Many years ago when Francine and I started travelling to France, there were no roundabouts. All road junctions were just that, junctions – cross-roads and the like. There were, of course, a few oddities peculiar to the French, such as the magnificent Arc de Triomphe in the middle of Paris where rules seem indiscernible, but anyone attempting to drive around Paris, let alone the Arc de Triomphe, is certifiable anyway so rules would be superfluous. At least out on the French open roads, the priorité a droite rule at junctions had been replaced by Cédez le Passage giving priority to the major road. Phew! (Image courtesy of http://www.freefoto.com.)
Several years ago, though, someone obviously introduced the French to the concept of the roundabout because they began appearing throughout the country. This was a mixed blessing.
The bad thing about French roundabouts is that most drivers never learnt how to use them correctly. Lorry drivers are actually very good users of roundabouts and conscientiously signal their intentions; they indicate left to stay on a roundabout and right when they are about to exit a roundabout. Car drivers are a completely different bouilloire de poisson. Not only do car drivers never indicate to signal their intentions, they actually try to obfuscate them. Their main obfuscation mechanism consists of using a completely inappropriate lane whilst on a roundabout. Most drivers wishing to go all the way round to the last exit will do so in the outermost lane. When waiting to enter a roundabout, since no car drivers are indicating, one can’t tell whether a car in the outermost lane might be going to exit or continue round. There is a second breed of car driver. The second breed of driver will zoom onto a roundabout straight into the innermost lane, narrowly avoid the island, then swerve straight off again at the first exit cutting up any hapless instance of the first breed of driver merrily toodling all the way around in the outermost lane. The only really safe way to enter a roundabout in France is to wait until no other traffic is in sight. Fortunately, the traffic density is such that this eventually happens.
The good thing about French roundabouts is that they provide the French with a canvas to express their national creativity. French roundabouts are frequently beautifully and interestingly decorated. The decoration is not just flower planting but usually consists of something more like sculpture. The sculpture often indicates a trade associated with a nearby town or the reason for some local historic person’s fame. Other decorative devices just look as though they’ve been pinched from the Tate Modern. [Ed: most things in the Tate Modern would be better used decorating our roundabouts!]
I’d love to make a photographic collection of some of the French roundabouts but we are usually attempting to negotiate them safely by guessing where the other drivers might be going. No easy task when towing a caravan. This last trip, however, we did come across one whilst on bicycles and armed with a camera. (Image courtesy of Francine.)
Great, isn’t it?