Driving in circles: earning the ‘360 degree honk’ in France

20 Jan

Textbook example of how to navigate a roundabout in a perfect world

In all my years of driving (once considered a good driver in my own land), I’ve never been more humbl…no, make that humiliated, than by getting what I call, the ‘360 degree honk’. This didn’t happen in one trip; rather, this self-appointed, renowned title was earned through many painstaking moments of confusing roundabouts, tiny mountain roads with minimal signage, wrong turns, blood, sweat and tears (mostly by those sharing the road with me) later.

Even if you don’t live in Europe, you know what a roundabout is. Roundabouts are becoming increasingly popular in the US, but for the most part, are still relegated to shopping centers and smaller neighborhoods for their aesthetic value. In France, there is definitely an etiquette to the roundabout which yet again, I learned the hard way. This [style of learning] seems to be a disturbing trend with me, but then again, there would be no blog, right? So where was I? Oh yes, driving in circles.

It was a nice day, the sun was shining, birds were singing, the whole nine yards. What could possibly go wrong? You know that expression, ‘you can’t get there from here?’ Well, now that logic makes sense to me! The roundabout, at first glance (see diagram, if you’re a visual person) looks pretty simple: goes one way, exits to the right (in France), seems straight forward enough, no problem I thought. Insert misconception and foolish optimism here. I won’t walk you through the diagram, that would just bore all of us (including me) but I will tell you my hard-earned short cut: stay in the inner lane until you are less than 180 degrees from turning (roughly 2 exits). If you are turning within 2 exits, stay in the outer lane. And as a true southerner would say, “believe you me,” that little tidbit alone is worth its weight in honks.

In trying to navigate roundabouts, I have have been honked at from every direction, but the ‘piece de resistence’, the act that completed the circle of shame, was when someone honked from ahead of me. Now, I don’t mean across in the opposite lane, I mean directly in front of me. Maybe I was following too closely, but that’s a  pretty common occurrence which generally goes unnoticed in France, so I was truly at a loss as to why that final ‘blow’ to my already fragile ego, was necessary in this particular woman’s mind. In fairness, I’m sure she was just as puzzled and angered by me, which truly does make me sad that neither of us understood what went wrong. But, in that moment, I decided to be triumphant instead of defeated! Why? I achieved what I suspect few people have, ‘the 360 degree honk.’

Instead of staying angry and embarrassed, I decided to just wave at my disgruntled road buddy. This had the opposite effect and resulted in angering her even more. I really only wanted to make light of the situation by my gesture, not insight her into a frenzy of French expletives! Sadly, I couldn’t have done a better job at making her angry if I had tried, ‘alors’ (oh well). Not a proud moment and I wish I could have written a different ending, but at some point, you have to put things in a new perspective or you just want to give up. So, waving became my coping mechanism in response to the 360 degree honk; I was liberated.

Bonne Route: Garonne-Danube vu par Clara

By basking in my pseudo-accomplishment, I was able to shrug off my driving ineptitude in order to keep trying. As expats, it’s inevitable; you will offend some people without even trying, so you have to find ways not to let it bother you and embrace the fact as, ‘c’est la vie’ (that’s life). Eventually, we all get over it [being offended] and ourselves in the process. My advise? Just keep following your own road, whether it leads in circles or not, learn from your mistakes and just keep on truckin’. Bonne route (happy travels) y’all!


Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Daily life in France


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20 responses to “Driving in circles: earning the ‘360 degree honk’ in France

  1. americainefrenchie

    January 20, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I promise you it will get better with practice. At least your first driving experience in Europe seems to have been in France. Mine was in Italy and it was INSANE. Talk about people who will honk just because they can.

    • expatriotgames

      January 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

      OMG, you poor thing! You are NOT kidding! Italy is TOTALLY INSANE, you’re right! My hubby did all the driving and I was the spotter, LOL!

  2. Michi

    January 21, 2011 at 12:29 am

    The very first thing I saw when I got off the metro in Paris was the crazy roundabout at arc de triomphe, so this is where I envisioned you while I read your post. You brave soul. I still haven’t mustered up the courage to drive in Spain, and this is my 3rd year here. This is coming from someone who learned to drive in crazy Los Angeles traffic!

    The roundabouts here scare me to no end, and I almost always clench my butt cheeks when we enter any major city around here because it equals super crazy roundabout swerving/honking/cutting/braking/yelling/cussing.

    I might just settle for a bicycle for the rest of my expat life. 🙂

    • expatriotgames

      January 21, 2011 at 9:42 am

      LOL! Not a bad idea (the bike)! Yes, Spain is a wild one too for driving, but with your history (in LA) you should be a champ at it! I have noticed that not driving everyday, back and forth as a routine, has made me calmer. I think driving can be a major stress point that we may underestimate. Interesting point you bring up, ’roundaboutly’ ;0). Thanks for thoughts, Michi. Always enjoy hearing from you!

  3. wherewander

    January 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

    If you ever come to BA you´ll feel home with your French and Italian driving experience!

    • expatriotgames

      January 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

      OH NO, Ellen! Now I’m REALLY scared for you, lol ;0) You’re as we say in the south, a ‘real woman’ (one who can do it all), no doubt!

  4. Tammi

    January 22, 2011 at 2:44 am

    I can totally relate to these ronds points! I love them personally because when I missed my turn off, I didn’t cause an accident by freaking out but just kept going ’round the circle. BUT, I am so glad you posted a pic of the diagram because I never knew there was a science to this! The next time I’m in France, I will have a better idea and come to think of it…..I think I too got some glaring stares from drivers back in December when I was there!

    • expatriotgames

      January 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      LOL! Yes, I think my ‘system’ is solid. It won’t get people upset with you OR get you a ticket so a win-win at my expense is OK by me ;0)

  5. Amanda

    January 22, 2011 at 5:34 am

    First of all, I have to say I couldn’t stop laughing. Not at you, but with you. Roundabouts confuse me, and I’ve only ever dealt with them here in the States. I’m not sure I could in another country. Especially a non-English speaking one. Major brave points on the achievement (if thats what you call it) lol.

    • expatriotgames

      January 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      Oh Ms. Amanda, you can laugh with or at me, as long as you keep laughing! And many thanks for the ‘brave points’ I’ll take ’em! ;0)

  6. treegod

    January 24, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I grew up with roundabouts in England, so no real problem for me. The only thing is I’m used to going around it clockwise instead of anticlockwise! I reallly have to think in Spain.

    My dad spent a while in Spain and got used to it. Unfortunately when he went back to England he was thinking of Spanish roads when he went round one roundabout. Confusing both himself and another drivier.

    Imagine your experience of the driver in front of you honking, now imagine that they’re FACING you lol.

    • expatriotgames

      January 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Heehee Treegod! Oh I can only imagine! Very true! ;0)

    • pys72

      January 25, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      And you also have magic roundabout too in the UK
      Crazy situation when coming from continental Europe to face these.

      • expatriotgames

        January 31, 2011 at 7:02 pm

        YES!!! I may be experiencing that myself soon, very soon! Thanks for sharing PYS!

  7. followingcaminho

    February 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Roundabouts, ouch!
    I passed my driving exam less then 2 weeks before departing to the Netherlands for the whole summer. It was one of my first days there and they ordered me to pick up a colleague who lived in a town some 8 km away. Shouldn’t be a prob, I thought, after all it was rather empty road between smaller towns and villages. Yea. The three roundabouts that were on my way almost caused me a heart attack (during my driving lessons I was on a roundabout twice within 3 months!)… Nevertheless, I made it! I’m sure you’ll get used to it, Reg :).
    And don’t worry too much about other drivers. There’ll always be sort of funky-road-show freaks and down-to-earth, careful drivers. And in the end the most importnt thing is to survive and not to get caught ;).

    • expatriotgames

      February 7, 2011 at 8:11 am

      Lol,’funky-road-show-freaks’! Thanks for the encouragement Maja and glad you survived too, you’re awesome!

  8. godblesstheschnoodles

    February 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Maybe you could throw banana bread at the people that are upset with you. 🙂

    • expatriotgames

      February 7, 2011 at 7:23 am

      LOLLOLOL!!! You’re too funny Jamie! Good one girlfriend!


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