Taken for a ride

I’ve taken a few New York taxi rides, JFK and Newark to Manhattan, but never had a New Yorker cabbie.

I’ve had the bullnecked Czech, ex-army crew-cut and Brooklyn bridge shoulders. Taciturn by nature (and lack of English).

I’ve had the incomprehensible Sikh, full of gabble about the no-cows-to-avoid speed he can now do.

I’ve even had the occasional American, mid-west accent, born-again smile. “Hey, you’re English, y’all must know my cousin Ben in Laytown Boozehard?” (“No, but I know a Jerry in Watford and he’s looking for a partner for his ice-cream business. Maybe we could put them together?”).

Unlike in New York, the cabbies in Paris are mostly… Parisian. Tends to be a hushed experience. Glumly wordless, in fact. Which is a bit off when you bear in mind how much you’re about to pay.

So no nice chat, then, while smiling at the suicidal tourists on their Vélib bikes, meandering across acres of traffic lanes at Bastille. Instead, my main recollections are generally of fingers – mine – sore from gripping tightly to the last moments of my life at each corner we take; and of that inevitable nuisance of the search for my defibrillator after hearing the fare.

Mostly Parisians drivers, then, but not all. And when they’re not Parisian, they’re much less grumpy. Interesting cultural, political and philosophical exchanges may ensue (whether or not you want them to).

There was one driver in particular whom I remember, about six weeks before the soccer World Cup in South Africa. My driver had all the symptoms of that not atypical form of schizophrenia: Algerian by descent, French by dissent.

“I’ve already got a 3-metre Algerian flag made. I’ve planned all my driving hours so I never miss a World Cup match. I’m supporting Algeria and France,” he enthused, both arms windmilling, steering wheel knee-gripped.

I’m moved to ask the obvious. “But isn’t it only 50 years since the French were massacring you guys in a nasty war of independence?”

“Yes, but now both countries have very good players to watch. Who are you supporting?”

“I’m English, I’m supporting England. And half my blood is Irish, so I’m feeling bad for Ireland not being there because of one of your very good French players.”

“Ah yes, Thierry Henri. Mais quand même… bah, donc, bah, mais… yes, but the great thing is that even my father, who is 84, and my uncle, who is 87, have the Algerian t-shirts and caps and flags ready for the game against England. All my family is really excited just now.”

I love non sequiturs born of honesty (he’s clearly not supporting France at all). Okay, we’ll skip any debate over fair play, then. Clearly not as exciting as your (ancestral) home nation reaching the World Cup finals, being played for the first time ever on your (ancestral) home continent.

“We’re so passionate about our team,” he says, stating the obvious at this point.

“Yes. I saw the injury lists (of the supporters) when you beat Egypt in the last qualifying game.”

“Oh, yes, that was a very big night of passion. But I’m hoping we get a draw against England.”

Passion and diplomacy. How often do we see that back in Britain?

Nice post - and with gently robust humour.Good to be reminded of cab rides in New York.Seem to remember the paler the driver’s skin the more manic the drive.The Sikhs were the safest…

Brilliant - love it.