I passed my driving test on the third attempt. Even then, I’m not convinced this was in the best interests of the residents of York.
The summer before going away to university when my mother foolishly insured me to drive her car, I managed to reverse into a Tesco trolley park and hit the brick gatepost in our driveway. My father spent most of that summer removing the bumper, hammering it back into shape and putting it back on again. In my defence, the trolley park in question was empty and in the blind spot in the rear window. This was in the days when car seats were not height adjustable. I remember vividly the day my long-suffering driving instructor told me to line up the curb with a sticker on the rear window when reversing around the corner. I had to break the news to him that I couldn’t even see the curb. I’m not called petite for nothing.
That was in 1991. I haven’t driven since. To complicate matters I am now living in a country where people drive on the wrong side of the road and change gear with their right hands. After a decade I still cannot get my head around this, so whether I’m in France or the UK I invariably head to the wrong side of every car when trying to locate the passenger seat. And whether I’m crossing a French road or an English road I inevitably look the wrong way first. To make matters worse, I live in a city where most people drive as if they have just snorted several grams of cocaine (arrogantly, aggressively), parallel park in miniscule spaces (ahem, parallel parking wasn’t even tested back in 1991) and disregard a different highway code altogether. You will be relieved to hear that I don’t plan to exchange my British driving license for a French one any time soon.
If you are foolhardy enough to drive in the French capital, here are a few tips on how to drive like a native Parisian:
- You know those lovely big French roundabouts with no lane markings whatsoever – like Charles de Gaulle Etoile, Bastille and Place de la Concorde? The rule for use of these roundabouts is under no circumstances should you use your indicator to show people what your intentions are. Instead, weave in and out of the ‘lanes’ in a random fashion, and then cut off several lanes of traffic when you reach your exit.
- Learn to park the French way! Nudging the bumpers of the cars adjacent to your space is perfectly acceptable, and indeed expected. I once spied four people lifting a Fiat Uno sideways out of a space it had got hemmed into.
- Ignore traffic lights. Give yourself an extra five seconds to drive across a junction after the lights have turned to red. Everyone else does. Or at the very least, brake at the very last minute so that paranoid, pushchair-wheeling pedestrians are unsure about whether you plan to stop, or not. That way they can only get to the traffic island in the middle before the lights change.
- If you drive a moped/scooter/motorbike it is compulsory to drive the wrong way around traffic islands in order to get ahead. It keeps pedestrians on their toes (except petite anglaise, who instinctively looks the wrong way and therefore cannot be caught out). Driving across the pavement to jump the lights altogether is also perfectly acceptable, on one condition: do not reduce your speed.
- The horn should be used liberally at all times, and not just when you are part of a wedding cortège. Rolling down your windows and swearing* is also highly recommended if you want to blend in with the natives. There doesn’t have to be any particular provocation. And don’t forget to accompany your tirade with a vigorous shake of your fist.
cut out and keep swearing vocab in French:
connard! – assehole!
enculé! – asshole!
fils de pute! – sonofabitch!
You’re good to go.