France’s Unusual Love of Going in Circles

One thing you notice while in Paris is that you tend to go in circles a lot.

To an outsider it can be frustrating, confusing and defeating. Yet the French themselves seem either not to mind or are happily oblivious to the fact that they never get anywhere.

They start at a young age, enticed by an overabundance of carrousels haplessly scattered about. From there they learn that daily eating habits follow the same circlish routine of waking up, getting baguette, eating baguette, going to sleep, waking up, getting another baguette. Even their TV programming is on a seemingly endless loop. How many times can one person watch the same episode of ‘Un Gars, Une Fille‘ or the same Patrick Swayze documentary? (Apparently a lot. There’s no rate of diminishing return on the Swayz, even in French.)

It’s of little surprise then, that Paris is home to the world’s 2nd most famous (read: crazy) roundabout. (The honor of the world’s most famous (read:craziest) roundabout goes to England’s Magic Roundabout.) So ridiculous is the roundabout ’round the Arc de Triomphe that if any accidents occur, both drivers are considered equally at fault, regardless of who’s fault it actually was. That’s French logic. But more on that in a moment.

Arc de Triomphe Place de Gaulle

And if one roundabout isn’t enough, there’s plenty more where that came from, like Place de Bastille, Place de Clichy, Place de la Concorde, Place du Trocadero, Place de la Réplubique, Place de Madeleine, Place Vendôme, and Place de la Nation, to name a few.

But why stop there? So much do Parisians enjoy driving in circles that they encircled their entire city in one large roundabout.

Paris Boulevard Peripherique

Of course the crème de la crème of how their circling ways is fully ingrained in the way they think, and talk, and analyze, and talk about their analysis, and think about what they’re talking about, and analyze what they think they’re talking about, and then go to lunch… to talk about it some more.

Jean Paul Sartre et Simone de Beauvoir

Ever been to a French business meeting? Don’t. You’d probably still be there. A study found French managers spend an average of 16 years of their life in meetings.

Is there something innately bred in the French to hate all things linear? Perhaps, which would also explain why they hate to wait in line so much and will undoubtedly try to cut you by going around it.

Ultimately, France’s unusual love of going in circles can best be summed up in their washing machines. Sure, they take 2½ hours of spinning to clean one pair of pants, but, as David Liebowitz so wisely points out, “perhaps the washing machines are more interested in the process, rather than the results”.

French Washing Machine

Or maybe they’re just French.

Gerard Depardieu