The last few weekends have marked the start of the summer holidays in France, when a mass exodus from the towns takes place and people head for the hills or the coasts. Overnight, the numbers of market stalls, tourists conspicuous in their summer gear and foreign number plates double. The normally quiet roads also take on a different aspect. Here are five things to beware of as high summer begins.
- Combine harvesters
The corn has ripened well this year and it’s harvest time. So out come phalanxes of combine harvesters, which have been lurking behind barn doors all year just waiting for this moment.
It’s uncanny how often you get stuck behind a combine on a narrow lane when you’re in a hurry. Even worse is to meet one coming the other way and have to reverse a kilometre to a suitable passing place. They don’t take prisoners.
- Camper vans
Some of my best friends own camper vans, so I have to be careful what I say here. They are not such a hazard as the caravans that they are replacing, or combine harvesters, but they can still hold one up. And they take up a lot of parking space at Leclerc.
Every year, the Tour de France spawns legions of hopeful, lycra-clad imitators. I’m a cyclist myself, so I certainly respect their right to use the road and always give them a wide berth when I’m in the car. But do they have to persistently ride two abreast along country lanes so that you can’t safely drive past?
- Route barrée
“Road closed ahead.” The road works stop over the summer, but you still see these signs – usually blocking off the lane you want to go down. They are not signalling road works. Rather, they have been put up because of a fête or a vide-grenier (jumble sale).
One summer’s night, returning from dinner with friends we had to pass through a small village. You don’t normally see a soul there, but this was the night of their annual fête, when hundreds turn up for a meal.
Sure enough, the route barrée and the déviation signs had been set out. Unfortunately, as often happens in France, the diversion signs petered out. We drove down a maze of increasingly narrow lanes, unable to find out way out. Eventually, someone took pity on us and directed us through the middle of the courtyard where the revellers were sitting eating their dinner.
- Marauding leafleters
If you leave the car parked for more than five minutes, your windscreen becomes a repository of numerous fluttering flyers. This is the season of fêtes, vide-greniers, concerts, art exhibitions and craft fairs. And the organisers outdo each other to drum up custom.
My researches tell me that it is, in fact, illegal to put leaflets on car windscreens on a public road, unless you have verified with the mairie that this is okay. I wonder how many people know that. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine most mairies bothering to police it. They have plenty of other things to do.
Sometimes you drive off before realising that your car has acquired temporary wallpaper. Some might be tempted to screw them up and discard them sur place, but they generally have “ne pas jeter sur la voie publique” (don’t throw onto the public highway) printed on them.
An alternative exists: I find they make good scrap paper for shopping lists.
All this might sound like a complaint but, in reality, I’m pleased to see these signs of life and economic activity and the many events taking place around here. It will end all too soon at the beginning of September.
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