1 Sep 2009

The French Driver

Can someone please explain to me why the French turn into devil drivers when they get behind the wheel of a car?

As fast as the click of a lock and the turn of a key the French undergo a change in character; they become the Alain Prost Formula One speedsters of the motorway. These languid, relaxed and generally patient people become stressed, aggressive racers when their hands grab the wheel and their fingers shift gears. This ‘vehicular’ split personality is not confined to the male sex; the females are as equally free spirt when they leave the sanctuary of their homes to navigate the route nationale or the autoroute.

Overtaking with a whisper of space to spare is the French speciality. Indicating and road markings are for the weak of heart; plenty of time and space to doubler is for those lacking in courage and bravado. Why coast along in a state of contentment when you can have a hair-raising journey and arrive minutes earlier at your destination? It would seem to me that the French driver is fearless and exhilarated by time spent on the wrong side of the road.

The prerequisite to driving French style is to drive like you mean it – with urgency. I don’t mean fast because that is a given; French driving by definition is all about vitesse. Urging is a better description and explains that feeling of frustration and irritation when a driver, close on your tail, forces you to accelerate. If ‘foolishly’ you resist the temptation to speed up and play along, all enjoyment from the driving experience is lost as your stress and anxiety levels mount. It takes an acceptance of defeat and a loss of interest before the French driver will overtake and leave you far behind and well alone.

Having attitude is the sign of a true French driver and there is no better place to witness this than on country roads. These narrow back lanes are little more than one car wide so a strong stance is obligatory when meeting an oncoming car. The French have right of way, this is the unspoken law. It does not matter if it is easier for them to pull over or to reverse backwards they will continue to urge forward and force you back. This is where intimidation techniques reign supreme and gentilesse n’existe pas.

I find these French Jekyll and Hyde types fascinating; I like to think I have come to understand the French but they are a conundrum when it comes to their behind the wheel technique. These are the people who never eat on the run, who think nothing of enjoying a long lunch without time constraints or a twelve course degustation dinner that might run for hours. These are the ordered folk who queue each morning to buy their daily bread and who wait ever so patiently as their fellow Frenchmen chats at length to the boulanger. Every person in line feels the need to shoot the breeze about the weather, about their back pain or their digestive problems. They can’t help but wax lyrical about their husbands and wives or about their children and grandchildren. Behind the counter phone conversations and cigarette breaks are acceptable – even tolerated – no matter how many are waiting. Nobody seems to mind; nobody seems to care if they wait for 5 minutes or 15. Nobody that is except me…Some days my ‘French’ patience deserts me. Some days I want my baguette simple, with no frills and without the emotional chat and the three day weather forecast. Some days I just want to shop fast and drive slow.

Maybe, just maybe, the answer is genetic. Are the French born to be wild? Are my cultural differences kicking in? Maybe I have the new world Aussie,’ I don’t like risk and I prefer to drive cautiously’ gene rather than the French revolutionary, ‘ drive like your on the way to storm the Bastille’ gene.

Whatever the answer….I still love them, xv.


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Hello – I had to leave a note for your to say how wonderful your blog is and how much I've enjoyed reading your posts. They are creative, interesting and unique – and your photo's are divine too ! Best wishes and thank you for sharing them …

sherry ♥ lee

hhmmm…might be something in the genes. I have to say, French Canadian drivers from Quebec and New Brunswick are wicked…we curse them!!! vroom vroom vroom!!!


Morning…funny I have heard the same thing from other people, just not as well put and with such humor as you!! Enjoy your day,Chrissy

A Gift Wrapped Life

To answer your first question…….because they can?
Nothing like speed to get the adrenaline going. I have slowed down in my city driving…….must be getting old! Have a great week Vicki. XO


Great post, Vicki. I so enjoy your observations on the French and their culture. Here in Florida, we have the older folks who love to take all the time in the world driving and their younger counterparts who don't have a second to spare. Both are dangerous in their own right…I like it somewhere in the middle, personally.

Pamela Terry and Edward

This makes me happy I've always relied on taxis and trains when in France! I found myself getting nervous just reading. We certainly have our share of rude drivers here in the states, although they are usually not found on the country lanes. I am afraid I am guilty of being a too fast driver, though not an aggressive one! I just like to feel the wind blow.

Be careful out there!!


This is so true Vicki.
One of my French (he's from Paris) colleagues often gives me a ride home.
Extremely kind, as he lives in the opposite direction.
The minute he gets in his car though, he's a nightmare.
Sometimes it's a relief that he can't drop me off !


Very good description of French drivers. i read it aloud to my husband…When I lived in France, I would often find myself picturing my dining companions behind the wheel of a car.No matter how polite, and charming a table, I knew that I would not like them on the road! Hardly anyone except me secured children with a seat belt because "on ne va pas loin".As if the 1 kilometer was a sure bet for safety. The fact that i did so somehow made me an insecure driver!

Vicki Lane

We experienced that rather terrifying French driving attitude years ago when we were touring Europe on a motorcycle. Walking about in Paris, we found that they gave no quarter to pedestrians either.


How funny and true! When my brother in law moved to Los Angeles from Paris, I happened to be in the car with him when an ambulance went by…..what a comedy!He, as you do in France, chose to race the ambulance, the entire time my sister is screaming at him to pull over and get out of the way, which of course made no sense at all to him! We were lucky to not get a ticket…I have had the pleasure myself of driving in Paris…give me Italy any day…
Good Luck,

My Carolina Kitchen

So true. But it was true in Germany as well. When the light changed from red to yellow there, it signaled "gentlemen, start your engines" and if you were slow to go, they almost ran over you.


I'm a safe driver in the United States, but as soon as I get to France my blood heats up by a few degrees and I become far more aggressive at the wheel. It's definitely something in the cheese.

Little Rus

I also find it amazing how French people cross their roads (here and now and no matter what!) and, most unique French driving thing to me, how they park their cars in Paris… THERE IS NO ROOM between those cars at all… And yet they manage to park them every night and get out every morning, in one piece…


Love this post – you are a fabulous writer. WHEN IS THAT BOOK COMING OUT – I WANT IT NOW. Oohh, excuse me, that could be the quarter French in me coming out – Have a great week Vicki. Shaz x

Alison Gibbs

Great post Vicki.
It is funny how sometimes we just want to get in and out of the shop as quick as we can and get on with other things, yet at other times we do feel like that chat.
I think it is definitely that you are an Aussie chick that you are not as big a risk taker as the french drivers. Us Aussie girls are always a little cautious and look on the 'what if' side of life.
Mind you sometimes I wish I was 'born to be wild' like the french.
Have a great week

The Daily Connoisseur

LOL- Vicki I think they are born to be wild. I found myself wondering the same thing when I lived in France. You couldn't get me to get behind the wheel in Paris for that very reason! xo

Brabourne Farm

So beautifully put! I adore France but am always exceptionally relieved when I hand back the hire car keys and realise that once again I have escaped unscathed! Leigh

Nadine @ BDG

Jenson Button would agree with you! Romain Grosjean, a new French F1 driver for Renault, took Button out of last week's race in Spa on the first lap with over aggressive out breaking. Though I'm afraid other countries offer equal levels of insanity.


Oh I'm heartbroken – I always took you for a fellow Speed Queen, pedal to the metal & fearlessly gunning down the highway in the Vicki-mobile! Now I'll have put you alongside MOTH (aka Driving Miss Daisy). These days he drives like he's wearing a tweed hat with a feather in it & the work ute is an ancient Volvo on its way to the local Bowling Club! It appears that Miss Millie would be right at home with the French drivers. Start your engines please!
Millie ^_^


Hahaha,well…thats live and you describe it very well!
I enjoy this story very much…and here in Stockholm I can say that I miss chat-situations over the counter…
Magdalena/Color Sepia

A Thousand Clapping Hands

I kept trying to picture you driving along with these tailgators behind you. They do ruin the whole idea of a Sunday afternoon leisurely drive in the country…but there is something amusing about it. I love them anyway, too.

Madame DeFarge

I've not experienced this side of French drivers, for which I am eternally grateful. Maybe it is the Sans Culotte in every Frenchman bursting out as you say.


A beautifully entertaining post yet again…reading your observations is always a joy.

I love driving my lanes…with mad drivers…combines and the odd wildlife, every day is an education!


this was hysterical and since i have a very french, very feminine psychiatrist, made me laugh even more as i thought about her careening into the parking lot to the waiting space that she could have driven into without the slightest problem of a tussle!


Ms. K @ Write On Thyme

I so agree! When I try to describe driving in France to others, I mention the difference as, 'we are used to 1 or 2 near-misses a year while they are used to 1 or 2 near-misses an hour'!
Hope you've had a great summer!


personaly what I can't stand is the French whining about speed tickets. hey, nobody forced you to speed, you chose to, now pay. but grumbling about everything is, of course, the second national sport! I love the country but there are days I hate the people in it. and then again I love them, too.
I was laughing out loud reading your post, Vicky. have a nice day!

Di Overton

We are off to France at the end of the month and I drive down there. You are so right, for such laid back people they are lunatics behind a wheel. I have driven in so many cities, even New York, but I will NOT drive in Paris. The Arc d'triomphe puts the fear of God in me and la peripherique is only for the insane. I leave the Paris driving to my daughter :)

Cindy and Joe

Ah, wonderful. Each driver must always be the leader. As I turn out onto a road, with no one in site, it always amazes me how immediately a car appears, as if from some cavern below the earth, just waiting to be right behind my car. What a precise description! It made me smile.

Zobi la Mouche

Sorry to tell you that, but you definitely don't understand the whole Mediterranean psyché (French, Spanish, Italians, Greeks, etc).
2000 years of rules have made us like sheeps but behind a wheel we become (pacific) hunters again.


I really enjoyed this post, and the Jekyll/Hyde side is interesting to contemplate. My husband is friends with an Italian at work, and he always tells my husband how impatient he feels with drivers here in the States and that he honks frequently when people don't move fast enough or soon enough! Yet he also talks of missing the long lunches he had during the work day in Italy complete with a glass or two of wine :)


I love this. I have said almost word for word what you wrote. I have a theory: The French are so in control from when they are born, everything in order, discipline. I agree with you – Australians run to connect metros to not waste any time underground and not miss a train by a second, but the French elegantly idle along and block any attempt to break through, and don't care if the train shuts its doors on us and there is a 15 minute wait – but, the car: It gives them permession to let it all out. The car is an isolated other world, anonymous (ha ha number plates and pedestrian crossings) where no one can see them, and it all comes out Their childhood and adult years of repression and control. They have yet to learn that cars are a weapon and that I am not being moralistic when I feel my life is in danger. TAC ads did that to us, for the good.


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