Driving in France

While driving in France recently I picked up a young hitch-hiker. I give a lift to young hitch-hikers whenever I can as a symbolic means of thanking all those (most of whom must now, alas, be dead) who gave me a lift all those years ago when I was a young hitch-hiker. [pullquote]Stop Press: Brexit. Experts forecast UK weather will worsen.BBC[/pullquote]

Needless to say, I form a very swift and rough estimate of their character from their faces before I offer them a lift. So far I have not been mistaken: though I suppose it is the one time you are wrong that is more important than the hundred times you are right.

This young man looked a rather timid, studious type. He was very polite; he was eighteen and going home from his part-time work. He wrote lyrics to songs, about love and the condition of France (very bad under M. Hollande, he said). After a few minutes he asked me whether I was from the North, that is to say from the north of France, which pleased me greatly; no, I said, I am English.

He then recounted his experience of England. He had gone the year before and had been put up by a family who were ‘adorable,’ extremely kind to him. He had loved London. He visited all the museums, the parks, the stores, and in general fund it an exciting place to be.

‘And the English,’ he said, ‘are very polite – much more polite than the French.’

I would have fallen off my seat if it had not been for the seat-belt. The strange thing is that I have found precisely the opposite: that the French are much more polite than the English.

Our opposite impressions, it seemed to me, were a cause for optimism, for they suggest that a) people are not generally xenophobes and try to be nice to foreigners and b) are still proud enough of their country to want to give foreigners a good impression of them. One explanation of our opposite impressions is that they were both correct but that people are in general more polite to foreigners than they are too their fellow-countrymen.

We should, of course, be polite to everybody all the time, but this is against human nature. When I was a child I was told when I went visiting to be on my best behaviour, so as not to disgrace my parents: from which I naturally concluded that my best behaviour was unnecessary at other times.



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4 Comments on Driving in France

  1. I was lost on the outskirts of Paris several years ago, and going into a tabac to ask directions one of the customers said he would show me the way if I followed behind his car. I thought I was close to my destination, but I was mistaken, and a thirty minute drive ensued, a sacrifice in time and petrol from the Frenchman for which I’ll always be grateful.

  2. I always make a point of picking up the scruffiest, weirdest-looking hitchhikers in France. I avoid the “nice”-looking ones in case they are boring or scammers or murderers. I have always been pleasantly surprised by the hobos. They tend to be cultivated and have sound views on everything (Adam Smith rather than Marx).

  3. French drivers can be very tolerant, I found that when I went up a slip road in the wrong direction in France.

    On another occasion, I was trying to find a gite in the depths of the country in the early hours of the morning when it was pitch dark, A young motorist saw I was lost and went miles out of his way to show me the place, down country byways,. He refused anything in return.

    On the other hand, I have also witnessed great bad manners in France.

    Interestingly, I have found Americans to very be polite and helpful, compared to Britain. However, that was the USA in the flyover states, while I lived in London.

  4. when I hitchhiked through England and Scotland some 53 years ago, people often stopped to offer a lift and sometimes a snack. We must have looked half- starved.There seemed to be no reluctance to offer lifts beyond class barriers: I rode in the finest cars there were, like Jaguars, one Aston Martin( yes, the James Bond car) and a Bentley driven by a country gentleman who spoke fluent german. I will never forget this.
    In France on the contrary, you could spend 6 hours waiting for no lift, let alone a detour or nourishment.As for french politeness: I have always percieved it as very formal,they didn’ t stop because that might have bothered you. ( this is the reason too why the French let other nations win the gold medals at the olympics), whereas the anglosaxon variety seems to be more communicative and heartfelt.I was amazed at the extent of politeness those days even in New England.