Driving in Paris

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Place de l'Etoile NOT at peak hour

One thing I won’t miss when we move to Blois in 2 ½ years time is Parisian traffic. Not that I mind driving in Paris. When all’s said and done I think it’s pretty organised despite appearances to the contrary. The people know what they’re doing. They may not be particularly polite but it works and they don’t blow their horns much either. What you can’t do is hesitate. As you’re charging across Place de l’Etoile with its 12 avenues (no one calls it Place Charles de Gaulle by the way, just as they always call the airport Roissy), you just have keep your eyes on the right and judge the speed of the cars and you’ll have no problem. But if you don’t know exactly where you’re going to get off, it’s better to take the outer circle around the Arc de Triomphe.  It may take longer, because you’ll have to wait for the lights every time, but it’s less stressful when you’re a beginner. That’s what I did until I accidentally got onto the Place itself.

I love taking my Aussie visitors there. I remember Paul Casita from Townsville. I could feel him cringing at my side in terreur (the passenger on the right often feels more vulnerable I must admit) but he was determined to give it a try himself. So he went and sat in a café up the top end of the Champs Elysées (pronounced shonz-elizay by the way) and watched the people go by. When he saw a little old lady whizz up Avenue Kleber, shoot across half the Place at breaknecking speed in virtually a straight line and zip off down Avenue McMahon on the other side without turning a hair, he decided he could do it too. And he survived!

And it’s not the street parking that’s really a problem. Ever noticed how close the cars get to each other when they parallel park? Well, that’s what bumper bars are for. You gently nudge the car in front (no one puts their hand brake on unless they’re on a slope) and then the car behind as you worm your way in. Just leave 5 centimeters on either side and you’ll be fine. The funny thing is that parking is largely ignored when they teach you to drive. I got Black Cat to spend hours on a vacant parking lot during weekends so she could learn how to do it properly. It paid off. She can park with the best of them.

Velib at Dauphine University

What I don’t like is the number of cars on the road. The Greenies have been trying to do something about it, with dedicated bus lanes, Vélib’ bikes (you know, the ones they’ve stupidly put in Brisbane) and soon Autolib’ cars (coming on 5th December). The trouble is that it’s just made more traffic jams because there’s one lane less for the cars on most of the main avenues. The people like me who are going to obstinately drive their car when they go outside the city centre certainly don’t rent Vélibs and Autolibs. They’re used by people who would have taken the bus or the metro or the train. Admittedly I don’t drive to uni at Porte Dauphine any more, even though I have free underground parking at the other end. The trip back down the Champs Elysées  (shonz-elizay, remember) at 6 pm can be dauntingly slow and you have to keep your eyes peeled for the tourists who stand in the middle of the road taking photos of each other with the Arc de Triomphe behind them.

So, just remember, the clue to driving in Paris is knowing where you’re going. So bring your Tom-Tom!

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9 thoughts on “Driving in Paris”

  1. I’ve always been very intimidated by Place de l’Etoile so when I finally worked up the courage to drive around it in peak traffic for the first time, I was very proud that I came out alive and with the car in one piece!
    I also remember the first time I saw someone using the bumping technique to get into a spot that was half the size of their car. I ran home to tell my husband all about it as if it were the most shocking news ever, but he wasn’t fazed of course!
    I actually had to get a French driver’s license because I let the year go by in which you can simply exchange your Canadian license for a French one. It was a costly mistake but in way I’m pleased to say that I managed to pass two driving tests (actually three because there are two test phases in Ontairo) and I passed each the first time!

    1. Yes, you should be proud. They rarely give people their driver’s licence first time here. I just traded mine in which I thought was terrible considering that we drive on the left in Australia! Now I drive on an international licence when I go back on holidays.

  2. Must be an Australian thing, I always make visitors ride in the car around Etoile. And when I’m finished getting them around the first time, I take them again for a second spin of fun.

    The most important rule about driving in Paris applies from the old saying; ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join them’. 🙂

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