2007-12-17

Cars, Roads and Hot Rabbits

Imagine this, but with cars. Welcome to France.
Last Saturday night we had dinner with our friend Sabrina and her husband Olivier. We must write about this soon, as it shows one of the big differences between the French, who enjoy their meals, and Americans, who enjoy them in a much different way. I'll explain it some other time and we'll post some pictures, when we get them from Sabrina. It was a great meal.

Some longtime friends of Sabrina and Olivier were also at dinner: Merilynne and her husband Pierre, and Sabrina's friend Natasha. About halfway through our meal, which was four hours long, Merilynne asked me what are the biggest differences between the US and here. After asking "What did she say?" to Stasha, we talked about some differences in politics, that stores are open in the US more than six hours a day (and also on Sunday), and that people eat very differently in the US than they do in France. Then we also talked about how you can turn right on a red light in Arizona, but you can't do that in France.

Then we moved on to another subject, about how the Directeur at Abby's school, one single man in his late-40's called Monsieur Gyss, is constantly dating single mothers of children that attend the school. This is apparently because he's what's known as a "hot rabbit" in French, as well as a "profondeur". You can figure those out on your own.

But we should have continued to talk about turning right on red lights, because the differences between driving in the US and in the Cote d'Azur are staggering. I could go on all day about them. Basically it boils down to the fact that driving in the US is somewhat safe and driving in France is a near-death experience about half the time.

Roads in the Cote d'Azur are a challenge. The back lanes are incredibly narrow and the pavement is sometimes little more than rubble, having been taken over by expanding tree roots. Like most of Europe, the roads were built long before cars existed, and there are now many you can't even drive on. In the old village of Mougins, for example, cars are forbidden altogether, unless you live within the village walls. I can't describe how narrow these roads are. And we live on one. Some are less than eight feet wide: for cars going in both directions.

This creates problems that you can't even fathom in the United States. When driving the kids to school it's a normal thing to stop the car and pull into the entrance to someone's driveway just so the other car - going in the other direction - can pass. It's not so much a courtesy thing as a matter of survival: the roads are literally too narrow for two cars to pass each other while moving. And passing someone going your same direction is unthinkable. If the huge delivery truck in front of you is going 15 km an hour as it wheezes up a hill at a 30 degree angle, you just hang back and wait. And the roads are not straight. They basically look like this:

Only way, WAY more narrow.

A few months ago when Stasha smashed our car mirror on a tree, or a road sign, or a stone wall, or whatever it was (it all happens pretty fast), we went to Garage Raymondou to have it fixed. Here in France a "garage service center" for cars is sort of like Schumacher Mercedes Benz in Scottsdale, with just a couple of differences:
  1. The whole place is less than a hundredth of the size of Schumacher. Usually it's a garage on the ground floor of somebody's house.
  2. There is one guy working there. He lives there. When he goes out for groceries, the garage is no longer open.
  3. There are probably no hydraulics at the place. Just one of those little beds on wheels that roll him under the car.
  4. Almost no parts are at the garage. Everything gets ordered from somewhere else.
  5. There's no free coffee. But since we don't drink coffee that's no big loss for us.
  6. The guy at Garage Raymondou speaks French with such an odd accent - possibly a speech impediment - that I can't understand a word he says.
Other than that it's exactly like Schumacher. When Stasha broke the mirror I figured it would take the guy at Garage Raymondou a while to get the part that we needed, since he had to match the make and body style of a ten year-old BMW. But in fact he got the part and did the work in one day. Broken passenger side mirrors are so commonplace around here that they must have a huge warehouse somewhere stocked with millions of units of inventory. Anyway, driving is not something done for pleasure. Not for me anyway.

Dropping off Abby at school is always a bit of a challenge. The parking lot at her school has an entrance and an exit that are extremely narrow, just like the roads. All the cars (and all in a hurry) go in the entrance and exit the exit, on the other side of the parking lot. So inside the parking lot there is a distinct traffic pattern that's repeated every day by all who come and go. And the unwritten rules are not to be violated. You drive in, find a parking space, get out of your car while it's running, walk your child to the entrance gate (this is the Primary school, in which parents can't go in. Whereas at the Maternelle school we are required to walk the children all the way to their classrooms), walk back to your car and get in, look around to see if you can exit your parking space, since there's usually six to eight inches between you and the cars on either side of you, and then drive toward the exit.

Thus created, this very day, my first road rage experience in France. It was very tame by Arizona standards but is worth repeating anyway. But since I've written too much already, I shall post it another day...

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5 Comments:

Blogger beckylou said...

Just so you know...I can't read your comments because of the pop up window thing. It doesn't expand to let me read them. :(

Also, every time I open your blog, I get the C'est la vie song in my head. That's just not nice to do to someone. :)

18.12.07  
Blogger C'est La Vie said...

Thanks for letting me know. I think I fixed it...

18.12.07  
Blogger Larissa said...

What? You're leaving us right there? All that build up to the real story and then we don't even get it..... That's not fair.

18.12.07  
Blogger beckylou said...

Yup! Thanks! :)

19.12.07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds excellent- less cars- designed for walking, intimate scale (human scale not car...), office near home (mechanic living in the same building)& supporting local business...something we are trying to do now in the U.S..

27.5.08  

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