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 18 October 2013

My first French car accident

While driving to the crèche today, I ran into something that I've long feared since moving to the French Riviera. Well, it ran into me. The driver of the truck agrees.

When my lessons in driving standard began a few years ago, and then shortly after, when I started driving the scooter, I realized that I was equally afraid of two things on the road: 1) Hitting a vehicle or being hit, and 2) Having to talk to a French person about a car accident.

I imagined that our interaction would go a little like this... I'd say "Je m'excuse," over and over again if it were my fault (I'd forgotten how to say "sorry" when I first got here) or I'd just stare blankly at the person if it weren't my fault, hoping a cop or Canadian consulate official would stop by to defend me and my poor language skills. The other driver would yell at me either way, I'd imagined, using words I didn't understand and swear words I'd only just started to grasp. Then in the end, I'd have to take the blame because I'd never be able to explain what happened or know how to do the right paperwork.

In the last few weeks, the Professor and I have witnessed quite a few accidents. I saw a guy on a scooter get hit by a car, roll around on the ground bleeding a bit, and then make an emergency phone call himself. The Professor was sitting on his scooter at a light when a guy on a scooter used his breaks too quickly on a rainy day, turned sideways and skidded to a stop, nearly knocking the Professor over. A year or two ago, I saw a car bump the back of a motorcycle in a way that popped it from between the driver's legs like a Champagne cork. The motorcyclist, still standing bowlegged, had then crumpled to ground without his seat beneath him. All cases featured a lot of yelling and some panic.

Today, however, was different. No scooter involved, but no yelling either.

I'd pulled over to the side of the road on one of our routes that is supposed to let two cars pass each other, but doesn't without some careful manoeuvring. The driver, who was driving a big truck with big sheets of glass attached at the sides, said that I'd left enough space, but then he hit the back of my car on his way by.

He stepped out of the truck and I thought, "Oh, no, this is it. Do I need to think of some swear words? Do I have to be angrier than he is to not get blamed??" But then, the driver turned out to be one of the nicest people I've ever met.

He asked if I was American (mostly because I didn't know the French word for "bumper") and when I said I was Canadian, he was really impressed.

"Did you live in a city? Or in the country? Did you live in the middle of the forest?" he'd asked.

"I lived in the forest a few times," I'd said, while he nodded with wide eyes. "I moved around a bit."

Although I'd imagined an accident with honking horns and exhaust fumes rising in the background while a Frenchman yelled and pointed his finger in my face, what I actually got was the feeling that I was some precious woodland animal from Canada who'd just been accidentally nicked by the boot of a conservationist.

I ALWAYS forget that sometimes being a foreigner makes people nicer to you. Usually, I expect them to become more frustrated and treat you worse.

This lovely driver got some tape from a nearby business and taped up my bumper, gave me all of his contact information, called my husband, said, "Impeccable!" to everything I said (I love that), asked if he was making me late for anything and then wished me a great day in the end.

As long as this guy gave me his real name and phone number, I think I'll be able to get over my fear of angry Frenchmen and just worry about the road.

ps. It's always good to have a constat amiable with you so both parties in the accident can sign the necessary papers before you separate!


  1. We are just happy all is okay. Our trip over to Nice proved you are an excellent driver -- stick shift even -- but the roads are so twisted and narrow every turn seemed on the verge of an accident. The truck driver sounds like a gem!

  2. Thank heavens it wasn't serious!
    Getting in a car accident here is something I'm terrified of. Not the accident itself, but having to deal with it afterwards. If all people here react like that guy did, then I'd be ok :)