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.