Sometimes you need a car

Sometimes you need a car. I really like the idea of using the metro, the regional trains and the busses. But sometimes you need a car. Before we moved to Paris the idea that I might not drive for an entire year sounded like a dream come true. I can get excited about a big road trip, but there’s not much I like about commuting or being dependent on a car. In America, however, very, very few cities are livable without your own wheels. Not so in Europe. All kinds of people in Paris and other cities don’t have a car, don’t want one, and are getting by just fine, thank you very much. No getting stuck in traffic. No driving around looking for parking, no paying exorbitant parking prices.

It sounds wonderful. A dream come true. Until you actually, really need a car.

We didn’t make it even two months before we broke down and rented one. And all told, we’ve now used almost every form of car transportation available in Paris. Right off the bat, when we moved in we used a taxi to schlep all of our stuff from the hotel we needed only for one night before our apartment was available. Later we took a taxi to the airport when we had a really early flight, one that made it impossible to use the metro and get there in time. We’ve also used uber a few times. But those things hardly count. Those are still other people driving.

But since then we’ve done a private car rental (where you rent someone’s personal car), I’ve driven a friend’s car, we’ve rented a zip car, we’ve even carpooled.

Things would be different if the girls and I had Navigo passes that allows for unlimited rides on the metro and RER (the regional trains), but it doesn’t really pencil out for them since they hardly need the metro during the week. And I’ve been out of town enough that it hasn’t quite made sense for me either.

Something I hadn’t anticipated before moving here was how many times we’d end up traveling out beyond central Paris. The girls’ trapeze lessons are waaaay out in the outskirts. Farther out than Versailles, even! We’ve also gone to see friends who live well beyond central Paris. We attended a church retreat that was up north in St. Prix and using uber was a better deal for all of us than train tickets.

Driving in Paris is an experience. Last night I had to navigate a roundabout where it seemed like a dozen delivery trucks were unexpectedly parked in and all around the roundabout. Scooters whizzed along doing their usual bob-and-weave through traffic. Cars jockeyed for position. One delivery truck clipped another one. Drivers got out, hands in the air. I found my opening, knifed my way through and sped onto the périphérique, the highway that rings Paris. Hurray! I zoomed down the on-ramp… and came to a stop. Sunday evening. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. It appears that in this city of many millions, traffic is a constant concern. But even as we passed multiple accidents, even as motorcycles zoomed by the stop-and-go traffic as they threaded their way along the lane strips, and even as an impatient driver rode my bumper flashing his lights (when traffic finally opened up and I was only going the speed limit), I was more relaxed than my first time driving.

Maybe it was riding in a taxi in Italy. There’s nothing like experiencing Italian traffic chaos where lane markings are completely irrelevant to real life to make driving in France seem like a civilized affair.

The dream of not needing to drive for a year may not have panned out, but at least I don’t need to try to get a French license. That’s an endeavor of a much greater magnitude. Thankfully, I can drive here for a year with just my Washington State license—although it will expire next May while I’m still here… hmm…


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