old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

November 05, 2006

Driven mad

This site has now moved to Salut!



Buried away in the little French guide book to Sicily was a coded health warning of a type the people of France will seldom see. Although couched in unsensational terms, it offered cautionary thoughts on the standard of driving they could expect to encounter.

Derided all over Europe for their cavalier approach to safety, courtesy and basic consideration on the road, French drivers - or, at least, those planning a trip to Sicily - suddenly discovered they were about to meet their match.

Sicilians drove "relatively fast", the book said, and traffic in the big cities, Palermo and Catania, was chaotic and to be avoided if at all possible. And while islanders were generally "calmer" than mainland Italians, the roads were in any case full of the latter, especially in the holiday season.

There were always those on my old blog who championed France's innocence in these matters.

The French themselves, of course, will never see themselves as bad or inherently dangerous drivers.

They simply failed to understand when that mock chart of the EU produced a composite European from the then 12 members by highlighting each country's stereotypical sins.

They got the rest of it: the bits about the model Mr European being as available as the Belgians, "sober like the Irish", as modest as the Spanish and as good at cooking as the English. It was just the "driving like the French" jibe that left them hurt and perplexed.

I would hazard a guess that most outsiders, along with a few of France's own road safety people, do see the the French as aggressive, ill-tempered and inconsiderate when behind the wheels of their cars.

But a week in Sicily - an otherwise delightful retreat where Salut!, or rather the internet cafe giving me access to it, was a cable car ride away - persuaded me that they are angels when compared with their neighbours to the south-east.

It is a long time since I drove in mainland Italy, but if Sicily, out of high holiday season, is "calmer", then I hope it will an even longer time before I do so again.

Sicilians can not really be blamed for the choked city streets. Motorway links are good but whatever the size of town or village, the road system is just not up the the demands placed upon it.

Their demeanour on the open road is another matter. Tailgating is only marginally worse than on the autoroute and routes nationales of France, but there are chilling variations in the approach to, and execution of, overtaking.

Cars, van and lorries of all sizes will suddenly dart out from a line of near stationary traffic, sweep across the double white lines and gain a few vehicle lengths before barging back in.

If the French do not so much drive on the left or right but in the middle, the Sicilians - or is it their mainland visitors? - believe in using the entire roadway.

Take the fondness for lane sharing. The overtaking driver does not wait to complete the manoeuvre before cutting back into the inside lane perilously close to the offside of the vehicle being passed.

And when, indicating left, I was stalled by a woman blocking the way into my hotel to take or make a mobile phone call, a stream of impatient drivers pulled out to get past even after she had moved on. Oh, and everyone except her seems to use their mobiles without bothering to stop whether or not they have hands free sets.

The upshot is that every other car on the island seems to have sizeable bumps and scratches. Perhaps with the success of Italian magistrates against the mafia, machismo on the road has become an outlet for all that excess testosterone.

I have experienced pretty scary driving in other corners of the world. There was the religious fanatic whose idea of a short cut was to drive a few hundred yards the wrong way down a dual carriageway flyover in Peshawar. And I have sat frozen in the seats of speeding, falling-apart taxis in several parts of Africa and the Middle East.

But Sicily was, in European terms, special enough to make my French wife wonder if anyone took driving tests there, and to remind me of the comment left on my old blog by Lise Norris.

Lise was talking about driving in the French and Italian capitals, both of which were familiar to her, but perhaps her theory can be applied more widely.

The difference, she said, was "that the French know the highway code and choose to ignore it whereas the Italians don't know it exists".

This site has now moved to Salut!

57 Comments:

At November 05, 2006 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you're feeling hard done by, Colin. And right now the prospect of enlisting the aid of the Family, headquarters Corleone, must be tempting. There's nothing like a horse's head at the foot of the bed to make one's tormentors see sense. But have you considered more British alternatives - like the Arbitration and Conciliation Council ?

 
At November 05, 2006 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My scariest road experience was in Cairo in the very small car of an Egyptian young man (friend). I really thought I was not going to make it, and vowed never to accept a lift from him again.

French drivers here have improved quite a lot since speed cameras were installed together with CCTV in town.

 
At November 05, 2006 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One used to be able to get stickers for the rear window, with "Mafia staff car" or "You toucha my car, I smasha your face".
Maybe they need a bit of updating(for British roads). How about:

Metropolitan Police
Rapid Response Unit
(Stockwell Div)

 
At November 05, 2006 3:39 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I've driven all over France and have never had any real problems with other motorists -- some are better than others but you'll find that anywhere. It's more a matter of figuring out local idiosyncracies and adapting to them. An Italian friend in Milan explained that the philosophy there was to concentrate on what was happening in front of you and let the vehicles behind worry about your rear end. It seemed to work. In Australia, with major cities often linked by narrow, two-lane roads, overtaking practice is to come right up on the tail of the vehicle in front, pull out and pass and then cut back right in front of its nose. Nervewracking at first until you realize that, given the conditions, it makes sense and that the drivers know what they're doing.
My most nervewracking moment in France was driving a vintage -- and valuable -- Jaguar XK120 through the Alps with the owner, a Grenoble dentist, in the passenger seat urging me to "make it slide!" I did once or twice, though not intentionally. There again, Colin, I seem to recall you doing that from time to time in your old Hillman Minx. Or was that just the Randall-like baldness of the tyres?

 
At November 05, 2006 6:06 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Come drive in Switzerland! Up here in the mountains of the Valais the drivers are courteous and polite (stopping at pedestrian crossings) although they do tend to drive like Sebastien Loeb - but with 8km of treacherous hairpin bends to get to the village that is to be expected. However go down the hill and into the Vaud (Montreux, Vevey, Lausanne etc) and it is terrifying - it would appear that no-one has explained why they have a rear-view and two wing mirrors on their cars, and indicators - what are those?

 
At November 05, 2006 6:20 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

You're ideally placed, Louise, to comment upon national characteristics. Is there a difference in the driving techniques and standards of French-Swiss, German-Swiss and Italian-Swiss?

 
At November 05, 2006 6:36 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

By the way, Colin & Joelle, belated best wishes on your anniversary. From Lesley, too. You had some good Sicilian wine, I hope.

 
At November 05, 2006 6:39 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Must admit, Bill, that I haven't yet had enough time to test the Swiss/Italian, Swiss/German driving but as Colin R seems to have a bit of a thing about driving I'm sure another blog will appear soon relating his experiences, so maybe I'll be able to update you all - aren't you all waiting with baited breathe?!

By the way, I looked at your photo album this morning - did I spot Randall in one of your pictures?

Agree with Sarah that the Frogs have improved their driving since those awful bloody speed cameras have been introduced - however they have become so frightened now that they overtake at exactly 130km/h causing jams in the fast lane, so I often find myself doing 160/170 km/h to get by everyone who has set their cruise control at 130. At least the Frogs warn you when a speed camera is just around the corner - here in Suisse they don't! You are told speed cameras are in operation in the area and that is it!

 
At November 05, 2006 6:39 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Must admit, Bill, that I haven't yet had enough time to test the Swiss/Italian, Swiss/German driving but as Colin R seems to have a bit of a thing about driving I'm sure another blog will appear soon relating his experiences, so maybe I'll be able to update you all - aren't you all waiting with baited breathe?!

By the way, I looked at your photo album this morning - did I spot Randall in one of your pictures?

Agree with Sarah that the Frogs have improved their driving since those awful bloody speed cameras have been introduced - however they have become so frightened now that they overtake at exactly 130km/h causing jams in the fast lane, so I often find myself doing 160/170 km/h to get by everyone who has set their cruise control at 130. At least the Frogs warn you when a speed camera is just around the corner - here in Suisse they don't! You are told speed cameras are in operation in the area and that is it!

 
At November 05, 2006 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of giving up driving, Louise. Recently, I've started to see double.

 
At November 05, 2006 6:55 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Thanks for checking out my photos, Louise. Yes, that is indeed Colin & Joelle in one of the shots, taken in a 6th arrondissement bistro in March.
Cruise-control has to be one of the worst inventions ever, partly for the reason you mention -- one car crawling past another and causing a fast-lane traffic jam -- and partly for giving the driver less reason to stay alert. Why should he/she when the car is half driving itself?

 
At November 05, 2006 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, this is a lot more fun than the Telly, dont'ya think ? No more infuriating delays waiting for Ceri and her chums to scrutinise our every word.

 
At November 05, 2006 6:59 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Okay, Colin - it happens to all of us! Are you 100% blog proof?

 
At November 05, 2006 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blog proof ? I wish I were, Louise. Oh, how I wish I were. At least where the feedback is concerned.

 
At November 05, 2006 7:03 PM, Blogger Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I live in Sicily and, although I don't drive, when I first came here I found it absolutely terrifying being a pedestrian! I am braver, now, though, and have learnt that the Siciliani en masse are not out to mow me down! I did enjoy, and smile at, this post.

 
At November 05, 2006 7:05 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Agree with you there, Colin. After hours of waiting for a blog to appear on the Torygraph, I couldn't even remember what the subject was - not that it made much difference on the Randall blog as we didn't seem to stick to the subject anyway!

And as you so nicely pointed you, you can even send the same comment twice - sorry there but a hiccup on my server so didn't know if the comment went off or not...

 
At November 05, 2006 7:08 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I don't know how it is in Sicily but the key to safely crossing the street in an Italian city is to find a nun who's also crossing and keep her between you and the oncoming traffic. The effect is not unlike Moses parting the Red Sea.

 
At November 05, 2006 7:14 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Wasn't around when Moses parted the Red Sea, Bill, but I'll take your word for it.

 
At November 05, 2006 7:17 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Ouch! So much for Swiss neutrality....

 
At November 05, 2006 7:26 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Sorry Bill! It's that awful moment on Sunday evening - weekend almost over, panic over homework, panic on what to have for supper and wasting a couple of hours on the Mac when I should be doing loads of other things. 6pm to 9pm should be banished on a Sunday.

 
At November 05, 2006 7:30 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

No need to apologize, Louise -- it was a great comeback. It's funny; I was just now thinking that you'd be getting into your "supper run" any time now. That comment of yours from a few weeks ago has stayed with me. It's 1:20pm here, I've just hit my optimum caffeine level and the big debate is whether it's worth heading up the street for brunch or not.

 
At November 05, 2006 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great bloggin' there, you two. Would have joined in, but had to break off for sustenance. In the Telly days, one had to apologize for taking a holiday. In the new CR chatroom format, one has to apologise for just slipping out for any hour or two. Where will it all end, I wonder ?
Time to buy shares in sanitoria ?

 
At November 05, 2006 7:35 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Have just seen the following on Swiss news, referring to Saddam Hussein (MONSIEUR Saddam Hussein as they call him):

'La peine de mort n'est pas justifiable, meme pour les crimes les plus graves"

(from the DFAE - department federal des affaires etrangeres)

Any comments?

 
At November 05, 2006 7:50 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

The death penalty is never justifiable in a civilized society. Killing Saddam Hussein (and in the process according him martyr status) reduces us to his level. And what of the legalized murderer who actually performs the execution? Unless he has psychopathic tendencies, such ritualistic depravity must have a terrible effect upon him. That said, having read the autobiographies of two British executioners -- Albert Pierrepoint and Syd Dernley -- I'm forced to the conclusion that they were psychopaths. A serial killer by any other name...

 
At November 05, 2006 8:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently not, Louise. Let's talk about something else. Like Hillman Minxes.

As a student I once had a vacation job with Securicor. One night they put me, uniform, baton and all, to guard an exhibition of Rootes cars (Hillmans, Sunbeams etc), all with keys in the ignition. They were all parked 12 inches apart. Come midnight, I was so bored out my mind that I drove each out its bay, once round the compound, then reversed in, moved onto the next, etc. Did all 20 or so vehicles in an hour. Can smell the new plastic even now. Then I had a visit from the security guards at a nearby factory, who had watched the whole performance through a telescope, and had been mighty impressed. We spent the rest of the night chewing the fat over at their place, while they kept watch on my patch through their telescope. Such was the underbelly of the British industrial scene, circa mid 60s.

 
At November 05, 2006 8:17 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Bit pushed to talk about the Hillman Minx as I never had one, but remember what they looked like - probably collector's cars now. My first car was a deux cheveux in green - it was gorgeous and smelt very strongly of loads of beige plastic - loved it to bits. My father built me a radio to put into it but I never used it as the engine noise was so loud that even at maximum volume you couldn't hear a damn thing!

 
At November 05, 2006 8:54 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

So what are YOUR thoughts on Saddam Hussein and the death penalty, Louise?

 
At November 05, 2006 11:08 PM, Anonymous Caroline said...

I wouldn't call Pierrepoint a psychpath, he came out strongly against the death penalty at the end of his book.

 
At November 06, 2006 12:39 AM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

True, Pierrepoint did say that he didn't think capital punishment had had any effect whatsoever upon the murder rate. This didn't stop him executing hundreds of people -- I believe more than any other hangman in history -- and writing a book in which he came across as a very strange individual indeed. He had a special, calf-leather restraining strap, for instance, that he used on cases that he had a "special" interest in, which he listed in his diary in red ink. And he gave as one of his reasons for wanting to become an executioner his love of travel. The coldness he displayed absolutely had psychopathic overtones.

 
At November 06, 2006 2:45 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Difficult question, Bill. I am against capital punishment BUT having never had a loved one murdered it is easy to take that stance. I fear that if a member of my family was murdered I would immediately wish for them to die - eye for eye stuff...

Hanging Saddam of course will make him a martyr and the country will slide even deeper into civil war but it would appear this is happening anyway.

But at 2.30am I can't answer the question!

 
At November 06, 2006 2:58 AM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

It's perfectly understandable to want an eye for an eye in the event of a loved one being murdered, which is why trials most be conducted in a dispassionate and impersonal manner. Emotion cannot be allowed to play a role because then justice will be supplanted by revenge. State revenge is no more acceptable, and far harder to justify, than personal revenge. It's why most civilized nations have abolished capital punishment.
What on earth are you doing up at 2:30 in the morning, Louise?

 
At November 06, 2006 3:58 AM, Blogger Louise said...

It's called insomnia! And it's now nearly 4.00 am and the Telly has just come online and I have to get up at 5.30 to get the changeling off to school so might as well give the night a miss!

 
At November 06, 2006 7:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's now 7.30 am, and here I am, wondering which of the two of us, Bill T or myself, has made it impossible for Louise to sleep. Look for a scapegoat, that's what I say. I blame this new girl, Caroline.

And no, I'll save you having to ask, Bill, I am NOT Caroline. Nor SH. But I can let you into a secret, Louise, about that Anne Gilbert.

 
At November 06, 2006 8:21 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Okay Colin, tell me/us who Anne really is! Wouldn't it be lovely if sleepless nights were only caused by comments on blogs - I'd never suffer from insomnia again!

 
At November 06, 2006 8:32 AM, Blogger Louise said...

I forgot to add Colin that during the night I got round to reading (more or less) your blog, so now am au courant re. le hippo.

I remember you writing on the Randall blog about a lump of the Eiger whizzing down the slope - we have had the same problems here during the summer - lumps of rock that have suddenly broken off, a landslide onto the Grand St Bernard train line etc., all in areas that haven't been disturbed recently by building...talking to an architect the other day, he told me that here in the village where there is no more land for building, the local council or whatever they call themselves, are now giving planning permission to build on land classed as 'couloirs d'avalanches' - the buildings have to be reinforced and protected by extra thick walls and stuff, but of course that makes not a halfpenny's worth of difference...

Sorry, I should have written this on your blog, shouldn't I?

 
At November 06, 2006 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Top of the morning to you Louise. For someone who's missed out on a night's sleep, you sound remarkably perky.

Glad you were able to find my blog. Don't be too quick to judge. It's due for a multi-million pound revamp before the year is out.

Look, I have to be careful what I say about AG. Already there are men with southern mediterranean complexions stalking out my house. But I gather there was a big meeting of the family heads in Palermo last weekend. Rumour has it that a new highly addictive crack curry is about to hit French streets - one forkful and one's hooked for life - and that in the carve-up AG's been awarded the Paris concession. This could be the beginning the end for tame French curry, as we know it. But at what price I wonder ?

 
At November 06, 2006 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a suitable punishment for old Saddam would be to through out all the slops in the whole jail and to keep the loos impeccably clean. That way he could metaphorically clean up all the shit he's spent his life spreading.

 
At November 06, 2006 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, I meant 'throw'.

 
At November 06, 2006 9:17 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Good idea, Sarah - unfortunately he will probably have a prison wing built specially for him by the Yanks and will peter out his days in comparative prison luxury with body guards and servants...

 
At November 06, 2006 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time to be controversial: I think the French are better drivers than the Brits - more car control and better awareness of what's going on around them - on a techinical level that is, and let's face it, the style in which they choose to drive makes those skills necessary.

 
At November 06, 2006 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, no servants!!! Oh, and bacon for breakfast... hehe

 
At November 06, 2006 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

....and a session at six o'clock sharp each morning with a Kuwaiti masseur, preferably one who's heavy-handed, deaf, and with strong body odour ......

 
At November 06, 2006 10:19 AM, Blogger Louise said...

I think the French drive better than the English due to the simple fact that the Frogs have totally brilliant motorways (albeit a bit pricey) and where you can really get a move on (apart from the A9 in the summer), whereas the English sit in jams on the M25 most of the time as far as I can gather so never manage to get more than an average speed of 40mph, on a good day!

 
At November 06, 2006 11:32 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Talking of bacon - maybe a BLT for lunch - mmm! Maybe I should make an extra one and send it to Saddam through the BFPO - might leave out the lettuce though as it will be rather withered on arrival - I'm sure his chef will be able to spruce it up.

 
At November 06, 2006 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a diet of burgers, lite coke and strawberry flurries would be enough to get him to beg the authorities to end it all...
(That and the loo-cleaning, natch).

He should spend the rest of his life forced to be humble and at the service of the most basic needs of others.
Who knows, maybe he'd see the light and see the errors of his ways...
*cough splutter*

 
At November 06, 2006 12:37 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Why lite coke, Sarah - feed him the real McCoy along with the 1000+ calorie hamburgers that BurgerKing are dishing out at the moment and within a year he should no longer be with us! Perhaps a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches thrown in too...

 
At November 06, 2006 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The trouble is, Sarah, that thousands, probably millions (Iraquis, Iranians, Kuwaitis) have also "seen" the errors of his ways, and are no longer around to express their outrage. But their families have a right to feel that justice has been done, as a mark of respect to their lost ones. Whilst my position re capital punishment is almost identical to Bill T's, I think there's something more important than worrying about the difference between justice and revenge. It's this: how can the relatives ever feel that justice has been done while there's a prospect, no matter how small, that this man will do a Houdini in years to come, regain power, and then start on a new cycle of revenge and recrimination, even ghastlier than his previous ones.

I see no realistic alternative in this case to execution. But done quietly without fuss and spectacle. And if the man wants a bullet, instead of a noose, why not grant him that final wish, just to prove that humiliation is not part of our agenda.

Speaking of which, how many folk shared my disgust at those pictures spread across the UK tabloids a while back of the man in his Y-fronts, taken surreptitiously ? I felt ashamed to be British when I saw those pix and the taunting headlines that accompanied them.

 
At November 06, 2006 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because lite coke is far nastier than the real McCoy.

Colin - if there is the slightest risk he'll become a martyr, then he should not be executed. Execution is short and sweet. Why should he enjoy that, confidently expecting to go to a martyr's heaven with the virgins on tap and flowing milk & honey?

 
At November 06, 2006 10:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're looking very thoughtful, Bill.....

 
At November 07, 2006 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Control calling Marie Celeste. Are you receiving me? Repeat, are you receiving me? If you are receiving this, Marie Celeste, then please acknowledge immediately. Over

 
At November 07, 2006 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Calling Control.Your call sign please.Over

 
At November 07, 2006 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason I did not give my call sign, Anonymous, is because it's a bit of a mouthful:

Oscar November Lima Yankee
Mike Echo

There, you've seen mine. Now let's see yours.

 
At November 07, 2006 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Calling ONLYME.

Here's one.

Battle Indirect Ogle Psyche

Otter Order Row Smudge

Over and out.

 
At November 07, 2006 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

?

 
At November 07, 2006 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

second letter.

 
At November 08, 2006 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm. You wouldn't happen to be Swedish by any chance ?

By the way, Angström units are now frowned upon, I believe, not being SI units.

 
At November 08, 2006 9:59 PM, Anonymous Sedulia said...

A couple of years ago, I hired a Naples taxi driver for two days rather than rent a car. (It was cheaper.)

"People here are becoming more disciplined," he said as he took a shortcut the wrong way down a one-way street. "They no longer honk at me when I stop at a red light."

 

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