French Fridays #3

029This Friday I thought I’d share my love of French signposts. Forget slick neon or electric fanciness. Handpainted, wonky signs pointing a multitude of directions is definitely much more French.

What I love least about French signs (well, the proper municipal directions ones) is that more often than not, they are RIGHT where you need to go straight on/turn left or whatever. Now I know that means England is all Nannyish, putting up signs a good 100m before a turn, but it does help you prepare a little. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in frustration behind someone who’s looking for  a turning, or who changes direction at the last minute. Probably far fewer times than I’ve driven past a junction and had to do a U turn, or had a trail of frustrated drivers behind me wondering when the hell it is that I’m going to turn. It’s not so bad when there’s only one town on the direction you need to follow, but if that town is five or six on through others, it might well be at the bottom of five or six other signs. Now if you have to read a sign, find a town on a long list of towns, then turn right, the likelihood is you aren’t at your sharpest. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to put the sign 100m before the turn? Would that be confusing? Would people try to turn into the sign? Would it stop the dreadful palaver at roundabouts as the world and his wife try to read a microscopic sign underneath five or six others? Don’t get me started on those signs that say “toutes directions” and “autres directions” – “all directions” and “other directions”. How in God’s name am I supposed to know if I want ALL or OTHER??

I can’t even see the point of investing in a sat nav in a country where many houses don’t have numbers yet and many roads don’t have names. I live in a numberless, nameless house and it is by sheer luck that mail gets to me, I know. Having said that, I read something recently by someone else (sorry – can’t remember who!) who each Christmas sends a card to a friend with the most basic of details on it – like his first name and the town he lives in. It always gets there. The fact that someone could send me a letter addressed to my name and the nearest big town and it would probably get to me is perhaps the real reason signs are so bad in France – because everyone instinctively knows where everything is.

I jest of course. Given the French penchant for hiding their cars/presence and the fact that I have yet to acquire this secretive habit, most drivers will happily stop at my house to ask for directions because they can see a car and a light on. I have created a little map of all the people in my hamlet and just distribute it ad hoc to anyone who stops and beeps outside my house so that they don’t have to stop at every single letterbox to check the name on it. It seemed wisest. Either that or UPS have put out some kind of missive to their drivers to encourage them to stop outside my house if they’re passing.

On another sign-related note, there used to be a sign to my tiny hamlet. It was in a village two over. It said 6km to Les Ecures. They took that sign down a while back and I despair of anyone ever finding my village at all. I’m very sad they took it down. On what premise did they decide it was no longer useful? Perhaps an extensive traffic survey to ask how frequently people checked the sign and whether they used it to find my hamlet? I feel a little incensed that some town hall busy bee demoted my hamlet from being ‘important to know where and how far away’ to ‘not important enough to know where and how far away’

(Though if I’m being honest, a sign directing people 6km to a hamlet of about 20 people, well, it’s a bit unnecessary. Having had it, however, I miss it. It’s true what they say. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.)

Good luck to anyone, by the way, following this sign to Le Foucauld. Not only does it lead you over one of those silly “from the right” priority roads (There are still roads in France where some little track joins the main road, yet the people on the main road have to give way to the track people. There’s no dotted lines or stop sign or anything so rational, except, you’ve guessed it, a sign right on the junction you are supposed to instinctively know has priority over you) but it also leads you over a non-existent roundabout that all the locals know about but none of the tourists, and directly up a one-way street. I’ve no idea where this sign thinks the 2ème feu is. In my opinion, that would take you to the train station up a one way street. Not only that, but Google Maps reliably inform me that it is, in fact, 500m from this spot to the restaurant. Oh well. The thought was there.

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4 thoughts on “French Fridays #3

  1. what’s to prevent you from putting up your own signs? just a thought. we do that. some last forever, some not. the nots we just replace. bad weather helps them stay up longer.

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  2. The positioning of signs reminds me of Mireille – a French woman who visited us once. She was a good driver (actually a taxi driver) but had us almost killed a few times because when she came to a red light she would stopped right under it – usually this meant she was right in the middle of the intersection.

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