- Left-Hand Driven
I’ve always done my upmost to avoid stereotyping the French. It’s not just that it’s lazy or shorthand to dull xenophobia, it’s just that a lot of French stereotyping is just plain wrong. On a very simple level, I’ve never seen a bloke wearing a string of onions, and soap, sorry to disappoint the more rabid pigeon-holers, is readily available and used.
However, the French really are appalling drivers and they have a serious problem, bordering on nihilism, with parking. Maybe this sums up the difference between the English and the French better than any other metaphor available. By and large parking in the UK is an ordered process. The British see the white lines of a parking space and take a certain national pride in putting our vehicles equidistant between the two. There are exceptions to this obviously, and the outcry that greets these social-destroyers just serves as a reminder of how seriously car parking is taken in Britain.
The French though, see the white lines of a car parking space not even as a rough guide, more the symbols of oppression and power and therefore something not just to be ignored, but to be completely trampled upon. I have stood in supermarket car parks often, sometimes in admiration, regarding a car that on the surface may look like it’s been abandoned but has been so carefully placed as to be in four spaces at once. The Britishness in me goes into full-on ‘tutting’ mode obviously, but there’s also a sneaking respect for the brazen two-fingers to society’s rules. Take that ‘da man’, they’re saying, my clapped out Renault is having none of your top-down rules.
It turns out I was wrong about that too.
We bought a new car this week. Eventually. We were supposed to have collected it two weeks ago but there was a ‘problem with the finance’. Now of course who doesn’t have problems with ‘finance’, but this was a problem because I earn my money in the UK. The finance company didn’t like that. They didn’t like that at all. Because of what’s happened it’s tempting immediately to think that it’s Brexit related, that the finance company are taking the long view here and that while I may be setting in place my own post-Brexit plans they’re using the cold-eye of appreciation of money-lenders. And their forecast is bleak. “So you earn your money in the UK Monsieur Moore and live in France? And in the future…?”
I made my anger with the situation very clear indeed. Pointing out to the car salesman that I was taking this personally, and that I didn’t like being ‘insulted’. I do tend, with horrible regularity, to slip into the sub-Godfather language of veiled threats and faux hurt but it was clear that I had got to him. Finally he rang and asked to speak to Natalie, pointedly not me, to say that the car was ready. She put the phone down.
“What have you said to him?” She asked.
“Well I told him that you’d be going on your own to collect it. He seemed quite nervous about that.”
Personally, I think if you can go through life occasionally putting the wind up salesmen then it’s a life well-lived and I felt no guilt at all. I’m not especially hung up on cars, but I’ve never had a ‘brand new’ one before and I wanted to get my hands on it. We haven’t actually had a left-hand drive car for years and I liked the idea. It feels like I’m cocking a snook at Leavers and their almost childish need for their symbols of old Blighty. It would have been a lot cheaper to buy a right-hand drive in England to be honest, second hand cars cost much, much more in France but as Samuel will start learning to drive next year, a left-hand drive has become an expensive necessity.
I like it. I like it a lot. But I can’t park the thing. There’s me, for years now, raising a militant fisted salute to the car parking French radicals and it turns out that it’s less to do with rebellion, and more to do with simple spatial awareness. Sorry to disappoint most of the world, and I’m equally sorry to be offering succour to the Little Englanders, but left-hand drive cars just don’t work. Most people are right handed, the brain simply cannot calculate how to park a left hand drive car. There was no one else in the car park and I just could not get the thing straight. I looked like a learner driver on an industrial estate on a Sunday morning, flailing away like I’d never been in a car before.
I have a choice here. I can either be very British about the whole thing and practice and practice until my left hand parking is as pristine as my right hand, or I could just capitulate and join the opposition. The latter seems to be in fashion of course as MP after MP has said publicly how they regard Brexit as a bad idea for Britain but that they were going to vote for Article 50 anyway. It was a depressing state of affairs frankly, a bit like watching the England cricket team of the 1990s, these people talk a good game but you know a shambolic capitulation is just around the corner. Except of course for Diane Abbott who loudly proclaims loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn but then had a ‘migraine’ and missed the vote. Say what you like about Diane Abbott but she’s a true politician, and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way. She is the kind of slippery, untrustworthy career Parliamentarian who gives politics a bad name, do as I say, not as I do wrapped in moral certainty and sanctimony.
But then isn’t that most politicians? The ‘will of the people’ apparently must be obeyed. Since when has that mattered to these blood suckers? In France the election has taken a strange turn as well, Francois Fillon is dropping like a stone in the polls as his ‘fluid’ approach to financial probity becomes public and yet Marine Le Pen rises in the polls even as the EU accuses her of essentially the same thing. Once again, one has to ask the question what kind of Rhino-hided narcissist would seek public office anyway? They all seem to be bent in some way, you’re just left with a choice of which bends you regard as not as bent as other bends. Politics as designed by Escher.
I slammed the car into reverse again, which felt odd anyway having to do that with my right hand, a bit like that salty old joke of sitting on your hand for a while to make it numb. I was determined to get this right. Half an hour later and the car was still going in at an odd angle, comically so. Like I say, maybe it’s just best to give up and join them, become a crooked parker and just accept it. I got out of the car and took a picture on my phone.
“What are you doing?” Natalie asked, not unreasonably.
“I’m going to use it as evidence for my French nationality application. Look at it.” I said, almost with pride as it covered two spaces, “I’m more French than I thought.”
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