Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Friday 17 June 2011

Let your ego do the parking in Nice

Since I moved to Nice, driving on the roads here has been quite an adjustment. The hills are steep, and the roads that wind down from the mountains are often switch backs, where driving on the wrong side of the road is necessary to make it around the turns. But stopping the car, or at least getting around the other cars that are parked is sometimes even more of an adjustment.

It's a cultural thing.

In Nice, many, many people double park, which means parking beside another parked car, while your car is still in one of the driving lanes. The cars that are parked in the driving lanes are sometimes left there with their four-ways on by people making deliveries or picking up a baguette on their way home, but sometimes the people who leave their cars in the middle of the road haven't even bothered to switch on their four-ways (not that it makes a difference) and are actually out for the whole evening.

This double parking happens on two-lane two-way roads and two-lane one-way roads all the time and the City of Nice has recently put in cameras (English story) to try and discourage it. Apparently, the fines (French story) are only 35 euros. Maybe that's part of the appeal? In Toronto, I once got a $120 fine and had my car towed for parking 10 minutes too long in lane that only turned INTO a driving lane during rush hour. And then, I was right up against the curb.

The lawlessness of parking in Nice can sometimes be quite hilarious. Once, when I was on a bus, we drove up to a double-parked car that we couldn't get around because there was a traffic jam of oncoming traffic in the other lane. The bus driver had honked his horn and a man eating a sandwich at a cafe had looked up and yelled back at us.

"I'm almost done eating!" he'd called in French. "Just give me five minutes!"

And, the entire bus full of people had patiently watched the man eat his sandwich, and drink his glass of wine before we could make it to the next stop.

I felt as though I had experienced some glorious, laid-back part of Mediterranean life where good food and wine were put ahead of such unimaginative things as bus schedules.

Yesterday, however, I had a much less laid-back time trying to park my own car. I'd gone to a government building, for the sixth time, to try and get some visa paperwork that they're supposed to have ready for me, but never seem to have. The bureaucracy has astounded me, but yesterday, I couldn't even get that far.

The cars in the parking lot were all parked in jagged rows and I was driving down one of the extremely thin gaps, trying to snake my way around the lot to find a space. I even had to squeeze between a pole and a car at one point because the parking was so awkward. And then, once I'd carefully passed the pole and was just about at the end of the row (still driving), someone Nice parked on me: A city vehicle backed its way into the skinny, open area in front of me, blocking me in completely.

Since my window was rolled down, I called out to the guy as he was leaving his car, mentioning that I was actually still driving when he'd stopped in front of me.

His answer? "I'll just be 15 minutes!"

Laughing at his ridiculousness, I yelled, "But my car wasn't stopped! I'm actually driving here. This is a driving lane. And I can't back up around that pole!"

His answer again: "Okay, I understand. But I won't be long. I just need 15 minutes!"

Finally, I convinced the guy to move his car to let me out, but he'd expected a big thank you for the fact that I'd inconvenienced him.

All I have to say is: Nice is a lovely place, but it's crazy, crazy, crazy when it comes to the etiquette of parking. At least when I'm on the bus, I've always got the option of just walking away -- even if it does stop for wine and sandwiches from time to time.

Here's a video on how these parking infractions get tracked in Nice. What happens after that? Who knows!


  1. Ba-hahahaha! Sorry, but that's just way too funny. Another reason why I'll stick to using the two feet and two legs I was born with.

    It's not just Nice though (as I'm sure you're aware). Just the other day, D and I were in Paris and we stopped at a wine store. There was no parking on the street (2 lane, one way street) so we double parked. I was the look-out girl while he picked up the wine we wanted. Well, a police car came by, stopped...and kept right on going. (The police had only stopped b/cuz someone else was trying to park.) Then, a few minutes later, an officer on foot walked by...and entered the traiteur next door to the wine store. Oh, he was on a lunch run for he paid for his food and off he went.

    They (the police/the city) don't seem to care much and a fine of 35 Euros is peanuts. I remember seeing a news segment on parking fines and part of it included the really upset Parisians. Yeah, the fine was going up to something ridiculous like 50 Euros.

    Welcome to France is what I say.

  2. This is why I never ever drive in France!

    I started driver ed in France and honestly, I was traumatised and didn't drive for years after that. I finally got it together and took my license in Canada. Sure, Canadians are not perfect but driving here is much easier and you don't have to deal with narrow streets, priorité à droite and weird drivers in their voiture sans permis.

  3. Zhu: Sans permis? That's something I haven't encountered yet--at least, something I haven't knowingly encountered. Yikes!

  4. Oh, that would really frustrate me! You will never see that in Canada (ie: Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver!). I can't survive in this state of lawlessness! ;)


  5. Tanya: Yeah, most of the time I'm used to it, but it can still be a bit shocking when you get blocked in! Finding someone to sit in the getaway car may be just what I need.

  6. Carmen: I may even be picking up some bad habits that I'll bring back to Canada with me...

  7. You will see them... they are tiny cars (like the ones used by parking police in Ottawa) and usually the driver is an old woman :-) You don't need a driver license for these but of course, the insurance premiums are extremely high. It's mostly for people who can't take their license... kind of a loophole.

  8. Ohhhh! I had one pointed out to me when I first got here, but I'd forgotten all about it. I guess I wasn't driving then. I'll have to get someone to draw my attention to the next one I pass so I know who to look out for!