A-Z of etiquette
In part two of our insider’s guide to life in France, Mark Sayers has advice on househunting, long lunches and the right side of the road
Part two of our guide to life in France
Although France and the UK are separated by a mere 35km stretch of water, moving to France sometimes involves more of a culture shock than many newbies expect. In this A-Z series we take a light-hearted look at the quirky side of life in France in a guide that will be handy for anyone contemplating the move, as well as those keen to blend in with the locals!
D is for driving
In the interests of research for this segment, my wife posted on a Facebook group of mainly expat ladies living in France, asking about people’s experience of driving in France. Usually her posts receive four or five responses. This one got a whopping 168 replies (and counting) so it’s safe to say that it’s something expats in France feel quite strongly about!
First, the positives. For those used to bumper-to-bumper commutes on crowded British highways, the emptiness of the roads was much appreciated. Avoid French motorways on ‘black’ days in the summer (holiday changeover Saturdays in August) and you will usually enjoy a congestion-free journey. Many also commented on the fact that you don’t have to slalom your way through the streets in France to avoid potholes, and the refreshing absence of road rage.
For everything else, the general consensus is to keep expectations low when it comes to other road users in France. Here are some pointers to help you drive like a local: Contrary to popular belief, French cars do have indicators but use seems entirely optional. If you do use them, it’s not necessary to indicate the direction you are actually going in. Keep other drivers on their toes by selecting lanes on a roundabout entirely at random. Never, ever stop at a pedestrian crossing, even if there are people on it. Park, or as one lady put it, abandon, your car anywhere you like – on roundabouts, crossings, at traffic lights, in front of garages etc. The more inconvenient for other drivers the better. Caution after lunchtime is advised as you will be sharing the road with drivers who have enjoyed rather more wine than they should have with their menu du jour. Sundays, in particular, can be dangerous when it is not unheard of to see upturned cars in ditches. Men, feel free to pull up and pee anywhere at the roadside; you don’t even need to hide behind your car. What could be more natural? Don’t rely on road signs to get you where you want to go as they have a nasty habit of disappearing halfway through the journey, leaving you stranded. Factor an extra hour into your travel time if you are trying to get out of a shopping complex car park – the planners pride themselves on making it as fiendishly difficult as possible. Beware of ‘ priorité à droite’ – described by one policeman as ‘a stupid rule but a rule’. It is inconsistently used in many city centres to maximise the potential for accidents. Tailgating is perfectly normal, as is overtaking with reckless abandon, only to drive slower than the car you have just passed.
Once you’ve mastered all that, you’ll fit right in. Bonne route!
E is for estate agent
It just had to be, considering that most readers will be planning to buy or rent property in France. If you are hoping to buy, you’ll be pleased to hear that France has one of the most highly regulated and secure property markets in the world. The purchase process is set up to make gazumping difficult and to protect both buyer and seller at every stage, and there are strict criteria for those wishing to work as estate agents, although caution should still be exercised to choose someone you feel is professional and trustworthy.
Remember that buying a house in France involves signing legally binding documents in a language that you may not understand which commits you to a purchase worth many thousands of pounds. I understand how exciting it can be to find a house you love and fulfil a long-held dream – I’ve helped hundreds of
Beware of ‘priorité à droite’ – it is inconsistently used in many city centres to maximise the potential for accidents