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Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Biking in France

I hate walking, I don´t have a drivers license (waste of money) and anybody who knows me, can tell I do everything by bike. Biking is wonderful and – as I experienced - especially in the French landscape, where it barely takes effort to climb and as a miracle you always go down much faster then expected and even when the wind blows, it always seems to come from behind.

We parked our bikes against the gate of our future house, we take the children with us on the bike as we used to in Rotterdam.

Ok, in regard to the mayor distances in this country it seemed a good idea to start taking driving lessons in order to obtain a driving license. But I’m not sure yet if it is really necessary. I namely discovered that France, even though it lacks bicycle pathways, is a paradise for cyclists.

One is not allowed on the 'autoroutes', but anywhere else is (e.g. all the routes nationales) and cars are obliged to keep 1,5 meter distance away from the cyclists. And now you may think, come on, they will never do that of course, but they do, almost without exception. Because, apart from fines for traffic violations, France uses a system with points that forces the drivers to honor the rules.

Today we made a short bicycle ride through the hills and mountains behind our house, and regularly you wonder whether you´re in a dream

The system works like this. Every French driver starts with 12 points. Those who recently passed their tests will have to do with 6 for the first three years. When you violate one of the rules, you loose points. How many, depends on the severity of the violation (drunk driving 6, red light 4, over a fixed white line 3, using mobile phone 2, and so on).

When there are no more points left, your driving license is invalid for six years. Very Nasty. The mayor and your employer will be informed (in a village with 150 inhabitants - and there's a lot of them in France - means a virtual excommunication) and then the years of suffering begin (psychic and medical tests) where you have to prove that you want to change for the better and may hope to regain your driving license. Or in short, a clever French driver doesn't even think of misbehaving in traffic.

As a tourist, you only have to worry about the usual fines, because the points-system only applies to the French drivers license.

The people down here find it perfectly normal, but I pause at every picket, fence, cow or tree.

France uses five categories of severity in traffic violations and passing a cyclist, I believe, is category 4 (endangering a fellow road user) which equals a big loss in points. So you see, in France as a cyclist you're really somebody.

It is not just the cyclists. Outside the big cities, it's the gendarmes (gens d'armes or armed people) that maintain law and order. And they do! I was a direct witness to this. Last week when I crossed the road with Deirdre, a driver braked a little to late and fast, and from nowhere a gendarme appeared. the sirens were sounded and monsieur had to pull over immediately.

This is where I live now, at times, I still find it hard to believe.

To see your civil rights being defended so passionately, just makes me speechless. It´s something that´s difficult to comprehend as a Dutchman, because what authority goes from a Hackensack in police uniform that stands next to me in the supermarket with a bag of muffins and a bottle of diet coke? The Maashaven supermarket in Rotterdam, of all places, I mean, if there is a spot where the police have a continuous reason to work, it´s there.

Because, suppose there were difficulties. What would he have done with his lunch? Whack his bottle of coke on the head of that geezer and squash his muffins in his face. And after a short moment of dizziness the villain would have gone down. Nothing sidearm, just beng, kablaf, booom, clash, thump, shatter, vavroom ouch , aaah. Yes, that’s the way we do this in the Netherlands from now on.

This example is not by its self, the numerous occasions - when traveling the cities of western Holland - that I met the police at the take away shops, carrying their recent acquired lunch with them are uncountable. Maybe they got orders from their superiors to mingle unobtrusively with the plebs. But I thought we had the secret service for this. Anyway, I think it´s dissappointing to see a cop dug to his ears in the mayonnaise devouring a sandwich at a sandwich shop. Don't say I'm not allowed to comment on that, because I will pay taxes until at least December 2006, which means I have a right and a duty to have a sound opinion on the matter.

Whell, when I race at 80 km/hr downhill with my bicycle while frogs, ducks and elderly people have to take refuge on the hard shoulder and one of this well dressed gendarmes fines me and maybe even puts me in jail for a night, just for fun, then I will long back to this gentle Hackensack cop that stood next to me in the supermarket and with a little luck he maybe shared his muffin with me when my bike was wrongly parked in front of the police department.

 you won't see me on a bike

posted by Maartje Heymans at 02:18  |   send a comment

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Columns

Augustus 2006
- French coffee
- Snake spotting
- School in France I
- Buildings in France
- The Market in France
- Homesick
- Biking in France
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