These are legal requirements – the police can ask to inspect them.
1. Beam-benders: It’s illegal to drive on French roads with lights aimed to the left. Plastic deflectors fitted to the headlights bend the beams to the right. These cost between €10 and €12 and are available at motor factors and on the ship. The police may check that they are fitted as you leave the port.
B. Fire extinguisher
C. A set of spare bulbs for the vehicle – usually one of each type of bulb.
D. Red warning triangle – to be placed 12 metres behind the vehicle in the case of breakdown.
E. Yellow reflective vest(s) – must be kept in the cab and worn if you get out of the vehicle in the event of a breakdown. It may be as well to have one for each person in the vehicle if you have to leave it in an emergency.
F. First-aid kit
G. Spare glasses – a spare set of spectacles for each person likely to drive the vehicle who has specs prescribed.
H. Breathalyser kit – must be unused. It is needed to test for being under the limit if driving after taking a drink. These can be bought on the ship.
I. Full spare wheel – not just a can of puncture repair spray. A jack and wheel-brace are also essential.
J. Vehicle documents – in the cab ready for inspection. Driving licence, registration and ownership, insurance and roadworthiness.
K. Passport/identity card – you can be asked for your “papers” by the police at any time in France – even just walking around.
L. “IRL” sticker – if it’s not part of your number-plate already.
B. Emergency numbers
1. Ambulance -15
2. Police – 17
3. Fire brigade (”Pompiers”) – 18
All numbers are free. In reality, in rural areas the fire brigade “Pompiers” handle all emergencies, accidents, floods, gas leaks, infestations and drive the ambulances. They are all trained paramedics.
Note 1: If you are robbed or broken into you must get a police report and incident number so as to claim from your insurance.
Note 2: It is a good idea to leave a photocopy of your passport, driving licence and bank- cards safe at home. You could also e-mail them to yourself and get them at an internet café if needed. It makes it much easier and quicker for the Irish Embassy or Consulate to replace your passport if you have a photocopy.
C. General driving rules
1. Speed limits: 130kph on motorways (“Autoroute”) – 110kph in the wet, 110kph on dual carriageways – 100kph in the wet, 90kph on country roads – 80 in the wet, 50kph in built up areas and sometimes 30kph in town or village centres.
2. Illegal to drive on sidelights: You must use dipped headlights in the wet/fog – and fog-lights in very bad conditions
3. Alcohol limit: 0.5mg/ml not 80mg/ml as in Ireland
4. Witnessing an accident: You are legally required to stop and give help if you actually see or come across an accident – not if you’re just passing afterwards.
5. Priority to the right: “Prioritie a droite”. Giving way to traffic coming from your right still applies in a few areas. The trouble is that there is no set pattern but nowadays it is generally limited to rural roads, car parks and some town/village centres. If there is a yellow diamond sign saying “Vous avez la prioritie” you have priority – if it has a black diagonal line through it – you don’t. In rural areas there may be a triangular sign with a red border and a black “X” in the middle – it means that at the next junction traffic coming from the right has priority. It is safer to drive though town/village centres as if the rule applies giving way to the right.
6. Fines: The police can fine you on the spot and must be paid in cash. If you don’t have it, they will accompany you to the nearest cash-point.
7. Speed traps (Controle de vitesse – “radars”): Very common and spreading – just because you’re foreign doesn’t mean they can’t trace you. They may single you out because you’re foreign.
8. Roundabouts (“Rond points”): These circulate anti-clockwise. Give way to traffic already on the roundabout.
9. Slip roads on motorways/dual carriageways: Much more common than in Ireland – you “peel-off” to the right and join from the right. This is your left and so it requires special care with right-hand drive vehicles. Some are a combined “on” for one road and “off“ for the other so keep a close eye on your mirrors.
10. Closeness: Often there will be a French car so close to your back bumper that you can’t see them in your mirrors. They will often overtake at the first opportunity cutting in right in front of you. The safest thing is to slow down when being overtaken especially on rural and single carriageway roads.
11. Police: Take themselves very seriously and expect you to do the same. Say “Officier” or “Monsieur” (Mehsuh) often and give them what they ask for. Do not argue with them.
12. Motorways: Most are free but some are tolled “Peage” – on some you just drive until you reach the tollbooth and pay. On others you take a ticket at the barrier as you enter the motorway and present it and pay at the barrier as you leave the motorway. Tolls can add up on a long journey.
13. Parking room: The French don’t care about private space so they will park as close as they can – sometimes even touching. If you can, leave a good space between yourself and other vehicles as you park.
14. Culverts: These are drainage ditches or channels at the sides of most French roads. They are beside motorways in concrete but are probably most dangerous on country roads. Ranging from 0.5m to 1 metre in depth they are sometimes blamed for the number of serious accidents on French roads. Be very careful pulling onto verges to let vehicles pass or to park.
15. Pedestrian crossings: All towns and villages have a large number of these. They usually do not have lights but are just broad white strips painted on the road (“Zebra-crossing”). If a pedestrian is standing at the edge of one of these or has a foot on it you should come to a complete stop, if it is safe to do so, and let them cross. Do not beckon them to cross since traffic coming in the opposite direction must stop too.
16. Traffic lights: Many lights go from red to green with no amber so the sequence is amber –red – green – amber etc. Temporary road-works lights do not usually have a green – go on amber with caution.
17. Public vehicles have priority: You must give way to fire-brigades, police cars, ambulances but also electricity, gas, phone, street-cleaning, post office and road maintenance.
C. Common signs
1. “Interdit” or “defense” – both mean “forbidden”
2. “Stationnment” – “Parking”
3. “Payant” – “You must pay for parking” – “Gratuit” – “Free” (No charge) “Libre” – “Spaces” – “Sortie” – “Exit”
4. “Cedez le passage “ –“Give way” or “Yield”
5. “Vous n’avez pas la prioritie” – or “Passage protégé” – “You don’t have right of way at the next junction”
6. “Vous avez la prioritie” – “You have right of way at the next junction”
7. “Sans issue” – “No exit” or “Cul de sac”
8. “Voie privee” – “Private road”
9. “Sens unique” – “One way”
10. “Attention” – “Danger” or “Attention” eg. “Enfants” – Children, “Ecole” -School
11. “Rappel” – “Remember” (Usually with a speed limit)
12. “Sortie de secours” – “Emergency exit”
13. “Sauf” – “Except” (Usually refers to parking)
14. “Meme” – “Even” (Usually refers to parking)
15. “Reserve” – “Reserved” (Usually refers to parking)
16. “Camping car” – Motorhome or camper.. so.. “Interdit aux camping cars” – NO CAMPERS
17. “Ralentisez” – “Slow down”
18. “Gauche” – “Left”, “Droite” – “Right”, “Toute- droite” – “Straight ahead”
19. “Centre Ville” – “Town Centre”, “Toute directions” – “All routes” (Usually out of town)
20. “STOP” – The only English word in the 59,000 words in the French highway code!
D. General tips to get around easily
1. Aires (Motorways): These are not the same as a camping “Aire”. They are rest areas sometimes they are only seats, tables and a toilet. Others have service stations, shops, restaurants and huge car parks. Most of that type are open 24 hours. They are not safe places to stay overnight –break-ins are common.
2. Fuel: “Gazole” (Diesel) is widely available and roughly the same price as in Ireland. It is cheapest at supermarkets in towns or villages and most expensive at motorway service stations and village/town private garages. “24/24” stations = unattended after 7.00pm and on Sundays. Not all of these will accept Irish debit or credit cards and none accept cash when they are unattended. It is best to buy fuel during core opening hours.
3. Gas: French cylinders and regulators are not the same as Irish. If you run out a French shop or service station will not accept or replace your Irish cylinder. “Campingaz” is widely available and universal fitting.
4. Shops: Most are open from 9.00am to 7.00pm but closed from 12.00 noon to 2.00 pm. Supermarkets in large towns usually open Monday to Saturday from 8.00am to 8.00pm non-stop. The best known are Carrefour, Le Clerc, Les Mousquetieres, Auchaun and Monoprix. Bakers and convenience stores may open in villages on Sundays from 9.00 am to 12..00pm.
5. Food: Meat and vegetables are of very high quality. Even small supermarkets often have an “English” section featuring baked beans, Bisto, Cadbury’s chocolate and things the French don’t understand. Milk will last a month but bread less than a day.
You will definitely not get Irish sausages, rashers or tea bags so bring plenty.
6. People: The French are more shy than arrogant. If you begin every encounter with “Bonjour” (Bon-jewer”) you’re off to a good start. Then you can ask what you like. Try not to approach them directly with a question before saying “Bonjour”. Older people probably have no English, younger ones will usually have some idea.
7. Garages: Dealers of French makes will be found in nearly every town and village. Fiat would come next with Ford, Mercedes and Volkswagen much rarer. Many big shopping centres will have a “Roady”. This is like “Advance” or “Quik-Fit” but with a much wider range of services and parts. Even small supermarkets will stock batteries, oil, bulbs and a wide range of autoparts. “Depanage” is the French for breakdown (recovery). “En Panne” = “Broken down.”
8. Health: The European Health Card replaced the E111 form. It entitles your to public healthcare as at home. You will probably have to pay for everything up front (it’s a fraction of the Irish cost) and keep the receipts to get paid back at the local health centre before you go home. If you have private health insurance you must usually ring their contact centre before agreeing to special treatment that you expect them to pay for. Most doctors speak good English.
9. Medicines: Pharmacies are widespread and very helpful. French pharmacies will fill an Irish prescription but only if it’s less than a month old. If you only have an older prescription they will give you an emergency supply of a few days but that’s all. Having the packet is huge help as the names of drugs differ between countries. Some pharmacies attached to shopping centres are really only health food shops and don’t supply medicines.
10. Banks and money: Even fairly small villages may have one or two banks. They usually have a “Distributor de billets” (ATM). Most give you the choice of using English. Shopping centres usually have a few ATMs but you will not necessarily find them in stand-alone supermarkets or motorway service stations. The most common banks are “Credit Agricole”, “Societie General” and “Bank Paribas”.
10. Eating out: American style chains are widespread – MacDonalds, Buffolo Grill and Hippopotamus. Real French food can be found at places displaying “Les Routiers” – a red white and blue sign common in villages and it means this is where truck drivers eat. It is usually excellent quality at a reasonable cost but there is usually no choice. (set menu). Take-aways are very rare except for Pizzarias. Even small, humble-looking places can serve very good food but at a cost – be careful to check the prices before you go in.
11. Phones: Your Irish mobile will work perfectly in France if you have switched it to “roaming” with your service provider. Roaming charges are considerably reduced since early 2011. To reach Ireland you must use “00 353” and drop the area code “0” even for numbers already in your phone. Most French numbers should work straight away, if not use “00 33” before them and again drop the area code “0”. Phone-boxes are still common in most French towns and villages.
12. Nightlife and pubs: Pubs as in Ireland are rare outside large towns or cities. The local “Bar-Tabac” is a combination of café/wine bar/tobacconist and they close at 7.00pm. Hotels in tourist spots may or may not have a bar, even if they do, it will be very quiet. There is usually a large number of concerts, dances, shows, sports and other events advertised in the local supermarket or tourist office. These are where most socialising is done.
13. Trains to Paris etc.: Trains to and from Paris are serviced by the station (“Gare”) in Carentan 14kms away. The train journey takes 2.5 hours to Gare St. Lazare (Central Paris).
Return for two people for April 2012 is roughly €101. You must book the day before and reserve a seat each way. Remember that you will spend at least six hours travelling as well as time spent in Paris if you want to do the trip in one day.
compiled by Anthony Watson.