons:
1. The speed limits are indicative only. This coming from a country where an transgression of 30 kph above the posted speed will see you in court and relived of A$2100 (£320) plus your licence; is sheer heaven. The exception is the 50 zones -like cities, towns, villages, hamlets and or any agglomerations of two men and a dog or greater. Here the limit is strictly enforced.
2. The Autoroute rain speed limits are even more negoitiable. The definition of what constitues rain is , of course, a matter for dicusssion. The insipid perpetual state of the Pas de Calais or Somme are, naturally, only a slight inconvienence to a person brought up on the real rain of the Mistral pounded Provence or anybody that lives from say, Finistere to Bordeaux. There rain means the road has completely or partially disappeared so one slows down to view the confusion that is undoubtably someones fault. So until the matter of what is rain is clarified - on vite!
3. Roundabouts require élan, knowledge and quick reflexes. Know where you are going, have a good resolute navigator who can stare down the locals in the unlikely event of a trifling mistake and possess a good Michelin map book - buy a big one like you see resting on the dashboard of every long distance truck in France.
4. Péage areas represent the opportunity, particulaly for us over regulated Antipodes, to mix it with the best exponents of the massed Grand Prix start anywhere in the world. A tip: beware of intersections just after a péage - as an over competitive nature here may see you speeding off in an unplanned direction.
5. The Jekyll/Hyde nature of French drivers on Sunday. Before midday; no quarter is asked for or given as the best meal of the week awaits. The closer the time gets to 12 noon - the more frenetic the roads. Anyone knows that "On mange á midi." After 3pm - a curious langour decends over all French roads as the replete and slightly drunk population of France goes home. This is the time for friendship, waving, sharing a glance or a narrow road and maybe, even learning how to drive on French roads. The Rousseauian concepts of Égalité and Fraternité are redicovered by every Frenchman on every French road on every Sunday between 3 and 3.30pm.
6. Mountain pass etiquete consists of first in - best dressed or if you are demonstrably larger than me - I will grudgingly let you go first. Be warned ; any demonstation of arrogance here will be rewarded with a counter display by that would impress a Roman cab driver. So gauge your size accurately.
7. Déviations can be an excellent way of visiting yet more of France. These signs are placed by people who, naturally, suppose that you, the driver, are well informed of any road in the area that is more insignificant than the one you are currently leaving. If not - bon chance! Last trip we had a linked series of these that converted a 70 km trip between the Autoroute du Nord to the A11 to Chartres into a week long sidetrip in the Orne /Mayenne area. We emerged at Anger and still have no idea of what Chartres looks like.
8. Seeking directions from locals. If your map is of no use and you really must go to your planned destination - then I would recommend a having purchased a car with a Global Positioning System in the first place; or go somewhere else - life is too short. Under no circumstance ask a local - even if you speak reasonable French. We once arrived in Mulhouse to visit the justifiably highly acclaimed Museé Schlumpf. We sought directions on entering the town and at various points around the town. We arrived at the museum at closing time. We stayed overnight at an establishment which was within sight of the museum and visited the next day. On reflection, we discovered that we had asked no fewer than 11 people - could they all be employees of the local chamber of commerce?
9. Confident and colourful signposts notifying all that an establishment of considerable charm and thrift awaiats are to be treated with caution. We have tried to find local supermarkets - cheapest places to buy petrol - throughout France that we really believe do not and have never have existed. Large signs proclaim their existence once or twice and then, pouf, they are gone. Even towns get into the act. The village of Avon near Fontainebleau, for example, does not possess its much signed Centre de Ville - I know, I have looked. Now please read item 8 again.
On a sad note; I first drove in France in 1973 and I have to say that before the advent of the Brussels run EU, French drivers were much more demonstrative and inventive. I suppose if you combine laws with countries where; to share a well thought out and expertly delivered commentary on a challenger's antecedents, is punishable with an instant fine and loss of licence ; this is the result. Thankfully, one can still find places - the Lozère or Haute Savoie and some diehard areas in and around Paris - where these age old skills can still be experienced. Rather like good cheese.
I have found after many enjoyable and extended visits to France; the dangers of French roads to be, in no particular order:
A. Cars with Belgian plates - especially on narrow roads. Even a well lubricated paysan is wary of these.
B. Cars with British plates - especially on Autoroutes. Notably around towns like Troyes that have cheap factory outlets.
C. Cloven hooved animals - anywhere where they are not currently being milked or eaten.
D. Cars with the 75 or 76 suffix - approach these with caution anywhere but especially if they are stationary.
E. Anything remotely identifiable as German. This applies any road west of the Rhine but especially in areas of high property values. On reflection; I must add waterways to this warning - an unfortunate incident in the Dordogne last September.
F. Spanish tourist coaches. These tend to be more erratic the closer they get to Spain - unless there is a religious shrine about, when they can and frequently do; do the unexpected.
H. Cars with Tourist plates. Especially around known tourist attractions or narrow roads leading to or coming from the same; apparently distinguishing the left hand from the right hand in such environs can be challenging.
My advice for novices:
Do not drive in France unless you have at least some of the following character attributes - a sense of humour, a sense of direction, a sense of adventure plus a flexible travel plan. If you are deficient in most of these; then I sugest having a local holiday or booking yourself on a coach.
Using French roads can be exciting as using Italian trains.
I do hope that somebody finds the above useful for driving or possibly, not driving, in France.
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