Wednesday, April 20, 2005

car culture

It seems to me that the French have a totally different relationship to cars than Americans do. Here in France, cars are not coddled, like a beautiful child, nor are they always looking good in their Sunday best to show off. While cars in the states are status symbols, here there are a means to get around, and that's about it. My French friend, who lived in the states for several years, laughed until she had tears in her eyes, when she remembered Americans lovingly washing and waxing their cars every weekend, even in the dead of winter. "What's the point?" she asked. "In winter, with all the snow and the mess, I waited until the bad weather passed, and my car was just fine."

Here, dents and dings are not things to be lamented. No one races to the body shop to have a dent beat out before someone sees it. They are a fact of life, particularly when living in a town with tons of public parking and a dearth of private garages.

I confess, even I was not immune to American car culture. I had a 2000 Ford Focus, which I bought used in 2002, and that car was my baby. I took better care of that car than I took care of myself. I never missed changing the oil within 3000 miles, I never let the gas gauge fall below 1/4 tank, I took her to the best car wash in town on a regular basis. Maybe it was because I was making astronomical payments, but if I'd ever dinged or dented it I would have been mortified. In my American mind, your car and the state of it are reflections of you, so you'd better show your best face when out in public. These are things I've had to let go of since moving here. People I've met just don't feel that way about cars.

The reason I bring all of this up is that we saw the funniest thing yesterday, when driving back from a visit with the in-laws. Steph pointed them out, and I wouldn't have noticed them if he hadn't. It seems a car ahead of us was sporting some spinning rims, yo. It's the first time either one of us has seen them in France. The reason I couldn't see them at first was because they were absolutely filthy. Dirt was caked all the way up to the bumper level. And you know no self-respecting playa back home would allow that to happen.

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