Image via WikipediaThe French run to excess. Either they're totally out of control or they're tiptoeing round like naughty children afraid of stepping on the cracks in the pavement.
I put it down to all the lessons on being a good citizen that they absorb when at primary school, where the state hopes to form obedient casters of votes for the future elites who will despoil them of their money in their own best interest.
Goodness only knows what would happen to society if ordinary people decided how to spend their money.
A couple of years ago, the local council decided to give us yellow plastic boxes into which we were to put - I think - milk cartons and the like...or tins...or something.
Like everyone else, I put it in the shed and used it for storage.
You see a lot of them used for transporting rabbits, too.
Now, when Good Queen Bess, or, more accurately, her Privy Council, wanted to get a message across, they 'tuned the pulpits'....reckoning to hit most of the populace in that era of next to compulsory church attendance.
In France, having separation of church and state, they 'tune' the blackboards, thus the message went out via the children that we were not being good citizens....a good citizen sorts its' rubbish, washes it and delivers it to a recycling centre to the great joy of the 'travelling people' - who seem to run the place - who then don't have to dirty their hands while sorting out anything of value.
You still see a lot of yellow boxes used for transporting rabbits out here because it's hard to apply collective presssure to people leading fairly isolated lives in the country, but the campaign has had a lot more success in the villages where collective disapproval has force.
I think this 'good citizen' pressure has a great deal to do with the way in which the French drive.
It is as if, once safe from outside influences in their little tin box, they can throw off all inhibition.....can overtake going uphill on a blind corner, can rush up to a 'stop' sign and slam on the brakes at the last minute, can honk and hoot if kept waiting a second after the lights have turned green and can make one fingered gestures to all except the gendarmerie...who take exception.
However solipsist in their cars, they return to good citizen model once back among others, but parking seems to mark an intermediate zone between the two.
I've just come across a website with tips on how to avoid a parking ticket in France, on which drivers exchange information on where and when to park without attracting the attention of the authorities.
I expect it will be closed down shortly as being unpatriotic by helping people to avoid fines in a period when everyone is supposed to be tightening their belts....except at the French defence ministry where they are congratulating themselves on saving money by not installing an Olympic size swimming pool, but one slightly smaller.
Let no one say that Paris does not share the pain.
Inevitably, the page where readers are invited to leave comments has one chap - a good citizen - grumbling that people should just obey the highway code and there wouldn't be any problems with which the website could be occupying itself....well, up to a point, Lord Copper.
Parking is impossible in the nearest town, except in supermarket car parks......town centre workers park all day in the legal spots so thank goodness there is a cheap and cheerful supermarket in the centre where you can park free for an hour, even though when grouping my visits to town to save petrol I usually have to go out and return at least once.
It is also free at the tax offices, probably on the reckoning that charging already aggrieved parties for parking there would invite gratuitous violence. It's a pity it's so far from the shops, or I'd go there.
Market day is sheer hell.
I forget occasionally and make an appointment when the market is on, only to curse myself as I have a devil of a job finding a place in the supermarket car park while the rest of the town centre is double parked, cars blocking garage entrances and every road blocked while some desperate driver tries to manoevre into a space that was always going to be too small.
Inevitably, this is the only day of the week where the town police are in evidence....on any other day they lurk in their offices, guarded by a well trained receptionist who refuses access to anyone ranking lower than the maire, but on market day they are out in force with their little tickets to stick under the wipers.
Not that they walk far, you understand...they come out in their cars and double park like everyone else....
Last year, one hero parked his van in front of the police garage which reduced them to buzzing ineffectively round that all morning instead of dishing out fines to the multitude, but this year they have a tow truck.
A friend of mine parks in the space reserved for the weekly bus - not that it runs on market day - picks up the inevitable parking ticket and takes it to the police offices where it is torn up...but then, she used to be the maire.
I asked her why the police bothered to give her a ticket in the first place as her car was well known to them and the ticket was always torn up and she explained that it would look bad if her car didn't get a ticket like anyone else. So that was all right then....
Yet another example of the classic French dichotomy about equality.....rules are to be obeyed, unless you are part of the caste that makes them.
It's not just round here....take a look at Delana's 'Du Jour' blog post for imaginative - not to speak of desperate - parking!
It's not just in towns,either.
Because villages were built before cars, and gardens and productive land were on the outskirts, there was no thought of parking, even for the horse and cart, who lived in the barn on the productive land.
These days, with two car families living in village houses, it can be a struggle to get down the road for a car, let alone for the dairy tankers and feed tankers which pass regularly from farm to depot.
Not to speak of those who rely on GPS and get stuck in the turning by the mairie.
No maire is going to be bold enough to tell voters to park their cars off the road...there is no 'off road' to start with and the only place that I can see where you could park, apart from the little square by the cafe which is full to overflowing as it is at lunchtimes, is the football field at the other end of the village.
So it's no wonder to me that the solipsist doesn't become the good citizen until the moment that he has locked his car and walked away into conformity again.