Once back in the car and safely off the Ferry we set off for the forty minute drive to Ernes and the gite that would be our home for the next week. Ernes by the by is a village not a place owned by a chap called Ernie and, according to the map, near the villages of Sassy close to Falaise. The husband did the driving and was going to while ever we were on French soil. Many a heated marital debate has occurred with me behind the wheel with everybody driving on the same side of the road. Me behind the wheel on the wrong side of the road and the husband as navigator had the makings of an international incident to match the ravages of WW2.
Historically speaking, we Brits and the French are not supposed to get on, volleying many an insult backwards and forwards over the centuries.
There are two obvious areas of difference between the Brits and French. One is language, though both languages have the same Indo-European Celtic heritage and have been influenced by the same kind of social changes. The basic difference is that the English have stoically hung on to their Anglo-Saxon roots (old western Germanic: Dutch, German and Danish). French on the other hand is a Gallo-Romance language based on Vulgar Latin with a strong Dutch influence giving them all those sensuous round vowel sounds.
As for the other reason – Why do the Brits drive on the left hand side of the road? Historically it’s to keep the right hand free to fend off attackers and stop their scabbard hitting people on the road. According to historical references, the French drive on the right so they can sit on the left hand horse pulling the wagon and whip the rest of the horses in the team.
Still, we Brits abroad have never had good press, we are, as a nation pretty closed minded, lazy and intolerant of anyone who has the audacity not to speak English.
From our early experiences however, the French were proving to be very polite and tolerant of us English folk. That is, it seems, until they get in their cars.
The drive to Ernes took us down the major N roads with the thundering traffic to be expected on a major artery. The sat nav then turned us off onto the quieter D roads linking the towns and onto the even quieter winding minor D roads linking the villages and hamlets. We were driving through the Plains of Caen and Falaise, which are, as you would expect, flat and reminiscent of Lincolnshire, only with fewer potatoes and more je ne sais quoi.
The D roads tend to be straight, often flanked by passing lanes for slower vehicles as we had seen in Ireland and I stumbled across on a drive cross country to Grimsby. The minor D roads on the other hand are unmarked, often barely a car and half wide or less and anything but straight. Both pass through a landscape dominated by fields fading to a misty horizon of distant trees and church towers. Lush green barley and rape in full flower butt up against each other, with a few trees dotted around and not a hedgerow in sight.
We bowled along toward Erne, winding our way through the broad impressionist brush strokes of yellow, green and dreamy pale blue lost in a pleasantly peaceful fugue with the odd weasel scurrying across the tarmac in front of us until…
…Until another car came haring down the road toward us with the velocity of an Exocet missile, pulling our car toward it filling the sudden vacuum created in the two inch of airspace between fragile paintwork as it bombed past.
The French, so polite and understanding face to face become crazed escaped inmates of the local asylum once behind the steering wheel of a car.
‘French drivers routinely speed everywhere, generally at least 20kph above the speed limit and often far more: a recent motoring magazine survey (in Var) found that the average speed on motorways was 160kph (100mph) and on routes nationales 107kph (67mph)! Drivers rarely slow down for villages and are often irritated by motorists who do so. Usually you’re ‘allowed’ to be 10 per cent above the limit, so if you’re clocked at 55kph in a 50kph zone, or 99kph in an 90kph zone, you won’t normally be penalised – but don’t bank on it!’ – Source : Living and working in France.
Most of the cars sharing the roads during our stay were of the small family breed or run arounds; small enough to squeeze into tight spaces and zippy enough to make them terrifying with a local behind the wheel. On a couple of occasions we did