Posts Tagged ‘driving in France’

One of the most annoying things I find about driving in France is the fact that you don’t actually need to have a driving license to be on the road. “What?!” I hear you say. Well, if you want to drive a normal car and actually get anywhere in a normal time then yes, you need a license, but if somehow you’ve not managed to pass your test or have had your license taken away from you then you can drive one of these:

If you see a car like this be sure to give it a wide berth

Or if that one is a bit to basic how about one of these?

If the first one is too basic how about a nice little convertible?

That’s right, you can still have a car, albeit one that allows you to drive without a license. If you’ve had your license taken away from you say for drink driving, well you can still legally be on the road, drunk and ready to hit a pedestrian, a tree or another car!

This bewilders me. Surely there is a valid reason as to why these people do not have a license?

When I was living in Lyon I had a couple of close calls with these fake cars as I call them. One tried to plough me down on a pedestrian crossing and another carved me up.

Now that I’m living in the countryside it is frequent that I get stuck behind one or have to swerve to miss one. They dawdle at no more than 60 kmh (I think) which is still plenty fast enough to cause damage. Their owners rarely seem to care about other drivers. Indicators? What are they for? Right hand side of the road? No, they can frequently be seen around here wobbling all over the road.

Of course, they are a good method of transport offering independence to those that don’t (or no longer have) a license but to the rest of us they are menace. If they hit a child the consequences could still be fatal.

What to you think? Danger or transport solution?


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Lyon: a beautiful city, shame about some of the people... Photo credit: Piglet in Portugal

Lyon city is fantastic but due to the high density of people living here, you also get a high density of jerks! One of the things I am looking forward to in the countryside is a slower pace of life and hopefully a less “dog eat dog” attitude from fellow inhabitants.

I had two encounters last week that made me desperately happy to be leaving city life, although of course, I do realize that jerks are everywhere but I really do seem to be living in jerk central currently!

Jerk 1:Carrefour! Down the road we have a mid sized Carrefour where I often go to do my grocery shopping. I popped in at about 5pm at the end of the week to buy a pack of cheese and the place was absolutely heaving. I dodged all of the trolleys and avoided tripping up over peoples bags and those pull along baskets. Queues at the checkouts were at least 5 people long so I finally made my way to the priority till and proceeded in requesting each person if I could go to the front, signaling my pregnant belly, my one packet of cheese and the fact that I had the correct change in my hand. All was well until I reached the front when I came across a big lady with the fullest shopping trolley you could ever imagine. You name it, she had it in there, it was that full! When I asked her, she curtly said no, I couldn’t go in front of her and that she had a disability card and had as much right as me to be in the queue.

I’m not normally one for quick witty answers, normally they come to me two hours after the occasion has passed, but on this occasion my pregnancy hormones did the trick!

“ah bon?” I quickly retorted “maybe so, but on this occasion I do believe that I am considered to have more of a disability than you, for starters I couldn’t even push that trolley round! Plus I only have a pack of cheese AND I have the correct change, surely it wouldn’t hurt you to wait 30 seconds longer?”

After much encouragement by the other shoppers the lady finally caved in and I paid for my cheese and left her to it. I felt a bit guilty afterwards – but the lady didn’t look disabled in anyway so if she truly did have a disability then it may not have been obvious to the eye, but surely if she could push that big heavy trolley around she could wait 30 seconds longer?

Jerk 2:Driving back from Carrefour, I had a near accident which could have wiped out both me and little miss Piglet. We get lots of greasy haired, self important jerks in the city that drive large cars and consider themselves superior to everyone else and that the world revolves around them and them uniquely. They are the type of people that park in disabled spots, outside my garage door or that try and run you down on a zebra crossing. They talk loudly into their mobile phones and never turn up at an appointment on time. They don’t consider it necessary to queue in banks or at cash points and can often be seen with trophy wives. Unfortunately this was an encounter with one of them.

I was driving calmly straight on when I had a green light, when suddenly I had to swerve and miss a huge BMW 6 series that was aiming itself at my door! I was absolutely petrified and my heart was going ten to the dozen as I swerved to miss him, leaving me in the middle of a busy road at a standstill, heart thumping as I narrowly avoided being run into. On closer inspection I saw that not only was he holding his mobile phone to his ear but he was also smoking a cigarette! He must have thought he had super powers to be able to drive a car as well… He seemed totally oblivious to the accident he had nearly caused and didn’t even have the courtesy to stop or hold his hand up to apologise.

I wonder what countryside jerks will be like? Tractor bust ups perhaps?

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I need luck!

It’s been nail biting stuff in the Piglet household for the last 12 hours. Everything started yesterday evening when I had a feeling of anticipation that we were going to get an offer on the house. I could just feel something in my bones, a sort of premonition of electric shocks that lead me to believe something exciting was going to happen.

We had had five house visits so far this week which is pretty good going given that Monday was a bank holiday and it’s the French school holidays.

So, yesterday evening I was like a child and couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t face cooking dinner and was having major cravings for McDonalds (please, don’t comment reference the nutritional benefits or lack thereof), so I invited Mr Piglet out (how generous!) and we went to the local drive in.

In my state of excitation I think my driving skills were worse than usual and the darkness of the night didn’t help either as I always have problems judging distances. Mr Piglet sat beside me in the car looking as if he was going to gag at any moment. Anyone would have thought that it was him that was suffering from morning sickness! His worry was certainly justified by all the little accidents I have had lately; the other evening when I reversed into another car, or the other week when I missed the garage door when trying to drive in, or how about when I got the car stuck between two walls when I picked him up from the hospital?

A look of terror was permanently fixed upon his face and you could hear his sudden intakes of breath as I swerved to miss a van or braked sharply at a red light. Things came to head at the drive in when I very nearly ran over the lady taking the orders. Mr Piglet promptly decided that I needed to take driving lessons!

“What?” I told him. “I know how to drive!” I said indignantly. “I’m just having some problems concentrating at the moment, it’s because I’m pregnant!”
So, it looks as if I’m going to have to really concentrate for the next few weeks otherwise I will be getting driving lessons again! I’m sure this is yet another pregnancy thing as I have never struggled with driving before (aside from the odd parking mishap) – any comments?

Anyway, back to my feeling. The evening passed with no major events and feeling disappointed off I went to bed. Before falling asleep, I decided that Mr Piglet’s laptop was making THE most horrendous noise and had to be turned off before I could even contemplate trying to get 40 winks.

Curiosity, and the fact that I’m a workaholic, got the better of me and before turning it off, I decided to check the emails. And there it was. THE OFFER.
Sitting in his inbox since 11 pm was an offer for the house! Needless to say after reading it, all sleepy thoughts immediately left our minds and we spent a very restless night, verbally dreaming about our new life in the country (and in my case fretting about moving and the availability of osteopaths in the wilderness!) so we’re both feeling a bit tired today!

Negotiations have commenced and we hope to have agreed a sales price by the beginning of next week. In the meantime we’re crossing our fingers for good luck and hoping everything goes smoothly!

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So, back to school, back to work, back to getting on with your life now that the relaxed, do nothing, don’t bother months of July and August are rapidly becoming nothing more than faint memory – it’s “La Rentrée”.

La Rentrée is like a second start to the year in France. It not only marks the start of a new school term but more like a start of a new year for all. A new year that runs between September and December of course.

La Rentrée was a non event for me because I was in Lyon all throughout August and spent most of my time moaning how my local butcher, hairdresser, tabac, boulangerie, traiteur, market and you name it were all closed. Oh, how I now wish I had cherished those moments of peace and quiet and free car parking now that the craziness of city life has taken over again.

Never was there such a reminder as to what hell living in a city can be as this Monday. A simple trip to the garage and back to pick up my car. When we dropped it off before La Rentrée, a round trip took a maximum of 40 minutes. This was to reach the other side of Lyon, driving through the city centre and back.

Not to be this Monday. No, it took no less than 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete the drive there and back. This was certainly not helped by the fact that the education workers were striking and had decided to march right through the centre of Lyon, exactly the same route that we were trying to take!

Each time we turned into a street we were greeted by the barricade of police blocking the street so that those who were on strike could march their way through. As we weaved our way desperately around the city, swinging a left turn here and a right turn there we gained speed on the procession but lost lots of time on the clock. It was rather like starring in our very own PacMan arcade game; desperately trying to escape the demonstrations and reach our destination before they did.

When we did finally reach the garage I was dumbfolded to see that the protestors had arrived before us. Upon closer inspection it didn’t look like they were protesting at all, they had a marching band, a singer and seemed in very good spirit, not upset about anything at all! Maybe they were extra pleased as they’d beaten us there?

On a side note, I didn’t realize that this was not the main strike and that there was a national strike on Tuesday. I doubt those that protested on Tuesday were in such high spirits mind, it absolutely peed down with rain all day long…

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I’ve had a bit of a shitty week and hopefully its all due to come to an end tomorrow as I’m off to Lisbon to see my parents. Its been a while!

I should have known on Sunday evening that I was going to be in for a cracker of a week, as Hubby & I were invited round to my neighbours for dinner. All started well, until I learned that we were going to be eating my two most feared foods:

1) Magret de canard (duck): I actually like duck but others always cook it bloody and I then have to negotiate not eating it or slipping it to my hubby for him to eat.
2) Fondue! I have not eaten this since my Fondue incident at the beginning of February and everyday I live with a reminder in terms of a big red scar on my hand…

I should have taken these signs as a bad omen and cancelled all the rest of my plans for the week…

Roll on Tuesday and I had an important work meeting. By Tuesday night I was exhausted and I nearly passed out on the motorway whilst on the way to the airport. Pretty scary stuff I can tell you as I couldn’t breath and began violently shaking. I just about managed to pull over onto the hard shoulder and then my poor passenger had to drive my right hand car to the airport with me just about managing to give directions! He should have read my driving tips!

At the medical centre in the airport I met the nicest Nurse and Doctor I’ve ever met, and even though my blood pressure was in free fall they were really lovely and never once made me repeat myself. When I felt better I realised that they probably hadn’t been able to understand a word of what I’d been telling them about my symptoms (try speaking French when you’re hyperventilating!) and yet they were professional and didn’t sneer like most people do.

They even managed to save me 160 Euros on the short-term car parking as apparently I’d got my colleague to park it in there at some silly price like 2 Euros a minute! Thankfully the nice Nurse sorted it out and she saved me a lot otherwise that would have been the cherry on the cake.

Then on Wednesday, hubby made me an appointment with my new doctor (who is lovely, speaks English even though we always speak in French, and used to work in Japan). Worryingly he didn’t even have to give my name for the appointment as apparently I’ve been there so much in the last month that I will soon qualify for a Frequent Visitor loyalty card (LOL). I patiently waited for the appointment time to come and battled my way through the maze of intricately guarded Interphone and front door systems, only for me to get there at said appointment time to find a note on the door to say that they had to cancel and had tried calling me but couldn’t get through. Oh yes, we had broken the telephone, I’d forgotten about that!

So now we’re Thursday and I’m just getting through the day, slowly but surely… It’ll be Friday soon and I’ll be on my way to Lisbon and hopefully getting some sun… Or, knowing my luck it will pee down all weekend!!!

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On Friday I made my first outing in the car since hurting my hand. I needed to pick up some French people from the station for a meeting and it took all my concentration to get to the station and back, dodging the cities traffic, trying to remember my way and most importantly trying to avoid being hit by another car! The whole experience reminded me somewhat of dodgems but I made it there and back in one piece.

Here are five handy tips for driving in France:

1. Stick to the right!
You must drive on the right hand side of the road at all times.

This is easier said than done for a Brit, even if this particular Brit learned to drive and passed her license in France! Even though I did not learn to drive in the UK it is not rare that I can find myself on the wrong side of the road when in France, heading directly towards the fast approaching lights of the car coming head on at me.

This type of error is most likely to occur at night, when I’m tired or when I’ve not driven for a while. The most scary experience was when I pulled out onto a country lane late one night after a day of exhausting meetings only to realise that I’d be looking the wrong way before pulling out and there was a gigantic lorry heading straight towards me! I now repeat my mantra every time I get in the car: “drive right, drive right”!

2. Beware of cars on your right!
In France, you need to give way to the right (priorité a droite)… This may be the same for other European countries I don’t know, but its not in Britain. When you’re driving along a road, you have to constantly be looking to the right to make sure that there’s not a car that’s going to whiz out in front of you.

How do you know?
Whilst looking constantly to the right you have to check whether the incoming road has a stop sign or a cedez le passage (give way) sign – you can also check the road markings (if they haven’t faded away): a continuous white line is a stop and a dotted white line is a give way so normally you should be safe – no whizzing cars. If you don’t see any of these then its best to slow right down and check that a car is not going to appear from no-where as they have priority over you and should you hit them its you or your insurance that’ll have to cough up!

There are so many accidents in France due to this rule its ridiculous. A lot of my French friends agree and no-one can tell me why this rule even exists. It just doesn’t make sense.

We have a priorité a droite on our street from the road that comes in just before the Boulangerie and nearly every week there is a crash. How dangerous can that be with everyone that has to cross the road to go and buy their bread? The parking space opposite is often empty as all the locals know that that’s the place that gets hit each time there’s an accident.

I tried to explain the Priorité a Droite rule to my parents when they come over and I managed to terrify my Mum who as passenger, is often in charge of checking for cars coming on the right.

Why don’t the French ditch this rule as it makes driving a complete nightmare – as if its not hard enough already!

3. Follow the car in front…This may not actually be a good idea but I’ve found it to be quite helpful as I find French road signs and junctions can be quite confusing. Complicated junctions often come hand in hand with point one, driving on the right, and I get confused which way round I’m supposed to take a junction. So, quite often I find it safer to follow what’s in front. If I’m unlucky enough not to have a car in front of me then I’m sorry for the car that’s behind me and hope they don’t follow!!!

4. Be assertive!
I live in Lyon. It’s a big city with loads of cars, loads of give ways and when driving here it is not a time to be polite! If you are too polite, then you will never get to go where you’re going as people will cut in front of you all the time. A combination of politeness and assertiveness is definitely necessary, do let one car in and then move forward. I wish a lot of drivers here would use this combinations as here in the city at least, arrogance reigns!

5. Remember, a car is a means of locomotion!
At your risk and perils, do not ever forget that a car is just a means of transport in France. People will generally have total disregard as to whether your paintwork will be damaged due to them slamming their door into your car. If you’re parked, people will nudge forwards and backwards, BANG BANG BANG, until they get either in or out of that ridiculously small space behind you. A bumper is a bumper – it is to be used to bump other cars and for no other purpose!

French roads are generally excellent and the motorway system is second to none even though the shortest trips can sometimes cost a fortune! If you can get over some of the hurdles and understand the system then France is your oyster to be discovered and enjoyed.

Tunnel de La Croix Rousse in Lyon - my most hated place!

DISCLAIMER: The above driving tips are meant as tips only and not as a definitive guide to French driving rules!

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