Driving in France


Biking in France
Biking in France

Prior to motorcycling around France I had not appreciaited just how hot it gets in summer and how France lacks the usual supply of bars and cold drink stores.

After a hot day’s traveling I drove around the roads near my hostelry on the outskirts of Marseille in search of a bar or a 7-11 selling cold drinks. I found only an endless series of pharamacies and patiseries.

However, where your Frenchy sees cultural imperialism your Yank sees a chance to make a fast buck. The only place capable of asauging the heat exhaustion of your traveller is an American chain restauarnt. If it were not for McDonalds or KFC providing the occasional air conditioned refuge and cold drinks the cities of France would be litterred with the desiccated bodies of dead foreigners.

Speaking of dead foreigners, I was not surprised to be told that France has a worrying number of road deaths. After about a week on French roads I can report that there are two main reasons for this. First there is the fact that the road system has been designed by idiots and second is the fact that all the French drivers are wankers.

First take the road layouts. It’s a cliche that your German likes his rules, your Brit is a bodger and your Frenchy likes his elegant theories. For the French road system this means a mind boggling and complicated set of rules, signs, roundabouts, crossings, lights etc. But this is not enough. Eash one of these parts has been broken down into a pleathora of sub parts. A set of traffic lights might be one of many types. Zebra crossings might occur imediatly before roundabouts, imediately after or in an undiscoverred wilderness where no human has stepped foot since the dawn of creation. The traffic lights are distributed freely everywhere. One tends to spend aproximately half ones driving time in French towns waiting at red lights, alone, without another car for a hundred kilometres.

I suspect that your Frenchman has determined: “But Monsieur, zere must be a roundabout here”, and his collague will say “yes, yes, but zere must also be a roundabout”, and an assitant will say: “But ze theory dictates zere must be a crossing. We must impliment zem all Monsieur”. So you end up with a roundabout, a set of lights, a crossing and an archipelego of traffic islands where one false move means instant death.

Your German, would have redesigned the whole thing, your Brit would have thought “Bugger it, the Roundabout is good enough”. But the Frenchman. No, he must impliment them all in the same place.

Perhaps I generalise too much. An alternative theory is that the work party sent out to build various traffic controls over a 100 kilometre stretch of road got so fed up standing under the intense French sun that they thought “Bugger it! Let’s just install it all right here and go and get a croisant”.

Then there is your French driver. The cardinal attribute of your French driver is indecisiveness. Indicators mean nothing as the driver has probably changed his intentions tw or three times since flicking it on. Most of the French roads are either single lane or two lane roads. The result is that your French driver is in a constant frenzy of trying to overtake the guy in front or trying to get back into the inside lane to allow the bully behind him past. Driving behind a carravan or truck one constantly is cut up by someone who then breaks hard and tries to pull out.

“Yes meseur. I shall overtake your silly slow moving vehicle with my powerful fast French car. There! It is done. I shall cut in front of you to illustrate how slow you are travelling but no!! What is this? Another car in front of you!? Who could have forseen such a thing? I must now pull out again, but there is an idiot tailgating me and so I shall pull out half way and we shall all weave around at breakneck speed like imbeciles”. Then there are the toll roads! Take one wrong turn and you’ll find yourself paying for the privilege of driving half an hour in the wrong direction.

So, why do it? Why come to France in the first place? Because it is fantastic! Because in the north east the roads are long and straight and lightly populated. Because they pass through some little villages that apear not to have changed in centuries. Because of the breathtaking Millau Viaduct. Because of the mountain roads and the magical valleys between mountain peaks. And, most of all, because much of France seems undiscoverred by the global tourist industry.