Photo of the Week

ParisUpdate-LaDefense

Sunset over La Defense © Paris Update

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Paris Update What’s On

Links to events happening this week in Paris

English-language theater festival

ParisUpdate-ParisFringe-Geometrika300

> Paris Fringe returns for its second year of English-language theater and comedy. Various venues, Paris, May 18-28.

Pre-Edinburgh play
> Sugar Baby, by Anne Penketh and starring Holly-Rose Clegg, will play in Paris before moving on to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  La Chapelle des Lombards, Paris, May 20.

Annie in English
> The International Players present the musical Annie. Le Quai 3, Le Pecq, May 18-21.

Late-night art
> Museums stay open into the night for free and hold special events for the Nuit Européenne des Musées. Various locations. Paris, May 16.

Left Bank gallery crawl
> Open house at 50 galleries for Art Saint Germain des Prés. Various venues, Paris, May 18-June 3.

Gold in galleries
> The Carré Rive Gauche, an association of Left Bank galleries celebrates its 40th anniversary with an event called ExtrORdinaire, featuring gold in works of art. Opening night: May 18. Various venues, Paris, May 18-June 3.

All that jazz...
> Jazz acts ranging from amateurs to big names at the Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Various venues, Paris, May 11-22.

Literary Latin Quarter
> Readings, book signings, storytelling, concerts and more at the Quartier du Livre festival. Various venues, Paris, May 17-24.

Emerging artists
> The Salon de Montrougehas been exhibiting the work of young artists every year for 62 years. Le Beffroi, Montrouge, through May 24.

Plays from all over Europe
> The Chantiers d'Europe festival presents theatrical performances from Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Croatia and the United Kingdom. Théâtre de la Ville–Espace Pierre Cardin, May 2-24

Hollywood glam
> Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and more in classic films from Hollywood's Golden Age for the Glamour cycle. Forum des Images, Paris, May 3-31

Photo shows galore
> Le Mois de la Photo has been moved from autumn to spring, with 96 exhibitions taking place all over the greater Paris area. See Web site for locations and dates.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Emmanuelle Cuau’s Pris de Court, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, May 19.

Virtual reality
> Drop in on Saturday or Sunday from 2pm to 8pm for a free virtual trip at the VR Express festival. Forum des Images, Paris, through June 30.

Dance in historic sites
> Monuments en Mouvement offers free dance performances in national monuments like the Pantheon in Paris, the Abbaye de Cluny and châteaux. Various locations, through Oct. 21.

African culture festival
> The 100% Afriques festival showcases dance, theater, music, fashion, design, art, food and more from all over the continent. La Villette, Paris, through May 28.

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Hot Topics - C'est ironique !

 

Getting a Driver's License in France, Part One-B: An Aside About Signs

Welcome to the
Navigational Jungle!

Paris Update driving in france cartoon

Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.

Like politicians, non-stick frying pans and condoms, I don’t always live up to my promises. Last week, I promised to write this week about my on-the-road lessons in French driving school. But then I realized that there is an aspect of driving in France that deserves to be developed in more depth and detail: the road signs.

Like kissing babies, cooking pancakes and writing humor columns, driving is one of those processes that involve a constant stream of observations, decisions and adjustments that take place on a more or less subconscious level. It requires concentration, but not as much as, say, unwrapping a condom.

That’s why it’s easy to drive while scanning the FM stations, checking the GPS, arguing with your passengers, playing “hot potato” with the cigarette lighter, yelling abuse at other drivers or peeing into a bottle. Or all six at once. Well, maybe not “easy,” but possible. So I’ve heard.

And that’s also why driving in another country can be disorienting. Suddenly, the subconsciously absorbed information has changed: the roads are different, the cars are different, and, most importantly, the bottles you pee in are different. Oh wait — I mean, most importantly, the signs are different.

For Americans, the unfamiliar signs are what make driving in France a disconcerting and at times daunting experience. Well, that and the tailgaters, the speeders, the lane slalomers, the lane creators, the traffic jams, the gas prices, the toll prices, the parking prices, the labyrinthine street layouts, the one-way streets, the two-way but one-lane streets and that filthy wino with no teeth who panhandles by the vending machines at the Shell station on the A6 just north of Lyon. But it’s mainly the signs.

Fortunately, just like toothless winos, many of them look the same as in the States. Stop signs, for example, are exactly alike, and even say “Stop” in English (but with a really strong accent).

Yield signs are similar — they’re still a downward-pointing triangle:

Paris Update 1-Yield

But instead of “Yield” they say “Cédez le Passage.” Note that in French it takes five syllables to say “yield” but only one to say “I love you” (if you elide the initial “e” in j’t’aime). So it pretty much evens out in those situations where you want to say both.

That said, many French road signs are a complete mystery to visiting drivers. Like this one:

Paris Update 2-X-Intersection

It looks like it means “We were going to put something on this sign and then changed our minds,” but actually it’s to indicate an uncontrolled intersection.

Four-way stops do not exist here — where two thoroughfares meet, if neither one is the road less traveled, the French just leave them both bare of signage and rely on the “yield to the right” rule.

The “X” warns you that this is about to happen. In other words, we need a sign to mark the intersections that aren’t marked with any sign. This starts to make sense after you’ve been here for about 10 years.

Perhaps even more cryptic is the “Priority Intersection” sign:

Paris Update 3-Intersection-with-Priority

Also known as the “Half-In Suppository,” this symbol means that you’re coming to a crossroads and you have the right of way. It’s considered good form not to toss any bottles out of the car while racing through the intersection.

All of this is sufficiently confusing that, as a C’est Ironique Public Service, I have decided to default on my abovementioned promise and devote the rest of this article to explanations of some of the common French road signs. Buckle up:

Paris Update 4-70-m

You are legally required to tailgate the car in front of you for at least an hour and 10 minutes.

Paris Update 5-Pedestrians

Watch out for people with one leg shorter than the other. Anyone else, run ’em down.

Paris Update 6-Running-Children

If you floor it, those kids will get out of your way.

Paris Update 7-Down-Arrow

You left your zipper down. (And was that you who just threw the bottle?)

Paris Update 9-10-percent-Grade

Your car is depreciating in value faster than you thought.

Paris Update 8-Road-Narrows

Your car’s upholstery makes your ass look big.

Paris Update 10-Bump

Napoleon slept here. And left his hat.

Paris Update 11-Tunnel

While Napoleon was here he went to a costume party dressed as King Tut, and he left that hat too.

Paris Update 15-Veering-Car

You’re drunk.

Paris Update 16-Car-in-Water

In fact, even drunker than we thought.

Paris Update 17-Falling-Rock

This is a good place to pull over and throw up into the ditch.

Paris Update 12-Exclamation-point

The people in the next car are having sex! Really! Look!

Paris Update 13-No-Horn

But they shouldn’t because it’s specifically forbidden on this road.

Paris Update 14-Arrow-Both-Ways

This is the entrance to the divorce court parking lot.

Paris Update 18-Roundabout

If you have French passengers, don’t get into an argument with them. They all studied philosophy in high school and will never give up.

Paris Update 19-Explosion

If you keep driving in France long enough, your head will explode.

Next week (I promise!) in “The Long Gear-Grinding Road, Part Two,” I hit the highway with a driving instructor. And then my head explodes. Details on March 27.

David Jaggard

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