Femmes et Flics – A Matter of Con-trôl!


Last night the frantic hooting of a car in the street below my apartment found me hurtling down four flights of stairs in aid of my neighbour. I didn’t need any further information, I knew what the insensed fury was about!

Earlier in the day, in my mad homeward dash from University to give the kids their lunch, I discovered an unwelcome obstacle outside my apartment. Some wise-crack had determined that parking their car in the turning area for entry through our Porte Cochère was perfectly acceptable behaviour.

The Porte Cochère is the doored entrance to a ‘tunnel’ which passes under the building to an inner courtyard, originally built for coach and horses in the 17th to 19th centuries. If you look carefully you will spot two metal restrictors at ground level either side of the arch. These cunning items originally were to prevent the coach wheels from hitting the side walls, and do the same job to protect the sides of cars, however they also narrow the access significantly, which is often at best only a couple of centimeters wider than a modern car with the wing-mirrors folded in.

Having only half an hour to arrive home, make lunch and return to class, spending 20 minutes of it doing an unsuccessful 50 point turn in an  attempt to place the car in a suitable position to enter the Porte Cochère was not very amusing. Imagine, then, my irritation when a the end of the day I returned home to find the offending car still blocking my way, his parking ticket having long since expired. When my neighbour arrived home several hours later, the hooting was self explanatory!

The flics, in France, are not the cinema, but the colloquial name for the police; our equivalent to the ‘cops’. Their duties include not only dealing with thefts, drunks and drugs, but for keeping the peace in the local neighbourhood. A party going on late and keeping the neighbourhood awake? No need to descend in slippers at 3am to knock on the offending door. Simply ring the flics. Once they have intervened three times, the culprit receives an ‘amende’ (fine), and everyone-else wakes the following morning with the happy knowledge that the party animals have no idea who actually made the call, but will have to pay for the nuisance.

So it was that my neighbour pulled out her phone and within about five minutes the police had arrived!

The offending vehicle wasn’t technically on a yellow line, the council irritatingly not having obliged us by stretching the yellow line further than the archway entrance to our courtyard to allow for the turning area, but neither was it in a parking bay, the last of which was several metres up the street. The male police officer studied the car carefully before declaring that while it was an offence to not park in a bay, it wasn’t towable since it hadn’t physically got a tyre on a yellow line.

Now everyone knows that the French park haphazardly anywhere and everywhere, but blocking access to a porte cochère is a definite ‘No-no’, and everyone knows not to do it, in much the same way that everyone knows that when visiting Paris for a day out,  to avoid the hefty  subterranean car parking daily rates the idea is to find a parking bay and deposit the car without worrying much about the parking meter. The French do this all the time. The fine for a parking infringement is in the region of 11€, which is vastly cheaper than feeding the meter, and saves moving the car every couple of hours whilst in short stay parking zones! And meanwhile one gets to enjoy the delights of Paris for the cost of a couple of cups of coffee.

I watched a superb film last week in which the heroine carried in her handbag an old parking ticket in its plastic pocket, and each time she parked, she pulled it out and placed it under her windscreen wipers  just in case a parking attendant should come along. It would have to be a real ‘gem’ of a attendant, after all, to give her two tickets in one day. Our heroine never had a fine to pay. But the rule of thumb in France is to always park in a designated bay or all hell may break loose!

So it was that the male flic (did I mention ‘male’) looked at my neighbours car – a real tank of a vehicle, and decided that the offending car was not  infringing parking regulations enough to call out the tow truck and that she should clearly be able to drive through the porte cochère into the tunnel access.

‘Mais non!’ said she

‘Mais NON’ said I

and he proceeded to direct her to the merest millimetre into a one hundred point turn turning to me and muttering in frustration –

‘Mais elle n’a pas maîtrisé comment contrôler son vehicule’ (she hasn’t learnt how to master driving her car)

Bah oui, Monsieur – Ce n’est pas possible, c’est tout’ I said‘ On doit être tout droit’ ( Of course she’s in control  – It’s just not possible to do unless the car is going straight forward)

‘Bah non, c’est facile’ replied the flic ‘et nous, nous entrons toujours en reverse – et dans les bus enormes’ (Of course it’s easy, and we always do it in reverse – and in much bigger vehicles)

‘Vous n’êtes pas habituées alors’ he declared (you still don’t know how to do it yet)

‘I’ve been here three years’ I retorted whilst my neighbour climbed out of her car, now nicely wedged at an angle in the archway, and offered the him the wheel.

‘Mais non Madame’ he replied ‘je n’ai pas le droit’ (I am not permitted!)‘Pourquoi ton mari a t-il acheté une voiture comme ca? (Why did your husband buy you such a big car?)

My neighbour, with a determined look in her eye then reversed her car back into the street where she parked mid-road, halting any ideas of passing traffic, and the officer, faced with two now extremely irate women resignedly pulled out his phone.

The tow truck arrived five minutes later, lifting the offending car onto its trailer…

..and we went in for a glass of wine!

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So if you happen to park in a French city, remember remember, you might get away with starving the meter, but not with blocking a porte cochère –

especially if a woman is lurking behind it.

It’s just a matter of who’s in con trôl!