I abhor the way so many French people think drinking and driving is acceptable behaviour.
Mr Frog rolled in merrily at midnight the other night, after dinner with a friend, reeking of alcohol. He claimed to have drunk only a couple of glasses of wine. I will concede that he is the only person I know who after drinking one beer often smells like he has knocked back an entire bottle of whisky. There is apparently a phrase for this in French, avoir l’haleine qui marque facilement (breath which ‘marks’ easily), which I’m not sure has a direct equivalent in English. This means that I never really know whether he has had two drinks or ten. But on many occasions I have witnessed the difficulty he has turning the key in the front door lock, heard him crashing around the apartment like an injured rhinoceros, and seen how ropey he is feeling the following day. So I suspect that his definition of ‘a couple of drinks’ differs quite radically from mine.
It’s not the drinking that worries me. It’s the fact that he cheerfully rides home on his Vespa when he’s had a skinful. It’s the fact that when I wake up briefly in the night and see that it is 4 am and his side of the bed is still cold and empty, I am filled with terror at the thought that he might be lying in a hospital somewhere, or, worse still, undiscovered at the side of the road. It’s the fact that he is a daddy now, and I wish he were a little more aware of his own mortality, not to mention the damage that he could do to some innocent pedestrian or driver if he loses control of his scooter.
And let’s face it, vintage Vespas are not the most stable of vehicles. It’s easy to tip over, especially if the road is slippy or wet, and he has already had one accident (sober) which involved the wearing of a very attractive leg brace (une attelle in French) and receiving early morning visits from a nurse for injections to prevent blood clots caused by wearing said brace.
My own experience when living in the UK was that although we Brits do drink to excess, and indeed have an alarming tendency to consider getting drunk as The Whole Point of an evening out on the town, the person driving usually doesn’t touch a drop. Not even one measly little shandy. Despite the fact that it is a shockingly expensive business buying soft drinks in a bar. If there is no ‘designated driver’, we get taxis. Or a night bus. Or walk. If anything, the younger generation tend to be even more sensible about this than our parents’ generation.
Ever since I’ve lived in France, I’ve been consistently dumbfounded by the amount of drinking and driving I have encountered. Which includes middle aged people driving 80 km home from weddings and New Year celebrations, a doctor and father of two driving back from an extended drinking session which had been rounded off with several tequila slammers and Parisian friends driving from restaurant to bar to home on a night out in Paris. It’s true that the French tend to drink in moderation and at a wedding, for example, eat a four or five course meal over as many hours and don’t tend to get as inebriated as a British person would, but I think that this is precisely where the danger lies. Because someone who has had three or four drinks is simply not qualified to make a decision about whether they are fit to drive or not. Short of taking a breath test kit with them (and I did once see these handed out at the end of a wedding celebration to all drivers) it is not a judgement they can make. Moderation can be a treacherous thing.
There have been some hard-hitting television ad campaigns over the last few years targeting this problem, and statistics show that these have had some success in increasing awareness and reducing the number of casualties. But I think there is still a long way to go. Articles I have read point out the French (along with some other European nations like the Germans and Austrians) do not believe in ‘designated drivers’, they believe in drinking up to the limit (which some think should be increased) and crossing their fingers that they won’t get stopped for a random breath test. A Frenchman’s right to a glass of wine or two with his meal cannot be challenged.
Who am I to challenge this very different drinking culture? I will simple continue to pray, every time Mr Frog goes out with friends, that he won’t have to learn his lesson the hard way.
- Playing on my Ipod: nothing. I haven’t received it yet. And when I have, I won’t be telling you, so there.
- Missing Blighty: Bez on Celebrity Big Brother. Can someone tape it for me?