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Driving in France: are you sure?

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – French driversThe French road system is excellent. The country is covered by a comprehensive network of autoroutes – similar to our Interstate Highway System in the US – along with plenty of secondary roads.

The roads in France are in uniformly good condition and are well-marked so you can find your way.

If there is any downside to the French road system it would have to be… French drivers.

French drivers and the need for speed

The French like to drive much too fast.

No matter what road you are on or how fast you are driving, you can be sure that a French driver will be tailgating you. It’s as if it is required by law.

You could be setting a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats and if you looked in your rearview mirror you would see a French driver, just inches from your tailpipe.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – French drivers

In fact, it is possible that French drivers own all the land speed records, how could they not? It’s just that after setting them they stopped for lunch and a nap and forgot to call the people at Guinness to make it official.

Etiquette to overtaking when driving in France

After tailgating you for a while, the French driver will finally decide to pass you.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – French driversThere are two basic ways to do this:  on a nice, roomy autoroute or on a narrow, winding country road.

  • On the autoroute, the obvious thing is for the other car to move one lane to the left in order to pass you. But no, there’s no challenge in that. Instead, the preferred method is to pass you in your own lane. This means zooming by so closely that you can tell if the other driver had onions for lunch. And it requires that you, the one being passed by this insane guy, drive perfectly straight. Anything that might cause your car to move even a millimetre to the left – a cough, a sneeze, a fart – could result in a fiery death.
  • On the narrow, winding roads, by contrast, the French driver doesn’t do anything so silly as try to pass while close to you. No, no, it is much better to move as far to the left as possible so as to be able to terrorize oncoming traffic, careening back into your lane only at the last possible instant. Ah, the thrill! The grandeur!

French drivers: not always predictable

And then there’s the stopping. Even in situations where it would be incredibly dangerous to stop – say, in a traffic circle or the middle of an intersection – French drivers will frequently stop, look at the road signs, discuss which way they should go, have a smoke, and maybe talk about last night’s soccer game, before finally moving along again.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – French drivers

In other words:  If you care at all about safety, and you’re thinking of driving in France. Don’t! Take the train.


What are your experiences of driving in France? Share your stories in the comments box below.


Image credits
1. Circular road, via Flikr.
2. Steering wheel, via Unsplash.
3. French autoroute, via Wikipedia.
4. Headlights, via Wikipedia.


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  1. Daniel Klein
    1 month ago

    I’ve only driven in and near Marseilles, and with a French friend in the car guiding me. Once I got used to driving on the wrong side of the road, it wasn’t too bad! I certainly didn’t notice any excruciatingly bad or dangerous driving. They probably had to watch out for me driving as if I was still in Australia!


  2. Ray Johnstone
    4 weeks ago

    Thanks for an interesting article.
    However, I’m not sure I agree with the points you make on roads versus trains in France.

    Twenty years ago, we bought a campervan and spent seven months touring around and looking for a house. (This was long before you needed a bigger mortgage for that kind of vehicle than you needed for the property). During this time, perhaps because I’d spent all my life driving on the “wrong side” of the road, I inadvertently did some seriously outrageous things in traffic. But when French motorists were really, really angry, all they did was flash their lights at us.

    A recent BBC poll put South African, British and Greek drivers as the worst road rage offenders.

    But, I do give it to you—adapting to French road rules does have its challenges. What does that white car on a blue rectangle mean—or the yellow square standing on a point? Why are zebra crossings routinely ignored by motorists? Not many drivers can answer these questions—and many others about driving in France.

    Now to trains. Try this: take the Paris underground from Montparnasse to Charles de Gaulle. As an extra challenge take a suitcase and a backpack. The dearth of escalators and lifts means lots (and lots and lots) of stairs. And in some of the corridors you could be excused for thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn out of the Metro system into the Paris catacombs.

    But finally, reading between the lines in your article, I think we both agree that all these little daily frustrations—like cultural differences inherent in different driving styles, poor retail service, waiting in LaPoste while customers and staff discuss the latest births, deaths and marriages—are a small price to pay for living in Paradise.
    Amicalement.
    Ray


    • Keith Van Sickle
      4 weeks ago

      Agreed that the frustrations of living in France are small beer compared to the many pleasures. And I agree that those some road signs are mysterious. Just what is a “Passage Canadien” anyway? Should we be on the lookout for a hockey player or a Mountie?