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Do the French Not Care About Cars? (Contrasting Car Culture)

Do the French Not Care About Cars

The French simply have a different relationship with cars than the rest of the world.

Remember the movie Transporter (2002)? Remember Inspector Triquet’s 1984 Saab 900? Contrast that with the titular character’s immaculate 1999 E38 BMW 7 Series.

In fact, the first time the characters meet, we see Frank meticulously cleaning his Bimmer when Inspector Triquet remarks, everything is always so neat with you.

Later he says, I’ve always believed that the way a man takes cares for his car reflects how he cares for himself. Frank gives the Inspector’s car a once over and agrees.

In what follows we’re going to explore different aspects of French driving culture to gain a better understanding of how that reflects in the country’s attitude toward cars.

1. The French Ethos

84% of households in France have at least one car. On average, the cars on French roads are nine years old.

And more than half are purchased used. It seems the French don’t fetishize cars the way the rest of the world does.

You’re not going to catch a Frenchman getting bent out of shape because you put small scratch or dent in his car.

Rather for the French an automobile is simply a means by which to get from A to B rather than a status symbol.

2. French Economy

The economic crisis of 2007 was felt all over the world.

As a result, the French seem to have taken a more practical approach to cars where they prefer to spend their money on their homes and upkeep than replacing a nine-year-old car.

Indeed, car sales in Europe fell by almost 25% between 2007 and 2013 with no hope of returning to pre-crisis numbers.

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3. French Attitude Toward Cars

That’s not to say that the car isn’t still an essential part of private transport.

But whereas Americans tend to isolate themselves in their cars. For French people sharing a ride is more economical and a means for socializing.

That’s why carpooling is such a big thing. In France, the average age at which people buy their first car is close to 55.

While a typical carpooler is 33, which reflects a dwindling interest in cars. In France, cars are appreciated primarily for their utilitarian value.

4. Getting a Driver’s License in France

Getting a driver’s license in France is much like it is in the U.S. You have to pass a written test, called the code de la route (rules of the road).

After which, you must complete twenty hours of driving with a professional driving instructor.

Then once you both feel confident, you take the final driving test with an examiner.

If you pass you get a three-year probationary license. You’re then issued a license that lists every type of vehicle you’re allowed to drive.

Any car you operate must display a letter A in your first three years of driving. You start out with six points.

And as long as you don’t commit any major road violations, you’ll get the full twelve points after this probationary period.

If you lose your six points during that time, your driver’s license will be revoked.

5. Car Registration in France

Registering a car in France is pretty easy too.

Whether you purchase a new, used or import your car, it must be registered within one month of establishing residency in France.

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Or you can expect a fine of up to 750 euros.

The cost of registration is roughly about 245 euros. But if you bring your own car into France, short stays of up to six months don’t require registration.

6. Driving in France

Driving in France takes steely courage.

Especially when you head into the more densely populated urban downtown areas like Lyon, Marseille and Paris.

Like driving in the crowded city of New York, it’s not uncommon for motorists to vent their frustration at other drivers or pedestrians through honking.

It’s also not uncommon to see a car bump into another when parking.

7. Parking in France

Cars in France skew toward small to fit on public roads and parking lots.

One of the reasons why the French choose the types of cars they do is because, no matter where you want to park in France the space is going to be small.

All parking areas are designated by a large blue P. Like parking in any major downtown area in America, parking is going to cost you money.

Street parking is limited to a maximum of six hours depending on where you are in the city.

And you can expect to pay anywhere from two to six euros an hour.

8. The French Don’t Like Expensive Cars

Do the French Not Care About Cars

Another inditement Inspector Triquet’s makes about Frank’s Bimmer is how it attracts a certain mafia type.

Considering France’s renown for all things lux, a status that goes back hundreds of years. The automotive industry is left jarringly untouched by France.

It’s not that the French don’t produce cars, there’s Citroen, Peugeot and Renault. But there are shockingly no luxury marques.

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And it’s not that the French completely eschew luxury cars. But if you compare BMW sales figures in France to that of the U.K., the ratio is like 3 to 1.

And before you think that maybe the problem is that the French don’t like driving imported cars, consider the Dacia.

It’s a cheap Romanian car, and the French love it.

9. Cars Are Smaller in France

Along with the average age of cars being almost a decade old. In France, you’ll mostly see small, inexpensive cars.

While a SMART car may look comically out of place in a country where we drive big SUVs to the supermarket or the mall.

In France, cars are looked upon as a practical investment if indeed you are going to spring for a car at all.

Right or wrong, for many of us, vehicle ownership is about image and prestige where what you drive says a lot about who you are.

But the French seem to be more pragmatic in this area where costs carry more weight than prestige (Guillaume Paoli).