The day I received my papier rose in my mailbox – the much-coveted French driving license – was the happiest day of my life in France. After over a thousand euros in lessons and hours of being scolded by my driving instructor, the Préfecture de Paris had finally given me their blessing to partake in the craziness of this city’s congested streets!
What’s a girl with a license to do? I jumped into my car and set out for a leisurely drive, looking forward to exchanging the dark metro tunnels for Parisian cobblestones under my tyres.
An hour later I returned from my ‘road trip’, shaken and terrorized by my first driving experience. Let’s just say that the term ‘It’s a jungle out there’ applies perfectly to the Paris driving scene.
Driving has gotten better since then, so in the spirit of Parisian driving camaraderie, here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Pick your battles: l’Étoile
The Étoile (the roundabout circling the Arc de Triomphe) is a new driver’s nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be. The first time I took on this roundabout, I could have sworn I had an out-of-body experience to escape the fear of being in this 10-lane roundabout devoid of any lane markers, with cars coming in aggressively from the right, the ones behind me honking at me to get out of their way.
I’ve since found a more comfortable – albeit longer – way around the Arc de Triomphe: turn right at the last street just before hitting the main roundabout. These two streets – rue de Presbourg and rue de Tilsitt – form an outer ring around l’Étoile, allowing you to avoid crossing the busiest roundabout in Paris.
Note: It’s best to take a quick look at a map to be sure where to turn. Once you miss this exit, you have no other choice but to take on l’Étoile, so don’t miss it!
Parking spaces in Paris are few and far between
When you do manage to find yourself a spot, chances are you’ll have to parallel park in a very narrow space while irate drivers wait impatiently behind you. My solution to this problem: underground parking. They may be a bit more expensive, but they definitely save you precious time as they eliminate the hassle of combing the streets for an available slot. Download applications that can help you navigate your city’s parking spots. Parkopedia and Autocité are tried and tested apps/websites that I use and recommend.
Faites attention in Parisian roundabouts
Parisians love to set themselves apart from the rest of France, and this rings true in their rules of priority when it comes to roundabouts. In Paris, unlike the rest of France, cars entering the roundabouts have priority over those who are already in it. So watch your distance from the car in front of you as they are liable to brake any time, keep an eye out for the oncoming cars from your right, and make sure not to miss your exit!
Pas de voiture? Pas de problème
If you want to drive around Paris without the hassle of owning a car, there’s always the Autolib. This is Paris’s rent-a-car system that’s easy on the pocket and parking (as Autolibs have their own parking slots all over the city). Check out their website for more information.
Be aggressive but responsible
You’ll never be comfortable driving in Paris if you cower behind your steering wheel and curse the unfairness of being cut off. So square your shoulders, sit up and drive as Parisians do – with much confidence, while respecting the rules.
Care to share any of your driving tips or experiences in Paris?
1. PARIS by newpn2000 on Flickr
2-4 by Kala Barba-Court.