Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Driving...The French Version

Once while taking a writing course, I was asked to write about something that I hated. It was a difficult assignment for me because “Hate” is a strong word. Categorically I can say that I don’t “hate” many things. I hate birds…well, maybe fear them, is a better description. Fear of birds is my particular neurosis and so by extension; I guess you might say I hate them. Anyway, I did find something that I have learned to hate, dear readers, and here is the story...

As I was driving to work one morning, I thought about this subject. I tried to pick my brain about something that I hated enough to rant and rave about. I was racking my brain over this when suddenly it occured to me that a French driver was coming head on towards me as he was passing in a no-passing zone. Panic set in and quick thinking strategies raced in my head like an electronic billboard, “What is the plan here if this car doesn’t move back into its lane?” Now he is flashing his headlights at me. HE is flashing his headlights at ME? Are we kidding? However, finally, with a sigh of relief, he does careen back into the proper lane and my bulging eyes find their way back into their sockets.

Now, where was I? Yes, back to the hate subject. I suddenly realized that this car incidence was divine intervention.

Did I have to really think about something I hate? It now hits me square between the eyes. There was no question as to what I hate and here it is dear readers: I HATE FRENCH DRIVERS! These people are the most selfish, inconsiderate, insane drivers I have had the occasion to “share”(and I use that word lightly) the road with.

Some of you out there are probably saying, “Have you ever driven in Italy, or the Middle East?” Well, you that know these drivers can write your own story. However, I live with the French people. I drive on French roads and auto routes everyday and I am here to tell you that I HATE FRENCH DRIVERS.

Being from Southern California, the land of drive-by shootings and where people cheat insurance companies by causing an accident on a daily basis, you would think driving in France would be a no brainer. However, it is not. Trust me on this.

Because the French don’t have any concerns for “small infractions”, you will observe on the road everyday occurrences such as driving well over the speed limit, running red lights, cutting in front of other cars without notice, driving on the wrong side of the street or parking where there is “no parking”, talking on their mobile phones, even if it unlawful. “Priority to the right” is a real big thing here in France as a written law, as a part of their “code de la route”(a code of the road). However, I rarely see it practiced. The only priority is their priority and they don’t care if it is to the left or the right.

I remember when I had to take the driving tests of my home state of Indiana and later in California. I was handed a small stapled booklet to memorize. After mastering the booklet, I took the written test, followed by the driving portion and voila, I received a license to drive. In practice, in most states, one is even required to renew their license from time to time.
Here in France you have an entire industry created by driving. Driving schools are in abundance. You pay hundreds of Euros and spend countless hours of your time for the privilege of learning that “Code de la Route” that I mentioned before. If you pass your written test, and later your driving test, you obtain a license for life. There is no renewing; no retesting to see if can even see the road in your later years. Your “Permit de Conduire” is an official lifetime document….pass the laminate, please! It allows you to drive anywhere in the world, in fact. God, help us all!

This “Code de la Route” is not a stapled “booklet” but a bounded “book” of 220 pages covering such interesting topics as signaling, intersections and priorities, rules of circulation, crossings and passing, stops and parking, visibility and lights and a concluding chapter of practical driving tips. After memorizing it, you would think that the French would be the most informed, best drivers in the world. And you would be wrong.

In my opinion, some of the problem with this “Code of the Road” is that it is so detailed, who could possibly remember all of it. After you pass the written driving test “pouf” a vacuum appears where that information was once stored. It just occupies too much brain space to store it.

Another problem is this notion that giving signalization on the road reminds you of things you must be aware of while driving, like speed limits, if the road is slippery when wet, whether you have priority at the next intersection, or whether you are approaching an auto route and so forth and so on. In a quarter mile stretch, there are so many signs of “road blathering”, that if you read them all, you couldn’t possibly keep your eye on the road or on the manic sharing the road with you. Therefore, dear reader, you end up ignoring most of them. Hence, road rage rules.

What is taking place on the highways and byways of France between the French and me is affliction entitled, "cultural clash". Where I come from, in general, we obey the laws. At minimum, we respect the laws. Ah, but les Francais, mais, non, they do not respect the law. The French disrespect for the law is a metaphor for in an authoritarian state run by the elite. Are you getting my drift here? Therefore, the French enjoy and take pride in mocking the law not only on the road but in numerous facets of their life.

Don’t forget that France is the country of “the French revolution” which helped fuel their proclivity for protesting. Protesting is everything in France. France is a country where impunity is part of daily life. Is that the reason for their driving mania? It could be a possible explanation.

I will end this diatribe with one of my French husband’s favorite expressions. When I am ranting and raving about some crazy driver zooming past us at an undetermined speed, he reminds me, “For us, French laws are merely a suggestion.” That pretty much sums it up.

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