Those who know anything about my driving experience in Oxford, where I hit a tiny red two story bus, might find it odd that I got back on the mechanical horse in Lyon. It is fortunate that I trained in aggressive driving on the unforgiving streets of Boston, but bean-town had training wheels by comparison with France. Everyone in this country still dreams of competing in the Grand Prix and where better to practice than on the narrow country roads of Provence?

The French throw away bread after 3.5 hours, but asphalt is not squandered. The width of a typical non-highway road is about what the US gives to SUVs in lined parking spaces (where few can manage to stay between them). One drives between 50 and 110 km/hr and the only thing that keeps the opposing vehicles from scratching each other’s door paint is the Bernoulli effect. It is simply a matter of blind faith, passed down from Joan d’Arc, that one will avoid a head-on engagement. (And recalling Joan’s own end does not help.)

The Brits like their “round-abouts,” where intersecting roadways meet in a centrifuge that toss motorists onto 3, 4, or 6 different exits, but the French love them. Once popular in New England under the name “rotary,” the configuration is a horror to Americans from other parts of the country who consider the automobile a combination of hair salon and phone booth. Rotaries demand attention and rapid decision making. Speed reading is a must. Not a substitute for the overpass, the French are installing more and more of them. They are fabulously efficient. Best negotiated with a standard shift, when traffic is light you can sail through one intersection after another without stopping.

The French keep to the right on divided highways except when passing. They always signal lane changes and intended turns. I could kiss them on three alternating cheeks for it. And while fast driving seems to suggest impatience, no one beeped at this clumsy tourist trying to work out how to make 7.40 euros from a fistful of foreign coins at a toll booth.

One little bit of advice if you intend to drive in France—get the smallest car you can possibly get by with. Even modern parking garages have curls that will turn your hair. Americans have left rain forests of rubber and mega-liters of paint on the bumpers of narrow streets and walls of ancient ruins.

Published by Sambandar

Hiker, bridge player, and amateur opinionist living in this wonderful American city for nearly 30 years. I maintain a silly blog when traveling.

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