(This is an article I wrote back in 2001. Still very relevant!)
It’s said that there are two types of French people. The French and the Parisians. Add on top of this, the fact that they’re all of Latin blood and then you can understand why they have a reputation for driving badly. I suppose that Paris can be broken down into various sections. Paris, the Peripherique, Bikers and Cage drivers. So, I’ll do it like that.
Paris, itself, is circled by the Peripherique. Most of the roads inside of Paris tend to have heavy traffic. Pretty much the same as London, I suppose. The main differences being that there are loads of cobblestone roads, priority to the right at most (not all) junctions and dodgy roundabouts. If there’s one thing that the French haven’t mastered, that’s roundabouts. Take a trip up the Champs Elysee (cobblestones), up to the Arc de Triomphe (official name : Place d’Etoile) and hammer it on! Well, maybe not. True, you have priority going on to the Place Charles de Gaulle Etoile (its official name) but there is always some pillock that realises that they are bigger than you. Also bear in mind that you have to have your head looking to the right all the time, watching for people creeping up behind you and to your right. The Arc de Triomphe is not the rule for roundabouts as there are proper roundabouts around the place. Not many, but there are. Two things to remember. Number one is watch out for markings on the road. French roundabouts that have priority to those that are coming on, tend to have either nothing marked on the entrance to the roundabout *or* there are give way lines marked on the roundabout, coming out from the centre. Number two is that once you leave Paris (and its suburbs), all roundabouts are standard, give-way-before-you-come-on type.
Always abbreviated to ‘the Periph’, it’s the border of Paris. Anything inside the Peripherique is Paris, anything outside, isn’t (mostly). The highlight of any ride to Paris. 35km of three lanes of pure hell. A road designed in the 70’s with the traffic of the 21st century. Oh, and 70’s junctions to match. This could be considered the M25 of France, but smaller. Journey times of 1hr+ to do 12km in the rush hour are quite conveniently pointed out on information panels above the lanes. Very accurate too. Unless, of course, you’re on a bike. Coming onto the Periph, you have priority At each junction, traffic is filtered into one lane to arrive neatly onto the Periph. It’s in these areas that you’ll find the *cough* bike entrances. That is, the chevroned areas that cages have no access to. This is where riding a bike comes into its own. Bikers in this city, come in all shapes and sizes. From the typical French courier on the moped, with the 6ft fairing, through to Businessmen riding around on GSXR’s whilst wearing suits. Very much a breed of people that all stick together. In this city, Bikers (and in this, I include moped riders) know that they go places and they know that they do it quicker than cage drivers. This friendly race of people tends to give you signs relating to this all the time. Watch out for the right leg being stuck out or the ‘V’ from the left hand as they go past. General signs meaning “Wotcha” or “Ta Muchly”. Queues of bikers sometimes congregate on the Periph as they all filter through the fast lanes. You may find that once in a while, you’ll be blinded in your mirrors. This’ll be a biker using full beam whilst filtering. Also a neat little sign meaning, “move over”. So top tip for the day, is always watch your mirrors, as there will always be some impatient bugger wanting to go faster than you. If you’re unlucky enough to be in a cage, and a biker thinks you’re being inconsiderate to other two wheelers, watch out for the signals as in a hand making a pushing movement or even a friendly kick. 😊
This quite tidily brings me onto the subject of cage drivers in the city. A breed unto themselves. French cage drivers are generally impatient, stressed and hang around in places like traffic jams. The average French cage driver can be found on the Periph, reading a newspaper, playing on a computer or talking on the phone whilst wobbling around the place. Fair dues to them. Sometimes they do move over when bikes filter up between the lanes, but by no means, is this a signal to go like a bat out of hell. This is also the city where there are loads of blind drivers, those that think indicators are optional extras and those that change lanes at 90kph. To see an undented or unscratched car in this city is quite a rarity. If you see one, it’s probably new.
This is where I’ll bring this article to a close. Paris is an excellent place to visit and most people are friendly. Driving in the city is an experience that no one should miss. I just hope the stuff above, gives you a bit of an insight.
EDIT in 2021. Jeez, it’s been over 20 years since I wrote this. I was rubbish at writing then. I’m rubbish now. Minor edits. Not sure how this will post, because I’m testing a mail-to-post facility in WordPress.
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