European Driving Styles Are Different

photo: rush hour, pont neuf

See how this Paris bus politely lets the car pass -
showing the 'priority' rule.

While Paris Has Only One Style

by Badger

London:- Many Metropole Paris readers are neither from Paris, nor indeed from any damned-where in France. You are from faraway places like Muskatogee, Iowa; Halfway House, Zimbabwe - yes, it does exist! - Sabah, Milton Keynes, Tobago - that kind of place.

Noting your default interest in Paris, I can also assume that you may be interested in other parts of Europe - and how their drivers conduct their vehicles.

Allow me, then, to lose a few words on driving in Europe. These might even be words which come in useful to anyone, like citizens who are used to driving for 3000 miles on a dead straight freeway. Or steamin' down the Mississippi.

Most European cities have public transport systems, which are good, and many of which are also good value. Most European countries even have operating rail networks. But if you insist on getting out into the wild blue yonder on your own wheels there are some things you should know.

1. Learn the rules - they are different.

2. Consider how regional flavors affect road travel.

Let's do some random countries, concentrating on important points like the extent to which their inhabitants respect human life.

Finland

Favorable dispositions, I think. Not exciting, for some reason which I forget. I remember seeing few cars, all driving pretty slowly in Helsinki. They seemed to flow well. The traffic signs contained a lot of striiings of vooeeewels.

Norway

I've known a few Norgies who have all been most charming and completely mad. Because of the local hooch prices, they seem to feel the need to stack up with booze when out of the country - like camels. Something to see them through life, I suppose.

If the Norwegians have to go through alcohol quarantine between arriving home and driving, it could be okay tophoto: fiat 500 of the week drive there, because traffic density can't be that bad in a country that is large by European standards. If you flipped Norway over on its southern base and laid it flat, it would virtually reach Gibraltar.

Just to prove how safe Paris is - look at this 25-year veteran of its traffic. It is also, of course, our 'Fiat 500 of the Week.'

"Let's nip over to Bardufoss this evening. It's only two hundred miles, the roads might be clear, and the Hansens are doing some fish nibbles and cola."

Sweden

'Sverige' is of the few countries in the World which has enjoyed the jolly jape of changing the traffic side of the road from left to right. A visionary move, now that they are connected to continental Europe by road.

Also sensible inasmuch as - unlike Nigeria - it made this change overnight, rather than allocating different change days for cars, trucks, elephant and so on. I just hope for their sakes that their Swedish cars don't stall as often as mine does.

Another Swedish car owner in the UK once told me he was convinced that Swedish car electrics are tailored for dry Arctic conditions rather than for damp and miserable climates like we enjoy in the UK.

Cars in Sweden are always lit up, unlike their drivers, who can't afford it for fiscal reasons. They drive slowly and carefully. People in Sweden can be quite exciting, like the Swiss. They both make guns and are neutral.

No - actually they are fantastic. I have to say this because my dentist is from there.

Denmark

Nice and relaxing. Few Europeans are more laid-back than the Dansk. Listen to them speaking:

"Take it easy. Ja."

"Got held up by agricultural traffic?"

"Don't worry. Skol!"

Dump the car and get a bike.

The Netherlands

I must admit that I have never driven in NL. Why drive, when it's cool to ride a bike or jump on a tram?

About the only time you see NL drivers is on other European freeways, where they are all slowly cruising in packs of caravans on their way to the south, like birds migrating the wrong way.

The Dutch are super cool, but severely tight-fisted. This is why they drive south, taking all their own air and water, and buying everything else cheaper in the south. They needphoto: must turn right a lot of fluids as an expectorant - a vital aid to correct pronunciation in the Dutch language.

This traffic sign means you have to turn right - or reverse the entire block to go the other way.

If you see a string of these wagon trains on a European autoroute, remember it's not the Dolly Parton Road Show on its way to a gig in Nashville. It's probably the Dollijk van der Partonberg Straaten-Schjeouiw on its way to a cut-price supermarket in Sicily.

Germany

The Germans are basically okay, and can be very sensible drivers as long as the rules are clearly defined. After the difficult post-war years of rebuilding a country, the car is still a very important social icon, to be cared for with diligence and exhibited with pride.

Germany still has this stupid 'priority from the right' rule which the French wisely kicked out a while back. Speed limits are viciously low in towns and fines are viciously high. If you get busted for drunk driving you have to attend group therapy and send regular sample snips from your liver.

And be careful on the autobahns where there is no speed limit. If you see a Porsche 911 Carrera behind you on final approach with landing lights ablaze, undercarriage down and flaps at full tilt, don't refer to Air Traffic Control - move over to the emergency breakdown lane!

There are bizarre new traffic solutions which 'experts' are examining. Nowhere else would somebodyphoto: lost buses, pantheon set up Committees to evaluate the feasibility of roundabouts, and then build some so that the Committees would have real roundabouts for feasibility reviews.

Instead of heading straight down the Boulevard Saint-Michel, 'Ed's' bus 38 takes a magical mystery tour.

I noted one particular case where the resulting confusion in the town of Emmendingen was blamed on 'insufficient markings,' as ADAC Motorwelt - Germany's largest magazine - a car club magazine! - reported in its April issue.

Having personally experienced the two roundabouts in question, I remember with severe clarity the alarm caused by German drivers ploughing into a roundabout, assuming that - coming from the right - they had priority!

The Germans were told the roundabouts were there. Unfortunately no one thought about telling them what roundabouts are, and how they work. Someone should start up an 'Achtung! - Roundabout' Web site or RDS-radio warning broadcast.

Italy

Magnifico!

This is a fine place to drive if you enjoy Grand Opera not just as a spectator sport, but as a completely absorbing multi-dimensional lifestyle. Very loud, very unpredictable. Don't take the gestures seriously - they're only business - not personal. Just remember - driving in Italy is not a computer game - it's for real!

Spain

Essentially elegant and very stylish driving, were it not full of tourists from Northern Europe. A bit like Italy, except - for 'Grand Opera' read 'Bullfights.'

A tad slower than Italy, especially during the middle of the day when they all bomb out for siesta time. I think maybe they can be a bit sulkier and less spontaneous than the Italians - who can blame them? - so bear this in mind. It would be nasty to suggest that this signifies more pride and less conceit, so I won't.

United Kingdom - aka UK

Being British, we lead the world.

When it comes to the practice of driving, this does not apply.

My countrymen drive dangerous old wrecks and many of them are. There are rules, but few understand or observe them these days.

The reason is that the common sense which used to be a proud national characteristic - along other with treasured hand-me-downs like the 'Mother of Parliaments,' 'Freedom of Speech' and 'Civilized Plumbing' - has gone out of the window.

So be very wary of overtaking anyone who is younger or older than you.

Be careful when using the same road as anyone who is applying make-up, learning how to use a telephone, or who looks socially disadvantaged, ethnically over-consciousphoto: turn right not or severely mentally disturbed. Watch for young drivers who have a customized 'go-faster' car.

This sign means 'no right turn' - therefore it permits any other sort of manoeuvre including ordering a pizza.

Instead use a taxi. London cabbies have unique street knowledge and remarkable repartee. Never use a taxi outside London unless your spoken Punjabi is sound, and you have a satellite-linked GPS device.

Belgium

Other countries in Europe have their odd quirks - as I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago. Some are a bit more flamboyant than they need be.

But it is only but Belgium which I sadly cannot stand from an automotive point of view. Driving in Belgium is pure, unadulterated, stark fear and terror.

Logic suggests that the reason for this is probably the fact that there are still one and a half generations in Flanders and Wallonia which never had to pass any form of driving test, although this requirement has now been introduced - for what it's worth.

If you enjoy driving prow to stern at 85 knots, if you concur that hazard warning lights are there to indicate that you are contemplating slowing down, if you appreciate a flashing indicator telling you what the guy ahead has just done - rather than what he plans to do - then go to Belgium and enjoy.

They don't even bother to cover the roadside corpses. Keeping your suit dry while dead is one reason to try and stay alive if you go there.

France

I like France. They drink wine, eat cheese and smell of garlic, and the lassies are bonnie.

The French are spirited drivers with typically French flair and elan. They drive swiftly and with style. They don't hang around, but they seem to be pretty sensible, apparently exercising some understanding and observation of the game rules.

There are fine freeways - 'péages' - which are not cheap, and consequently uncluttered by vicious truckers who prefer to tear the cheaper options of German and Belgian roads and highways asunder.

These autoroutes are an excellent though non-scenic long-distance alternative if you want to get from A to C - completely bypassing B. Just don't expect to make any landfalls as navigational aids, since autoroutes seem to studiously avoid visibly passing most places in France.

And then of course there are the Parisians.

Paris, our beloved Paris. It is different.

I have never felt the need to drive in Paris. Call it cowardice, call it lack of balls, call it stupidity, call it fear of Klingons, call it what you will.

Miscellaneous Europe

My apologies to those European countries not mentioned here. Either they are rare ones I have not visited, or they are ones where it's completely okay to drive.

"Beep, beep!" - says Badger


Ed's Paris Driving Tips

Thank you, Badger! The only thing you really need to know about driving in Paris is that each and every one of the several million drivers in the Paris region consider that they are driving on their own private road.

This works very well unless you find yourself on somebody else's throughway through oversight or inattention. At the moment both are happening frequently because Paris drivers have discovered the joys of telephoning while in motion on wheels.

Not telephoning while driving gives no particular advantage because the odds are stacked against you. In fact, being a pedestrian has become dangerous as well - but not necessarily from drivers.

Pedestrians with phones will stop anywhere without warning - at the tops of escalators - to answerphoto: quai du louvre jam them. Police are also anxious because many pedestrians run out of buildings without warning to answer their phones, and police have mistaken them for fleeing bandits.

An excellent traffic observation location is right outside the Café Metropole Club's café La Corona.

Good-reception-seeking pedestrians have also been the causes of a lot of collisions with the ever-increasing hordes of roller-folk, who generally operate at considerable speed without brakes.

Other pedestrians huddle in doorways to telephone; leading police to suspect them of illegal street activities.

Overall, driving in Paris is safe enough in taxis, if you can find one. Most Paris taxis have been converted into rolling Internet-advertising billboards and no longer bother with passengers.

Buses are normally reliable and you can telephone from them without bothering anybody other than the driver and other passengers. Buses are often held up by huge street parades of people protesting about telephoning in buses.

It is only a matter of a short time before telephoning becomes available on underground métro trains.

When this happens, métro circulation will become erratic, because telephoning passengers will tend to pop the emergency brakes to stop trains when they are in rare good-reception areas. Métro lines two and six will be particularly hard-hit.

Final Precision

I must make one correction to Badger's explanation of the French 'priority' rule. Most traffic coming from the right still does have the 'right of way.' The exception to this, is the 'reverse' priority in roundabouts - where everything coming from the left has the 'right-of-way.'

It is never wise to generalize, but to sum it up - if it is not a roundabout - you do not have the 'right-of-way.' For roundabouts, you have no 'right-of-way' to enter them; but once in, you are king of the road and can twirl around all day. This applies throughout France except for the exceptions.

"Ding-a-ling!" - says 'Ed'

Due to my current carless status, all photos above are of conditions in Paris last week. - 'Ed'
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