I have been driving a car in France for the past month. This was the first country outside of the USA that I ever had to drive in, and, I must say, it has been a learning experience. The car that I am driving here is a broken down Euro-edition Ford jaloppy that is falling apart on all fronts. The alignment is perilously off-kilter, some of the gears don’t work, it has a sensitive clutch, and squeaks from all corners. My friends purchased this vehicle from an Arab who they took to be honest, as he was friends with their cousin. He told them that it ran great and had no problems. I will let you make the judgment call here.
The traffic police in France are resplendent of the Third Reich, and my friend lost her license after a number of shadily recorded traffic violations. You see, the police in France do not stop and pull over violators of traffic rules; rather, they take a photo of a license plate and mail a bill to the registered address. So you could be driving for a week or two and have no idea that you wrapped up a collection of speeding tickets. The costs of these fines are also astronomical and the police do not give much of a speed buffer either- my friend received a $100 ticket for going 4 km over the speed limit 10 minutes after she got a speeding ticket for going 10 over. Two speeding tickets in less than 10 minutes. Over a $200 fine.
I wonder how many traffic tickets I racked up? Is it even legal for me to drive here?
Now I learned to drive on the organized, straight highways of the USA. The roadways of France are anything but straight forward. France is an old culture and the cities and villages were not made for automobile traffic. The streets here wind, dip, dive, and turn without apparent rhyme or reason. I have been driving here for the past month, and I am just now beginning to get the hang of it.
But I still always go the wrong way. It is just what I do.
If I am presented with a choice between the right way and wrong way, I will always go the wrong way. I kind of like my directional sense. To go the right way insinuates that you know where you are going. I have no idea where this path will lead me. I find excitement in getting lost, in going the wrong way. I want to go in the exact opposite direction than what I set out in. It is simply more interesting this way. Who wants to know where they are going anyway?
There are many intersection circles here where the traffic has to drive around the circle to make turns. At first, I thought that these were very stupid and I began to feel a little pride about the straightness and right angles inherent to driving in the USA. I hated those darn traffic circles and could not figure them out. I would often try to go straight through one but somehow end up in a parking lot, on another road, or lost in the French countryside in the middle of the night. But after a month of driving in France, I realize that these circles are a really good idea. I have gotten use to them. They make it unnecessary to come to a complete stop before making a turn, which not only makes it slightly easier to turn, but greatly reduces the risk of being railed from behind while sitting at stop signs in the countryside.
I like traffic circles. They annoyed me at first, but I have now discovered their merit.
This was kind of like coming to terms with another culture. Often times the first taste of a new culture is not too sweet . . .they sometimes seem to not make any sense. But after a month of confusion they begin to make a little sense. You can start seeing through the door to the other side. The point where different cultural practices no longer seem stupid is a sure sign that you are learning.
To learn and accept other cultures is one of the most interesting aspects of traveling. This process is sometimes a lot of work. makes no sense, and can even be a long, hard road. The moment you wake up and realize that it is you who are stupid- and not the traffic circles- is the moment that you can really begin to accept the world as it is.