March 27, 2008
Because we were staying within the city, one thing I didn’t have to book for this trip was a car. I’m glad to save the hassle, but I’m also glad because driving over there seems a lot different than in North America.
The first thing you notice is that they prefer small cars there. Sure I saw a couple of Mercedes and BMW sedans, but the majority of the cars on the road are small hatchbacks. There were a lot of European brands like Renault, Citroen, Peugeot, and Fiat but also familiar brands such as VW (Golfs), and Toyota (Yaris). I would have expected the reverse of Detroit, with very few American cars, but I did see quite a number of Fords (Focus). Surprisingly I didn’t see any Hondas, and I randomly saw 1 PT Cruiser and 1 Dodge Caravan.
Yes, in fact you’re right, I did spend a lot of time looking around counting cars. In fact I made it a game to count the number of Smart cars. I hit 122 on the entire trip, but 60 of those were on the first day (and I wasn’t even paying attention all the time). I got tired of the game after the first day otherwise I’m sure the number would be much higher.
Because they have small cars, they can start and stop quickly, so they drive aggressively. There is a tendency to merge lanes randomly and to wait for left turns in parallel (perpendicular to the original lane) instead of in serial. Also, I read a neat point that in France (and unlike US/UK), cars entering roundabouts have the right of way. That’s an accident-causing fact right there. As crazy as it was though, I wouldn’t go to say that it is as chaotic as China.
The third deterrent to driving was the price of gas. I only came across one gas “station”, which are basically stores on the street that have a gas pump as a store front, and the price of gas on the meter was 3.39€/L. That’s like 4x our inflated cost of $1.09+/L that we’re paying in Canada!
Oh one last thing, if you’ve ever been on the Champs Elysées, you’ll know that the major European car dealerships all have storefronts there. I’m curious however whether they actually sell cars there or they’re just selling their brand. Because one of the worse places I can think of to pick up your new car is the most popular street in the city.