Adventures in Driving in France

Luckily I don’t have to drive as much as other people do in France. I only work 3 days a week, 24 weeks a year. I’ve only got three more round-trips to Chambéry before we move and I couldn’t be happier. I will be so relieved to no longer have to shell out 250 € a month on gas and tolls. I wish France could be like Germany and have free highways, or even like Switzerland where you just pay 30 € for the entire year. (Though I hear there are no toll roads in Bretagne – is that true, you lucky jerks people?)

I tend to take the back roads – the route nationale – when I have extra time and know there won’t be much traffic. But today I was almost late because of all the craziness on the road. Even getting out of Annecy took a bit longer because of the construction. Well, lack of construction really. You see, a roundabout in Seynod has been under construction for months now and was supposed to be finished in January 2009. It is still not finished and every time I drive through there, absolutely no one is working, regardless of the time of day. Maybe the road sign clearly stating the dates is just a random estimation?

But even before I got to that roundabout, I had to wait in a long line of cars because of a temporary light. The two-lane road had one lane blocked by a pile of dirt and an empty tractor. This was noon, of course, so no one was actually working then. I waited my turn through 4 red lights before I got out of there, and then had to go excessively slow through the roundabout because of the un-level asphalt.

Oh roundabouts, how I detest you. I will admit they are useful when you get lost and need to turn around. But the fact that no one seems to know what the rules are for entering and exiting a roundabout drive me crazy.  The majority require you to yield to cars that are already in the roundabout, but if there is no Vous n’avez pas la priorité or Cédez le passage sign, then it defaults to priorité à droite and you actually get to go first, while the others in the roundabout have to stop for you. But of course, no one pays any attention to this rule because everyone just assumes there is a yield sign or that all roundabouts are the same.

Even if someone yields or doesn’t have to yield, they usually choose the wrong lane to get into (if there’s more than one). Why can’t people remember: right or straight, stay right… left or turn around, stay left. Is it really that hard?? And don’t even get me started on how 98% of people don’t use their blinker to tell others where they are turning. And how scooters just zip in and out of traffic, even though it’s completely illegal. Seriously, does everyone driving a scooter have a death wish? Cars tend to move over and let the scooters by, but I just want to yell, why are you encouraging them? I know the police rarely stop people for speeding (the radars do their job for them), but I wish there were more police on the road to stop people from breaking every single law. Because honestly, for French people, driving laws really are merely suggestions.

I take the highway more often to avoid (for my sanity’s sake) heavy traffic and roundabouts. But the highway is expensive. I now pay 4.30 € each way, thanks to an increase in price on April 1st. Highways in this part of France are just two lanes though, and trucks have to (well, are supposed to) go much slower than other traffic. And even though it’s often forbidden for trucks to pass each other, they still do, which slows down everyone behind them in both lanes to about 80 kph. The speed limit is normally 130 kph.

A part of the A41 is under construction right now, and all traffic going north is simply diverted to the other side of the guardrail. Which means that north and south traffic are on the same side, only separated by orange cones. Sure, the speed limit is lowered to 90 kph, but with the mixture of French drivers on the highway and piddly traffic cones to protect us from running into each other, I don’t feel very safe!

Anyway, one of these trucks was another reason I was running late today. After exiting a roundabout in Aix-les-Bains (by turning right from the right lane, thank you very much), I had to stop abruptly because the truck in front of me realized at the last second that he was much too tall to fit underneath the 4m tall bridge. So he had to slowly back up, waiting for the cars behind him to back up as well, or just drive over the sidewalk (with pedestrians walking on it!!!) like some of the impatient idiots did.

Thankfully my car is tiny, and he was able to back up next to me while I patiently waited for him because I would rather be a few minutes late than crushed in a car or crushed under a bridge. Of course, the people behind me did not appreciate that and thought that I should just drive on the sidewalk too, and they started honking at me because I was wasting their precious 5 seconds.

But I did make it to work on time, only to discover the network was down and none of us could access the lessons, much less even sign on the computers, for the two audio-intensive and exercise-heavy vocabulary classes. So I had to improvise for 3 hours. But that’s another story for another time.

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  • ksam

    Yep, that is correct, there are no toll roads in Bretagne. It makes sense though considering the sheer number of semi-trucks hauling agricultural goods out of the region each day. Funnily enough, various politicians have suggested adding toll roads over the years, and it’s pretty much always equalled and end to their political career!

  • ksam

    Yep, that is correct, there are no toll roads in Bretagne. It makes sense though considering the sheer number of semi-trucks hauling agricultural goods out of the region each day. Funnily enough, various politicians have suggested adding toll roads over the years, and it’s pretty much always equalled and end to their political career!

  • http://emilylaparisienne.blogspot.com/ emilyinparis

    Do you have the French permis? I still haven’t switched over (after 2 1/2 years, oops!). I have a SC driver’s license so it wouldn’t be difficult but I’m just lazy! I figure if I get stopped I’ll play the foreigner card. J and I are driving down to the Loire Valley on Saturday and it will be the farthest I’ll have driven in France. Luckily we’ll have GPS.

    emilyinpariss last blog post..A Metro No-No

  • http://emilylaparisienne.blogspot.com/ emilyinparis

    Do you have the French permis? I still haven’t switched over (after 2 1/2 years, oops!). I have a SC driver’s license so it wouldn’t be difficult but I’m just lazy! I figure if I get stopped I’ll play the foreigner card. J and I are driving down to the Loire Valley on Saturday and it will be the farthest I’ll have driven in France. Luckily we’ll have GPS.

    emilyinpariss last blog post..A Metro No-No

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    @ksam: That makes sense. I forgot there are no actual “autoroutes” in Bretagne either, so that definitely makes a difference.

    @emily: I exchanged my MI license for a French one my first year, so I’m all legal, thankfully. I would be really stressed out if not… well more than I already am driving in France! Have fun in the Loire valley! I hope to visit there someday.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @ksam: That makes sense. I forgot there are no actual “autoroutes” in Bretagne either, so that definitely makes a difference.

    @emily: I exchanged my MI license for a French one my first year, so I’m all legal, thankfully. I would be really stressed out if not… well more than I already am driving in France! Have fun in the Loire valley! I hope to visit there someday.

  • http://ausoleillevant.blogspot.com/ au soleil levant

    I think you and my dad should get together some time to complain about traffic and idiot drivers and construction. He is convinced that all construction is really just moving big piles of dirt around and they aren’t doing anything useful. My dad, btw, commutes into Detroit everyday and survived the simultaneous construction of 94 and 96 the summer before we hosted the Super Bowl. Talk about idiotic construction plans!

    au soleil levants last blog post..Hall Gossip Part 2

  • http://ausoleillevant.blogspot.com au soleil levant

    I think you and my dad should get together some time to complain about traffic and idiot drivers and construction. He is convinced that all construction is really just moving big piles of dirt around and they aren’t doing anything useful. My dad, btw, commutes into Detroit everyday and survived the simultaneous construction of 94 and 96 the summer before we hosted the Super Bowl. Talk about idiotic construction plans!

    au soleil levants last blog post..Hall Gossip Part 2

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    I can’t say there are no toll, but I don’t remember seeing any. Only on the way to Paris, which is not Bretagne anymore I guess.

    Nantes is the city with the most roundabouts. No wonder I failed my license twice!

    Zhus last blog post..Historic Nantes

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    I can’t say there are no toll, but I don’t remember seeing any. Only on the way to Paris, which is not Bretagne anymore I guess.

    Nantes is the city with the most roundabouts. No wonder I failed my license twice!

    Zhus last blog post..Historic Nantes

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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