French Road Experience for a Visiting American - "Stop Tailgating!"

I'm writing this as we drive south, starting two days ago, from Zeebrugge (where we retrieved our car) to Herault...It's been amusing to say the least, and frightening to say more.

The first thing I noticed was the cost of filling up the tank: In California it costs just over $3 per gallon, which would come to around 65 centimes (.65 euros) per liter...I think you all must be used to paying a bit more here. The tank went quickly and as of tonight I only made it as far as Alencon and have already refilled.

The heavy rains are quite a treat for us, since it hasn't rained in California for about three years. When I say it hasn't rained, I mean my home -- San Francisco -- had two days of light rain in the past two years. The land is parched and the authorities are recommending that people who live in the giant suburb called Los Angeles STOP watering their lawns. Good idea.

Driving in the rain was difficult for me, and I tend to slow down to 110 km/hr to make sure I don't crash into the lumbering trucks by crossing the lanes, which are definitely narrower than in California.

But the biggest irritation is the TAILGATERS! WTF ?! They seem really impatient and come so close I can barely see their headlights. I've turned on my emergency lights a couple of times to get them to back off...but they just flash me, even when I cannot pull out of the way because there is traffic in the next lane. This leaves very little room for error. I felt righteous flashing my hazard lights because I suspect tailgating is a serious problem in France: I saw a public service billboard along the road that said something like: "Leave a little room", showing a cartoon tape measure.

At any rate, it's quite the novelty being able to speed along at 90 miles per hour, which would be a big ticket in the U.S.

The highway fares are expensive too! I think I've paid around 30 euros so far. In the US, we call them freeways...because they are "free". They've been talking about building more paid highways in the US now that traffic is getting a bit thick. I really admire the money that is put into public mass transit here, because in the US the county and regional organizations are incapable of cooperating enough to offer effective non-car transport...and the cost is sky high at this late age. So we shall probably always be a nation of freeways.

If anyone knows how to spot those speed trap cameras, please let me know. I'm trying to make it to Le Caylar before Sunday and I might need to get moving. I'm thinking I should drive at least as fast as the quickest cars that have passed me -- they are scooting along at around 140 km/hr! One solution: wake up earlier. We are still suffering jet lag after flying into the country a few days ago.

More later...and if you must tailgate, make sure it's a party!

All lovely cars. The mention of exchange and mart brought me back. I've a 2012 Morgan Plus 4 SuperSport with just over 200 BHP but basically the same chassis as in the fifties but with a few anti tramp bars and brake reaction bars etc. Great fun to drive on the local roads here even quite pleasant on a quick blast up the autoroute to Aix or Nice. I never use the hood so no winter driving though. Which without ABS or traction control is probably as well.

If I remember right £695 bought an Austin Healey 3000 or a Lotus 7 Cosworth at the time, and I "enjoyed" both but no doubt made life very unpleasant for lots of others. Both were fitted with special exhaust systems which terminated at the side of the car at about where the passenger door was or wasn't (in the case of the Lotus). Fun was to be had entering the new Hyde Park underpass at high revs, double declutching to a lower gear, wwhich then caused backfiring and flames lighting up the night sky. My first car cost me £35 via Exchange and Mart - a 1935 Austin 7 Pearl Cabriolet. No Bentley I'm afraid Brian but I have always wanted one. The nearest I ever got to one was much later- a 1968 Bristol 410 which I bought for £5500 in the 80s, sold for £16000 and now, sob, is probably worth about £45000 as the Squealey and Lotus would be as well. If my few Premium Bonds do come up it will be a Bentley convertible, nothing too ostentatious you know! Would have to cruise down to the Riviera in it, but personally I've always had a penchant for the Italian bit of it.

£700! What did you have, a Bentley? I had some pretty snazzy cars in my time but back then over £200 was really throwing it away. In 1972 I had a new Ford Escort which cost me just over a grand. Kings Road cruising, especially after 10 in the evening when pubs started to empty and people were heading for clubs.

I’ve never noticed tailgating here. I’m taking that as an indication that I should slow down :slight_smile:

Oh, happy (or was it hippy) days.

I don’t use the autoroutes very much but I did last Friday, between Tours and Poitiers, while returning from a visit to the north of France. I travelled at between 120 and 130 km/h and was surprised that the rest of the traffic was going considerably slower. The lane discipline in general was excellent, the left hand lane was only being used for overtaking. I wonder if that was because there are only two lanes and it’s the presence of the third lane that stops people driving so responsibly.

Cruising was the scene on Saturdays in the Kings Road Chelsea, looking for "birds". You had to have a sports car which made a great deal of noise! A lot of revving went on! Now it's Arabs in Marylebone High St with much more expensive machinery! Most of our cars cost about £700.

He’s joking John, though from a practical perspective he’s correct.


That only works if you have two rear fog lights, we have just the one.

Sounds like a good place to live.

We have just bought one of these Simon.

It could well be the same American who visited Cornwall. He was enjoying his visit and decided to soak up some of the local atmosphere so he went down to the pub. When he arrived there was only one person in the bar so the American ordered a beer for himself and one of whatever the stranger was drinking. He carried the pint of Doom Bar over and tried to strike up a conversation. It was hard going, jogging through treacle until the local said that he was a farmer. Great thought the American, common ground at last! He explained that he too was a farmer and began to talk about his experiences. Unfortunately, once he got into his stride, he couldn’t resist bragging a bit but it wasn’t until he described the size of his farm that he got a response from the Cornishman.
‘My farm is so big’, said the American, ‘I can get in my car after breakfast, drive all day and never leave my own land!’
‘I’ve got a car like that.’ Replied the farmer.

El Niño actually, but I would bet what you say has done its share...

Californian highways pretty damn crowded, cheap gas, Large engines...........I wonder, just if that maybe why it hasn't rained in California in two years? Assume you'll be attending the climate change summit in Paris?

Your discussion above made me think of a joke I heard. An American comes to Ireland and visits a farm. The first thing he sees are carrots and asks the farmer, what are those, the farmer replies carrots. The American says, back home our carrots are 10 times bigger than that and laughs. This continues through a number of other veggies. They arrive at the cabbage, the American asks what are those and the Irishman answers Brussel sprouts.

Our gendarme friend, ironically named Marshal and son Elliot after Elliot Ness, has been here for the apero after our daughter's birthday party and then left in convoy with other people among whom several do not drink and drive. He has usually done the wine plus a bit of my malt fair service in the couple of hours the people stay. His wife drives if she collects with him in tow because she does not drink and drive, if he comes alone... The law is very flexible and applies to other people - but that seems to be everywhere in the world anyway.

With you entirely and I have never been an angel, probably since the day I drove my own car alone a few days after getting my licence and occasionally now. However I don't have sympathy for the people who try whatever to not get put off the road by whatever means. I know 'losing a licence' is normally only a rhetorical device, although some people occasionally do have it literally taken from them for life, those people usually enjoy a couple of years free accommodation to boot. Whatever those who consistently and wilfully break driving laws are selfish since they make life more difficult for others and not infrequently cause the fatalities without being hurt themselves. On a bend we can see from our house, although we heard and not saw the accident nearly 1km away, a drunken driver fell asleep and veered across the road. His wife grabbed the wheel to try to put them back on the right side of the road but drove off the road onto the hillside among young, springy trees which actually did little damage to the car. Unfortunately there was a head on with one car at high speed downhill hitting one coming up, drivers behind piled into both, a couple of others went off the road. The farmer just by the crash went out to see if he could help until the emergency services came. There were four dead, a leg amputated on another and several other people quite seriously injured. The farm tractors helped clear the road, there were 12 vehicles involved of which eight were damaged enough to not be drivable. Naturally the crash made all national papers, but the fact the driver got a fairly moderate ban and his wife lost some points for her part in allowing him to drive only made local papers. The more such accidents there are, the more distorted the statistics are. On rural D roads there is no way the police could cover everybody and unless the driver was so obvious when he began his journey how would they have known? For all we know, his driving might have been fine except that he fell asleep and at that point alone it all went terribly awry.

A local Brit who is above French law in every respect was stopped at a well known gendarme hidey corner and claimed he was picked on because of his number plate. However, given they usually have a hand held radar into the 70 zone and a second car a few hundred metres down the way in the 50, I suspect it was not. I hope he is done for not re-registering, not having a CT and all the rest of it as a couple of people are saying is the case. I know he is a not a member of SFN but get the impression he has a look every so often, I don't really know him but I would like to say 'serves you right' anyway if he sees this.

Ah yes, les flics! They do sometimes show signs of disposition other than grim enforcement. A friend of mine in a neighbouring village was stopped one afternoon by them. He breathed into the proffered bag as requested. “Bien, m’sieu”, said the cop, “Votre permis?” My friend apologized and explained that, unfortunately, he had forgotten to bring his driving licence out with him. He was told to produce it before 11 am at the Gendarmerie the next morning.

Accordingly, he appeared there, on time, with his licence. He explained why he was there and handed over the document. The sergeant behind the desk took his licence and examined it with a frown on his face. “Assez-vous, m’sieu”. He indicated a chair rather sternly and disappeared into the back office with my friend's licence. My pal sat apprehensively; this did not bode well. The policeman reappeared some minutes later and handed the licence back, still with an unsmiling face. “C’est votre anniversaire, m’sieu?”, he asked. “Oui”, was the reply, he wondering what this was all about. The flic broke into a broad smile and produced a bottle of Pinaud and two glasses from beneath the counter. “Un ‘tit boisson”, he said, coming over and sitting down next to the astounded Englishman.

They had several drinks, chatting all the while, mostly about ‘l’entente cordiale’ until my friend was forced to say, rather concernedly that he thought he might have a problem. He explained that he had driven to the police station sober but was now drunk. “Pas de problem!”, said his new found comrade. “Aujourdhui, on peut boire autant que vous le souhaitez, c'est ton anniversaire!”

My friend made his way home as best he could, wondering all the while about the inconsistencies of the mad, illogical, but occasionally charming, French legal system.