Despite driving through European countries plenty of times before, we found driving in France was in possession of its own je ne sais quoi, translated for your convenience to WTF.
Much like their language, the French have their own way of directing you where to go. And, much like their language, it’s kind of like a test. I know I say, “Ce n’est pas possible,” but what I really mean is, “Make it worth my while.” I know I say go right to get to Lyon, but what I mean is, stay straight, pass the fork in the road, pass through two roundabouts, take that left at Flaurent’s house and it’s actually your 10th right, 20 miles down the road.
This confusion applies to both city and country driving, as it’s not about what the signs look like they mean but more along the lines of what they might mean in an alternate universe where left arrows mean go straight.
Let’s now play a fun game called Guess Which Way You’re Going, brought to you by the fine folks at the French Institute of Getting People to Stay Where We Want Them To.
1. The following indicates drivers should go in which direction?
If you said straight, congratulations, très bien. If you answered left, silly American.
2. To go anywhere from where you are, should you turn left or right?
This is a trick question as you can turn either left or right and get everywhere- French Philosophy 101. You’ll also note that someone else found this slightly confusing and has demanded they fix the problem (hence the “Demerdez-Vous” = “You sort this out!”)
3. How fast should you be going in this area?
30 is both the speed limit and at the same time, not the speed limit.
4. If you’d like to go East instead of West, in which direction should you turn your vehicle?
You will turn right. It does not matter in which direction you wish to go.
And now the results:
If you successfully scored 4 out of 4: felicitations, you are French. Welcome and thank you for all of your delicious, delicious pastries.
3 out of 4: Close, but no pâté. Keep it up and you’ll be countryside bound in no time. Also was it the East/West question? Don’t you know only les Français are in control here? You go only when they tell you to go.
2 out of 4: Half way there, which to the French basically means you are not worthy to drive on their roads. Merde on your baguette!
1-0 out of 4: Clearly, you are not French. Je suis désolé. You may leave at anytime (if you can find your way out), but please leave your amazing American ketchup, Heinz is preferred, merci.
I guess though, it could be worse. Yes, it adds on hours to your seemingly simple road trip to la campgne. And yes, it requires pantomime skills of epic proportions (can you ever remember the French word for avoid-as-many-goats-as-possible when you need to?). But if it was easy and you never veered off path, you wouldn’t end up places like this:
In a village you never knew existed, on a road you never would have found and at a bakery you never would have tried, with the best damn palmier you’ve ever had in your life and the cutest elderly couple serving up locals all day long.
As frustrating and as funny as it is, sometimes you have to wonder- in a country devoted to the art of flâner, of savoring and of living to the fullest (which thankfully includes mounds of carbs), could this be their way of getting us to slow down, to take a look around and to realize that it really is the journey we should be paying attention to- the small moments and the times where, while you might not be where you thought you’d end up, you are where you should be without a doubt.
Or they could just be fucking with us.
I will leave you with this- I found the following image online and while it may be photoshopped, there is also the very real possibility that some or all of it is most definitely not photoshopped. Regardless, this sign encapsulates all that it is to drive along the roads in France. And really, you’ve got to love it.
Because French people.