Our trip coincided with the U.S. National Men’s Team playing a “friendly,” or a non-competitive soccer match against the French national team. The friendlies are often not really as amicable events as the name might imply, although in this case the match was intended to mainly help both teams in different ways: to help the French team prepare for the World Cup and to help the U.S. team start its painful process of rebuilding after not qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1994. Since we were here anyway, we decided to attend and luckily were able to buy on-line tickets the day before. The prices were comparable to the U.S., but I have to say I was delighted to not have to pay any convenience, delivery, service or other made-up costs that you do when you buy a ticket for any event in the U.S.
The event was well organized, with special trains set up for easing transportation. Our train included about 200 French fans and four of us. We listened to loud and off-key renditions of The Marseillaise and it was clear the fans were really ready to support their team.
The stadium was essentially sold-out with approximately 56,000 in attendance of which I would guess there were maybe 200 U.S. supporters. The French fans were enthusiastic, but incredibly respectful. We did not feel unsafe as we might have in some U.S. stadiums if we were sitting in the opposing team section. The fans brought tons of French flags and sang songs in support of their team loudly. For a game that did not count, they made it seem that it did.
France clearly outplayed the U.S. team, which was composed of largely European-based young talent. The U.S. coach is a temporary, and this was to be used to experiment a bit. France dominated play on the first half, possessing the ball about two-thirds of the time, and having numerous great opportunities. However, for those that know soccer, it is the cruelest of sports for rewarding good play since, despite a solid French performance, the U.S. had a great breakaway at the end of the first half and scored to lead the match 1:0.
After another half of solid pressure, the U.S. conceded a goal, well earned by the French. There was a lot of tension and good opportunities for the French until the end, but it ended in a tie at 1:1. The U.S. had to have been happy with that result and they held firm under pressure. We left the stadium and joined a huge group and got back on the train. There was no drunkenness, no trash and only one vendor selling scarves; a much different vibe than a post NFL game.
When I think about driving in France, I inevitably think about mob-like meetings of cars rushing around the traffic circles in Paris or driving through the French countryside in a beat-up car in a black and white and impossible to understand French film. It’s obviously a bit different than that, but still has some great surprises. To start with, the cars are small and need to be so. Parking spaces are at a premium and the roads are narrow, even in large cities. It’s a challenge at times to understand if you’re driving into a road or an alleyway.
If you plan to rent a car in France, it’s good to know that the majority of rentals are manual transmissions. One website recommended making reservations well in advance and even suggested bringing proof you can use a manual transmission (what would that proof look like, by the way?). I made the mistake of not doing full research on driving rules before booking and would recommend you either do so well before your trip or not at all, the latter approach following the “ignorance is bliss” standard which I unwittingly went with. Some of the things that I did not know, and wish I had: a) your license needs to run a year beyond the rental date (seriously, for a two day rental?), b) you need a compete safety kit in the car, including a breathalyzer and safety vest, which was of course not in our rental, c) there is a presumption in France that the driver coming from the right always has the right of way, even if he’s coming from a side road and you’re headed straight. On the last point, France has gone to considerable measures to work around this really unique rule and installed signs at intersections indicating if you do have the right of way or not. Most U.S. drivers would not know what these look like, so spend some time on the internet before you think about driving. Note too there is no such thing as “cushion” for speeding, having known someone who got a ticket for driving 93 in a 90 zone.
Oh, and by the way, French police can stop you for any reason. You’ll of course need a notarized translation of your U.S. license or an international license according to the French government website; I had neither.
On driving, despite the fact the city streets were designed by LEGO engineers, the pay highways are spectacular. They are very well maintained and clearly marked. There is a “but” of course which is that they are incredibly expensive. We paid around $28 to drive two hours. That’s even more than the famous California “Lexus lanes.” I think we would not mind paying higher amounts in the U.S. if we got better roads in exchange.
Getting around with a nav system is really a great experience compared to the impossible-to-fold maps that used to be the standard. I would recommend using the car nav system to avoid heavy data roaming costs with an app such as Waze. Our nav was in French, which was fine for us except that it hit me that French does not have a separate word for “bear” versus “turn.” This became really annoying since every slight bend in the road was instructed as “turn.” It was like a bad game of hokey-pokey.
My last story is about gas, which is predictably expensive here. The last time I rented a car here in had to stop for gas and was confronted with either choosing “sans plomb”or some odd number on the gas pumps and I had no idea what to do. This time I confidently knew that “sans plomb” meant “unleaded” and was ready to go. However, things have changed mightily over the years and I discovered that both the unleaded and the mysterious numbered gasoline were gone and replaced by an unlabeled green nozzle and a yellow nozzle labeled “gazeol.” When I opened the gas cap, it was labeled “diesel,” which made it abundantly clear to me that I should use the green nozzle since diesel nozzles in the U.S. are always green. In addition, the yellow nozzle was not labeled diesel, and there is no way they would try so hard to confuse us. Yet they did. It turns out gazeol is the French word for diesel and that was the correct move. Thankfully they made the nozzles idiot-proof and only the right one would fit. But I had to rely on the idiot-proof mechanism to not completely ruin the engine with the wrong fuel- I suspect I am not the first who’s been confused on this and not the first idiot to visit.