samedi 11 septembre 2010
D is for Driving
D is for driving
Il me tient soigneusement a distance — he keeps me at arm’s length
There’s a downside to everything. Living in France it’s… the driving. Here’s a typical journey.
About a kilometre after leaving home, a Renault 5 tucks itself behind you, so close that to an outside observer you could be welded together. He sticks with you up hill and down, round every bend in the road. Then, when it is safe to overtake, he drops back to allow a tractor and a teenager on a moped to fill the gap between you.
A few minutes later, as two Dutch caravans and a convoi exceptionnel [long vehicle] approach on the opposite side of the road, he takes his chance to pass everyone. He just manages to pull, almost horizontally, into the gap between you and the taxi in front of you. Yes, you had actually left a gap, much to the relief of the family from Nijmegen who feared the Renault 5 driver would be going home with them, embedded in their caravan.
About 100 metres later, Monsieur turns off left — with much aplomb but no signal.
His place in your bumper zone is taken by a beret-wearing pensioner. He’s driving the Citroen 2CV that he bought to celebrate his retirement 30 years ago, and grins manically at you through the rear-view mirror. He doesn’t stay there long as a ‘no overtaking’ sign soon appears, enabling him to chug past in a cloud of exhaust. The pieces of string keeping his door shut flap wildly in the breeze. He then slows down so suddenly you are forced to brake, sending the EU-regulation florescent jackets, warning triangle, first aid box and carton of spare light bulbs that were on your back seat to the floor — along with the six bottles of wine you had just bought.
It’s not clear at first whether he has slowed to protect the residents of the village you are now passing through, or because he has spotted an old friend driving towards him on the other side of the road. It’s the latter. As the two cars draw level, both drivers stop and wind down their windows. A fug of Gauloise drifts over the village.
The drivers hold an animated conversation and several bags and a live chicken are passed from one car to another, as queues build up behind them in both directions. There is an occasional half-hearted toot of a horn, but most of the other, normally impatient, drivers take the opportunity to catch up on some sleep, reading or phone calls.
A crocodile of school children weaves between the cars (after all, they have parked on a pedestrian crossing), to get from one side of the road to the other; every child murmurs a polite ‘bonjour monsieur’ to each chauffeur.
Then, wishing each other ‘bonne route’, the drivers set off again, the one in front of you immediately pulling into an adjacent parking space by the side of the road.
Your new rear companion turns out to be the French equivalent of White Van Man. Seated on his knees is an enormous dog that must have wolf somewhere in his pedigree. You hope he has his paws on the wheel, though, as WVM has a phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
You’ve forgotten it’s market day in the next village and have to slow to a crawl behind a couple walking in the middle of the road, who stop every few paces to embrace. You are overtaken by several ladies pulling shopping trolleys and WVM has, by now, found his pitch and is already selling his second crate of aubergines.
At last you emerge. There is no one in front of you or behind you. This is what driving in France is all about. You spot a speck on the horizon to your rear. It gets closer and closer. Then it stops a safe few vehicle lengths behind you. “Hmm,” you think, “must be that new British family who’ve moved in down the road…”
STOPPRESS: It’s just been announced that the French driving test is to be made easier. I have only one thing to say about that — help!