Category Archives: Driving in France

I bought something today.

By   January 16, 2008


It’s a Renault Super 5 with only 70,000 KM on it. It’s an ’86, but it’s in great condition and oh so clean! We had to go to Chalon-sur-Saône (200 km north of here) to buy it, but it was so worth it!!!

I didn’t mention finding this car online before because I was afraid I would jinx it or it would turn out to not be an automatic car after all. You wouldn’t believe how many times I found an automatic car that I wanted to buy, only to find out the seller had made a mistake in the ad and it was really a manual. FIVE TIMES. So if you are looking to buy an automatic car, do not trust online ads. Unless boîte auto or automatique is written in the title, then it’s not really an automatic, and the person was too lazy to proofread the ad before hitting submit.

And since I dread anything to do with banking in this country, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get a chèque de banque (cashier’s check) even though I had enough money in my account. We needed to leave by 11 this morning, so we thought that arriving at the bank at 9 would give us enough time. Except the person helping us was new and didn’t know how to do cashier’s checks. And then the bank didn’t have any more cashier’s checks on hand (seriously!), so they had to get special authorization to go into the vault to find them or something equally ridiculous. We decided to leave while they searched for this piece of paper, and had a nice chocolat chaud and croissant downtown. Luckily for me, they had found the cashier’s checks by the time we returned and we were able to get everything done just in time to leave for Chalon.

David called Direct Assurance before our return to Annecy and got everything settled in 10 minutes. My insurance should be 38 € a month and it will decrease each year that I am insured in France. And the cost of the carte grise (registration) shouldn’t be too bad either since the car is older than 10 years and it’s only 5 CV. I have one month to buy my carte grise and then I need to change the plaque d’immatriculation (license plate) since it came from a different département. But that’s it.

The 2 hour drive home was fine and not as stressful as I thought it would be. Everything worked out fine today and I’m still having a hard time believing it. I’m no longer a slave to Ebay or Priceminister, searching for automatics every single day… I have my own car in France and I am finally independent again! I am going to drive myself to work tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier. I may have spent a lot of money today, but I certainly don’t regret it.

Je cherche une voiture automatique.

By   October 30, 2007

I’m trying to find an automatic car that isn’t too expensive so that I don’t have to take the train to work anymore. Comprehending car ads in French is no easy task. And thanks a lot,, for recently removing the search function that specifies boîte automatique instead of boîte manuelle. ::sigh:: I am not looking forward to going back to work without a car. And there’s no way I’ll be ready to drive a manual car anytime soon, especially not for an hour through the mountains.

Ok, let’s try to decode some ads. First, you have to choose what type of car: Berline, Coupé, Monospace, Break, etc. I have no idea what these mean. Let’s just leave it on Berline. Type in maximum price and location. Don’t care which marque or modèle, and voilà:

R19 ESS AN 92 TBE 122.600km CT OK pneus neige. Hmm. What does R19 mean? I understand ESS means essence (gas) instead of diesel, and the year (AN for année) is 1992. Uh, TBE??? 122,600 km – I still can’t think in kilometers… The CT is OK, that’s good to know, if only I knew what CT meant. Ah, comes with snow tires. And now I have a headache. But it doesn’t matter anyway because it’s a boîte manuelle!

Plan B. Let’s try looking at Top Annonces that came in the mail today. The cars are sorted according to the make, which means nothing to me since I have no idea if a Twingo is better than a Clio or a Renault or a Fiat. Most don’t even list the prices. I realize this will be waste of time as the abbreviations are even worse (more confusing) than online ads, and I cannot find any that specify boîte automatique.

Attempt 3. Ebay is my last hope. Score! I can search for automatique and have mostly boîte auto in my results! Wish me luck!

* * * * * * * * * *
Automobile abbreviations & vocabulary:

AN – année (year)
AV – à vendre (for sale)
bosse – dent
carrosserie – body of car
carte grise – registration
clim – climatisation (air conditioning)
CT OK – contrôle technique OK (vehicle inspection OK)
CV – chevaux (horsepower)
ESS- essence (gasoline)
MEC – mis en circulation (put into service)
moteur HS – moteur hors service (motor doesn’t work)
p – portes (doors)
pr pce – pour pièces (for pieces)
px à déb – prix à débattre (price to debate / or best offer)
TBE – très bon état (very good condition)
vdue en l’état – vendue en l’état (sold as is)
vitre – window of car

And my favorite driving words:
dos d’âne – bump (donkey’s back)
nid-de-poule – pothole (chicken’s nest)

The good and the bad.

By   September 26, 2007

I received my French driver’s license! David is going to start teaching me how to drive a manual car this weekend. I still need to learn French road signs and all that too. What is up with the weird priorité à droite with little side streets? Why don’t cars on the main road have the priorité?

My website crashed last night because the bandwidth was exceeded. I thought I had unlimited bandwidth, but apparently that means 50 GB a month. I bought more bandwidth, but I don’t know when the site will be back up. I’m losing money because of this (Google Ads…) and I’m not happy!

Plus I have a stuffy nose and my head feels all congested. I do believe I’m getting sick. Blah.

I arrived in France one year ago today. This was the very first picture I took, on the drive between Lyon and Grenoble:

EDIT: Site’s back up and I now have 100 GB of bandwidth each month!

La Poste

By   September 25, 2007

I have a love/hate relationship with the post office in France. On the one hand, their trucks are a cute yellow color and the new cow stamps are so adorable. Seriously, there’s one cow singing “Ne meuuh quitte pas…” and another says “Oh, mais quel joli timbre!” (Ne me quitte pas means don’t leave me; but meuuh is how French cows say moo. A timbre is a stamp, but this word also means the tone quality of your voice when you’re singing. Genius, I tell you!)

But they lost my new carte de séjour this summer. I still don’t have the replacement one after 6 weeks of waiting, so now I’m worrying the second one got lost.

I’m still waiting for my French driver’s license too. I had to buy a trackable envelope (Distingo Suivi) for them to send it back to me when it was done, and I’ve been checking online for nearly two months to see if it’s been sent yet. Now it tells me that, today, September 25, “Le courrier a été déposé dans la boîte à lettres du destinataire.” But wait, there’s nothing in my mailbox today! ::sigh::

I’m hoping they just jumped the gun a little and it’s still at the sorting center in Annecy or maybe it’s sitting in our little local office waiting to be delivered tomorrow…

Waiting Situations

By   September 20, 2007

Short update on how things never change here: Six weeks and no new carte de séjour or French driver’s license. Big surprise.

Still no news from the rectorat either. I just have to wait until someone in Haute-Savoie quits or doesn’t show up, so that means another few weeks of waiting.

At least my old school still hasn’t heard from the Trinidad girl, but that could be because she hasn’t received her arrêté yet. I tracked down another Trinidad assistant online (Thanks Keisha!) and asked if she knew the assistant assigned to Grenoble. Unfortunately she didn’t, but she said that she just received her arrêté and now has to rush to get a visa and plane ticket.

I’m actually kinda hoping to get renewed after the mandatory 3 day orientation in Grenoble/Autrans/the middle of nowhere which starts on Tuesday. I hated it so much last year, and I really wouldn’t want to go again. The food was amazing, but the run-down hostel with no hot water was a bit annoying. Plus no internet! No way.

La rentrée du cinéma is awesome, btw. I paid 2.50 € to see an American movie in ENGLISH.

No more paperwork headaches for a while

By   August 9, 2007

I accomplished two major things today! First, I was right about the préfecture losing my new carte de séjour. Of course they blamed it on the post office, but the fact remains that it was lost more than 6 weeks ago and no one told me. But I did get a new récépissé valid for 3 months. Second, I managed to turn in all of the paperwork to exchange my driver’s license. It was honestly the easiest thing I have done in France.

Part 1: Staying Legal in France

David & I arrived at the préfecture at exactly 8:30 this morning, only to find out the hours on the website were wrong and they open at 8:45. Anyway, the man helping us was actually rather nice and he searched through several files trying to find my new card. Then he noticed that there was a note on my file that clearly stated my card had been sent to the mairie of Meythet on June 20. (We had lived in Meythet until June and I filled out my paperwork for renewal there, but now that we live in Cran, we have to go directly to the prefecture instead of the local mairie.) However, we had called the mairie two days ago and asked if it had arrived yet. The answer was no.

The man was “absolutely certain” that the card was in Meythet, so we drove there to find out the card had never arrived (we suspected this). Either the prefecture screwed up on sending it to Meythet, the post office lost it between Annecy and Meythet, or the mail people in Meythet are morons and misplaced it. Or perhaps someone stole it from the post office and my card is now being sold on the black market (that’s David’s idea). The woman in Meythet even told us they somehow lost 7 cartes de séjour in one year (and this is just for the tiny town of Meythet) because “the post office never delivered them.”

So we returned to the préfecture where the nice man apologized for the card being lost. But he did mention that whenever the cards are sent in the mail, they are always sent in regular envelopes (not registered or insured or anything) because the government is too cheap to pay for that. So it’s no wonder how/why the cards are lost all the time. Anyway, he quickly made me another récépissé so that I will have another 3 months of being legal here. I should receive my new card within 6 weeks and it shouldn’t get lost this time since I will pick it up at the préfecture instead of it being sent to the mairie of another town. Plus the expiration date on it will be March 27, 2008 which is perfect since I can apply for the carte de séjour vie privée et familiale in February.

So the moral of the story is to live within the jurisdiction of the préfecture, otherwise your card will most likely get lost in the mail on its way to the mairie.

Part 2: How to Exchange an American Driver’s License for a French License

Even after the pleasantness of my experience at the bureau des étrangers and getting a new récépissé, I was still afraid to try to exchange my license. I was so afraid they would tell me that a récépissé isn’t good enough and that I’d have to wait for my actual card, which I might not receive until after the one year grace period is up. Luckily for me, they had no problems accepting the récépissé and I was able to turn in all the required paperwork this afternoon.

If your American driver’s license is from one of the 14 magic states (Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina or Virginia), you can exchange your American license for a French license without having to take any written or road tests. You just need to exchange it before you have been living in France for one year. However, if you have a carte de séjour étudiant, you won’t be able to exchange your license because students already have the right to drive in France regardless of how long they’ve been here. If you stay in France after you’ve finished your studies and change to a different carte (salariée, visiteur, vie privée et familiale, etc.), you can exchange your license within the first year of that carte de séjour’s validity. I have no idea how this exchange works for other countries, so check your embassy’s website for information on driving in France.

Then you will need to bring these papers to the Circulation department of your préfecture, as well as fill out one very short paper just asking basic information (name, address, place of birth, etc.):

1. Photocopy of your carte de séjour (front and back)
2. Photocopy of your passport
3. Two photographs
4. DISTINGO envelope bought from post office for 1,66 €
5. American driver’s license (yes, this means you won’t have it anymore when/if you visit/move back to the US)
6. Certified French translation of American license

You should receive an attestation, valid for 2 months, proving that you are in the middle of exchanging your license, though I’m not sure if this actually gives you the right to drive yet. The woman did mention it was valid in France and Switzerland, but I was so amazed at how easy this whole process was that I forgot to ask what exactly the attestation was for.

It should take about 30 days for the license to be sent to your address (in that DISTINGO envelope). And the best part? Besides paying for the photos and envelope, exchanging my license was FREE.

I feel great now. I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished this much in one day in France!