Here is part 2 of my ‘guide to driving in France’. This section deals with the practicalities of everyday driving in these parts, and offers what I hope will be some useful advice.
Hints and tips
When navigating your way around France you can’t beat a good map. Now having tried many and various ‘get directions’ websites I still find it is essential to have a proper map book in the car. It’s all very well having precision directions with street names and road numbers, but you will find them of little use when confronted by an actual road. The numbers in particular, can be confusing at best. There is one stretch of road between here and Dinard that is a magnificent case in point. One day I travelled around 150 km on one road. I did not turn left nor did I turn right, I did not have any nasty junctions to negotiate, there wasn’t even a roundabout to cloud the issue. That one long, relatively straight piece of road has 17 different numerical classifications. 17. On one road, and that’s just the bit of it I drove on. This is not an uncommon feature.
So how about just looking for your destination on the road signs? Well up to a point that works well. Up to the point when your destination mysteriously vanishes from sight and leaves you wondering where on earth you went so wrong. The truth is you probably didn’t and you are more than likely still going in the right direction. Have faith. I find that helps enormously. The road signs in France are actually incredibly good, as long as you know what to look for. The only sure-fire way to navigate your way round France is to not only know where you are going to, but also know where you are going through. If you have a list of all the towns and villages that you will pass through en route to your destination and follow the signposts, you will not get lost. It’s a bold statement, but speaking as someone who has absolutely no sense of direction I can assure you it works.
One ‘sign’ that its good to be aware of is the sign that denotes an approaching bend. It is composed of blue and white chevrons, and 90% of the time, they really, really mean it. If you see one of these it is best to slow down to a speed from which it is easy to slow down even further. It may well be that the corner is just a little bit tighter than you think it looks, or it may be a hair-pin bend. You have been warned.
I will just take a moment to mention my two favourite road signs. The first of which is ‘Toutes (all) Directions’ and the second is ‘Autres (other) Directions’.
It can be a little confusing when you first come across these signs but once it is explained it’s really quite easy. Toutes directions quite simply means that you should go that way, (unless you are trying to find a devious shortcut, but that almost never works). And as for the ‘Autres’, unless you see your particular destination name on an adjacent post you should really go the other way. Simple. But they still make me laugh.
Overtaking is a national pastime.
When travelling at the speed limit you will be overtaken numerous times, particularly on stretches of highly unsuitable road preferably with oncoming traffic. When glancing in your rear view mirror you will see a car advancing at an alarming rate, but do not panic , it will do one of two things. Either it will drive up to your bumper then veer wildly around you and then slot neatly back into place just in front of you before disappearing into the distance. Or, it will drive up to your bumper then slam the brakes on if there is really really not enough room to get past. It will then proceed to bob in and out across the central reservation at roughly 2-3 second intervals until such time as it is deemed suitable to finish the manoeuver as outlined above.
If you adhere to the speed limit, you will probably find you do not need to participate in too much overtaking yourself, but if the occasion arises, say if you happen to get stuck behind one of the numerous and frustratingly slow electric cars* that are on the road, whatever else you do, do it fast.
Of course things are further complicated if you happen to be driving a right hand drive car, and you will have to allow a larger gap behind the vehicle you are overtaking and be sure of the power of acceleration of your vehicle. Either that or have a trusted ‘wingman’ in the passenger seat to give you the all clear.
*(the reason that there are so many electric cars on the road is not from any sense of morally righteous environmental concern, but simply that you do not need to have a driving licence to drive one. No really, that’s true.)
On the whole tractors drivers are extremely considerate, and will pull over often when they realise there is traffic behind them. However be aware that although most of them are fully fitted with indicators very few of them appear to function, and if it does not pull over to let you pass chances are it will be turning quite soon, so it’s probably best not to attempt the overtaking strategy outlined above unless you are completely sure there is no chance of them doing so.
Just to be aware that the traffic lights do not follow the same pattern as in the UK. And when you are waiting for the lights to change they will go directly from red to green, so be vigilant as patience is not a widely held virtue in the French driver. A small note on amber. If you happen to see traffic lights flashing amber that signifies that it is perfectly fine to cross the junction, however all of the other traffic light in this set will be doing exactly the same, so there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that there will not be vehicles doing exactly the same thing. Proceed with extreme caution.
I will just leave you with one last word of warning that is particular to rural areas, and the seasons of spring and autumn.
There are birds of prey of all shaped and sizes around these parts, and they seem to have a fondness for lying in wait in the hedgerows until you are just passing then fly up from out of nowhere. The first couple of times this happens it is nerve jangling to say the least, particularly when it is a fully grown adult with a wingspan the size of your windscreen, but you soon learn not to swerve. They are pretty good at getting out of the way, and I’ve only had to pick a few feathers out of the grille.
I could probably go on forever with a list of odd laws and strange habits, but not only have I gone on far too long already, but I don’t want to take all the fun out of it. Safe journeys and happy motoring.
Oh and if you are coming over from the UK, we drive on the other side.