What I learned from the “Driving in France” workshop

It wasn’t so much of a workshop as it was a stereo-typical French middle-aged man with spectacles draped around his neck, an over sized sweater with a collared shirt peaking out, and a quintessential moustache that curled up at the edges speaking in English with a very, very French accent about the dramas of driving in France for 2 hours.  That’s how I spent part of the morning last week.  And when I say drama, I mean drama.  He liberally used the words “depressed,” “pulverized,” and  “attitude”  amongst a number of other quirky phrases which I’ll go into soon.

Instead of teaching us what to expect, I think he scared the 10 or so people in the room away from driving in France, and especially in Paris.  The more I stay in this country and learn how it operates, the more convinced I get that efficiency is not a priority.

So what did learn that day… (and read the quotes with a French accent, it’ll make this blog post funnier).

You can’t turn right on a red.  Annoying but it gets stranger..

There are so many different signs… Signs to indicate you’re on a road with the right of way.  Yield signs that work differently here – can’t quite recall them all now. City limit signs with the name of the city with a diagonal line through it to indicate you’re living the city.  In fact, a whole set of “end of zone” signs.  If it’s raining, then subtract 20km/h from the speed sign limit.  But don’t go below the minimum speed sign.

We also learned that “the Government’s pockets are empty right now” so they will try any which way to fine you and get money from you.

Perhaps that’s why a lot of signs are hidden behind trees “it’s okay in the winter, but in the summer, you can’t see the signs, but you will still get a fine.”

It’s apparently illegal to put on sirens or honk unless it’s a real emergency (however I lack the evidence that really proves this.)

Pay attention to the signs around high speed trains, otherwise “you’ll be pulverized.  They will not find your body, so they will give your spouse the whole car and you will have to get a big coffin to get buried in with the car.”

Pedestrians don’t follow the crosswalk signals and to truly fit in, you have to also disobey and just jaywalk, dodging cars and risking your life.  I’m guilty of it all the time too.  So as a driver, when you approach a crosswalk, “know the attitude of the pedestrian.  If it’s your right of way, don’t let him make you stop, then all the other pedestrians will be in the way and the drivers behind you will get very angry because you should go.”

A lot of stops signs are posted way before the line in which you have to stop at.  Drivers literally will only stop right at the pedestrian crosswalk – many times making me think they aren’t going to stop at all!  Clearly, I’m not communicating my “attitude” well enough.

There are signs indicating no parking zones and some sign have digits on them, like 1.15 and 16.31.  Which means when the day of the month is between the 1st and 15th, you park on the side of the road where the house/apartment numbers are odd.  The rest of the month, you park on the side where the numbers are even.  Why you ask?  “because if you live on the first floor, you wake up every morning and open your window and if you constantly see cars, you will become very depressed.  So this way, it’s fair for everyone living on the street.”

There are 3 kinds of roundabouts.  One with 4 entrances/exits that work like the ones in Edmonton, somewhat orderly with drivers sticking to the appropriate lane according to how far he/she wants to go around the roundabout.  Simple enough.  And then there are the roundabouts with stop lights which doesn’t make all that much sense to me – might as well put in a 4 way stop.  And lastly, the infamous roundabouts with 5+ entrances/exits that are a free-for-all like the one around the Arc du Triomphe which has the equivalent of 8 or 10 lanes (with no lines).  Imagine a situation where the drivers with the right of way are the ones ENTERING the roundabout… how does anyone really get out?  You end up much like the Griswolds on their European vacation.  See the “yield to the right” rule in action HERE.  Honestly, how does this make sense?

And the rules are that if you get into an accident here, equal blame is placed on the both drivers, no questions asked.  So as the instructor put, “if you have a nice car like a Ferrari you don’t want to drive in these roundabouts.  But if you have shit car, then you don’t car so much.”  I hope to never have to drive there.

Even the sculpture on the Arc du Triomphe looking down is clearly horrified!

France has baned texting and talking on the phone while driving and soon, they are considering banning smoking while driving but “while only there are kids in the car.  Lucky for me, I don’t have kids so I can still smoke and drive.

Keep an eye out for construction zone signs.  They will literally be steps away from the guys doing the work so you’ll have little warning.  Again, why you ask?  “because if the signs are too far from the workers, they will be stolen. Some people like to put traffic signs as decoration.

He also said signs are often changed… like the one below that I saw myself or the example he gave of a yield sign with ducks painted on it.  A lady in the class insisted that there are ducks that cross the street in her neighbourhood, but he quipped back, “there are no ducks!”  He added, “Afterall, everyone in Paris is an artiste. It is merely an artistic expression.”

“Sauf” mean “except for”

Lastly, the one thing that does make sense are special forms that you are encouraged to carry in your car and can fill out when you do get into an accident which is almost like a police report you fill out between the two parties.  Each party describes what happened and can draw out where the damages are however, he did warns us which boxes not to check because then you’re admitting fault.  By the way, police officers aren’t called to accidents unless someone has been hurt.

There is more I’m missing and loads of other strange things he said.  In the end, I didn’t think it was all that useful but the entertainment value of the whole experience made it one for the record books.

We’ll see if David and I can put this new found knowledge to the test soon when we go pick up our appliances and kitchen cabinets and when we go on a driving holiday next month.

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