French Friday #45: Car culture

When you move to another country, you expect lots of things to be different. You think about the different food, possibly the different architecture, maybe the way people dress. I never really thought about what cars would look like, though, until I did my study abroad in Grenoble. I was amused that nearly all cars were the shape and color of jelly beans. Purple, pink, bright blue, grass green and yellow, all nicely rounded, like an egg on wheels. At that time, minivans were just beginning to appear on French streets and they were funny, too, because they were scarcely bigger than their jellybean counterparts. The back seat was all the way up against the hatch in the back and there was no leg room in those suckers. I never could understand them. What was the point of having a van if you couldn’t pack extra stuff and everyone had to sit with their chin on their knees? Delivery vans did exist and in direct contrast to smaller vehicles, they were oddly angular — a box on wheels. Pickup trucks were unheard of. Also, at that time, Smart cars had made their debut just a year before; there weren’t many on the road, but I was captivated by the stacks of Smart cars in glass towers at their dealerships.

During the course of my study abroad, the novelty of the funny cars wore off and I began to notice how homogenous it all was. There were no sedans or sports cars and even the station wagons just looked like elongated jelly beans. Another thing I noticed was that none of the cars seemed to be older than 10 or 15 years. I learned later that France has a pretty stringent annual inspection called the contrôle technique to deem whether or not a car is road-worthy. No clunkers there.

When Mr. Gren and I went to Paris five years later, the minivan leg-room issue had been resolved, there were fewer jellybean-colored cars but the shape remained, and Smart cars were everywhere. Still no pickup trucks and the vans continued to be boxy and sit perilously high on the wheels. We took pictures of some of the cars that amused us.

Pet my car.

I think this was advertising the Lion King musical, but they stepped it up a notch by applying fake fur to the wheel wells and a nice little fringe all around the window. It had just rained when we took this picture, so the fur was rather sodden and droopy. I’m sure it would have been quite a sight when it was all dry, fluttering in the wind.

The future of Peugeot

Look, I blew a bubble!

On the Champs-Elysées, there is a Peugeot showroom filled with concept cars. There are some pretty wild looking things in there. It would be more fun if some of them actually showed up on the streets.

That’s Mr. Clean to you.

Another Smart car. This one was parked in our apartment’s underground parking garage. We never did find out who it belonged to.

But the funniest Smart car we ever saw was not Monsieur Propre or the Roi Lion. It was this little gem in Spain.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Yes, that is a legit cop car. Yes, that girl’s scooter is the same size. My question: Where do they put the bad guys?

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2 thoughts on “French Friday #45: Car culture

  1. Lol, we here too notice the difference between European cars and American ones. We basically think American ones are too big and use too much fuel. Espcially in those old towns you kind of need a small car or else you won’t fit in those alley’s.

    • That is exactly right! We used to laugh at the Americans who brought their gigantic cars with them to France. European cities were not built with cars in mind! But in America, everything is so spread out that you have to have a car to get anywhere.

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