We’ve gotten used to stories of British youth behaving badly while abroad on stag-dos and the like — and I sometimes think Europe will meet its end not due to the conflagration of wars but through the endemic cultural and physical damage wrought by the exchange of marauding bands of drunken tourist-ambassadors on EasyJet-fueled “city escapes” — but from the Times (hat tip to Steve Hymon) comes this story of Brits behaving badly on French motorways:
“In a four-hour period last weekend, on the A26 motorway near Saint-Omer, a Franco-British patrol stopped 30 cars for breaking the 130km/h (80mph) limit. All but two were from Britain. British drivers have committed half of the most serious speeding offences – over 125mph – in the region this year.”
The story goes on to note:
“The British, who used to be seen in France as cautious and courteous drivers, have overtaken the Germans as speed fiends since 2002, when President Chirac installed thousands of speed cameras. French drivers have begun obeying the limits, but many foreigners have not, because Europe has not applied an accord reached last spring on the cross-border enforcement of fines.”
This is a bit curious, as some studies have shown Brits have the most positive attitude in all of Europe toward speed cameras. Maybe they just think driving fast is the thing to do on the Continent — even if the idea of the French driving like maniacs has now become as recherche as berets on the Left Bank. Maybe it’s the lack of punishment. Maybe they need to be Locked Up Abroad (the only TV I see on a regular basis).
Reading the story reminded me a bit I had recently come across in Julio Cortazar’s curious travelogue of the French motorway system, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, in which he and his partner visit all the rest areas from Paris to Marseilles, a book that was really more about metaphysical inquiries than a rigorous investigation of the traffic details as I would have liked (and that’s him, above, in “Fafner,” his VW camper-van). In any case, at one point (this is 1982), Cortazar notes:
“By the third day, it has become increasingly evident: Out of every ten tourists driving toward the Midi, seven are British. It becomes almost boring to look at the plate, GB dominates by a long shot. (Of course, there are lots of French, but we tend to think of tourists as foreigners, and we pretend that here the French are the only traveling salesmen or salesmen traveling, it doesn’t matter.
Carol admits that on our previous trips down the autoroute, the Belgians ruled in the rest areas almost offensively, while now their solitary B peeks out from time to time. We think about rhythms of vacations, staggered migrations, which undoubtedly account for this British invasion, otherwise simultaneous to the one in the Malvinas Islands, the vagaries of which we follow every three or four hours by short-wave radio. I am not going to concern myself here with the Malvinas, as the Bible says somewhere, everything has its time and its place; I’ll limit myself to wondering whether so many English cars on the autoroute might not be a perfectly British way for many of them to give Maggie Thatcher the finger and trade the penguins of Port Stanley for the roulette wheel of Monte Carlo.”
No word on how fast they were driving.