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céder le passage à quelqu’un
: to yield (when driving)
A Day in a French Life… by Kristin Espinasse
I woke up this morning with the nagging doubt that the kids might not make it to school today—worse, that we might be stranded on the side of the road, our thumbs awkwardly stuck out as we begged an early morning ride.
I should have filled the tank yesterday! And now, our car was almost out of gas. The nearest station is in Camaret, but that would mean backtracking. I could drive to Tulette, but was the pump open this early?
Just as I began calculating the distance from Sainte Cecile to Pierrelatte, Max offered a solution. “There’s one near my collège. I’ll drive us there.”
Well, why not ? He has completed his cours de conduite, and the drive would count towards the 1000 hours kilometers of road time he would need to accumulate in order to get his license (but not before the age of 18).
Max, Jackie, and I buckle up and are soon on our way to Bollène, driving past fields of grapevines and little yawning villages, window shutters opening as we speed by. The morning sun feels good on our faces and the drive is relaxing, after all. As passenger, I feel pretty secure driving with our 17-year-old, who has completed an excellent driver’s training and knows the rules of the road by heart. He is probably a better driver than I am, but experience has merits of its own, namely precaution, which in my book trumps skill.
As we drive, I offer an ongoing commentary. “Always anticipate an obstacle—a little kid that bolts from a side street… or a dog… or a grand-mère or…”
Max interrupts. ”Mom, je sais!”
“I’m sure you know, Max. In fact, I think you are a very good driver and I feel safe riding with you. But it isn’t you I am worried about so much as the other driver out there. You must be alert! Practice defensive driving!”
Here Max shares the story about his driving instructor who had an accident in the very spot over which we are now driving. It was a head-on collision. He was driving with a new student.
“Did she survive?”
“Yes, the car just spun off the road… ”
The next few kilometers are passed in thoughtful silence. When Max picks up speed, I perk up.
“You need to slow down!” I remind him again. Only, for each reminder, Max has an argument.
“But Mom, the car is registering kilometers-per-hour, not MPH.”
It is too early for me to calculate (or divide?) kilometers to miles and so know whether Max is going too fast or too slow for my comfort zone. I cut to the point. “Well, it feels fast to me—so slow down!”
Nearing the village of Rochegude I have to look over at the odometer again.
“Max, what is the speed limit here?”
“Then why are you going 84?”
“Mom! Old cars show a higher speed. We are really only going 80.”
“This is not an old car. Slow down!”
As we approach the gas station, it occurs to me that I won’t have to do the messy chore this time!
“Your driving instructors have taught you to fill the tank, haven’t they?”
“Yes, but I can’t do it this morning. It will make my hands reek and I’ve got to go to school afterwards!”
I shake my head. He sure has an excuse for everything from faulty odometers to smelly gas pumps—and it all seems to work in his favor!
After I fill the tank, Max fires up the engine attracting the attention of the student in the next car’s passenger seat. Subtle Max, you are subtle! Careful, now, not to kill the engine as you did on the way in! You won't look so cool putt-putting out of here, just as you putt-putted your way in!
At the industrial roundabout in Bollène Max slows, observing the yield sign.
I watch as cars speed around the busy circle, or camembert. Although a little nervous, I trust that Max will take his time. Only, when a lumber truck passes carrying a forest of giant logs, I notice Max does not stop!
I watch as the semi-truck’s wheels spin past our car, which is presently entering the roundabout , right on the heels of the giant truck!
Our car slips in so close behind the semi that I fear we will be sucked in beneath the truck’s back tires. Looking up from the passenger seat, I now see a tower of lumber above us. The ends of the neatly cut trunks are so near our faces I can count the many circles that represent the tree’s age. Will we live as long?
In the school parking lot I am lecturing Max, who, as expected, has an argument for every point I make. And when he doesn’t have a point, he simply replies, “Quit screaming!”
Finally, I make an ultimatum:
“Max, you are NOT going to explain things away and have the last word each time! Now, listen closely. I am going to say it one more time and this time you will not interrupt me—do so and you will lose driving rights for two weeks!"
I finally get the chance to make my point without being cut off. “What you did was dangerous and there is no justifying it!”
I wait, lest one more peep come out of the reckless driver. When not one peep is made, I am satisfied and have to turn my face away, lest the smirk upon it degrade its authority.
Despite the grave situation that was now past us, it feels so good to have the last word. Cathartic, even! I can now see the allure “le dernier mot” has for my ever righteous kids!
But that self-righteous feeling soon gives way to simple humility and gratitude. Thank God none of us had the very last word this time!
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.
le collège = junior high school
le cours de conduite = driver education
la grand-mère = grandmother
je sais = I know
le camembert = the popular round cheese is also a synonym for roundabout
le dernier mot = the last word
Max likes to lift things, just look at those arms!
Smokey likes to eat things. Just look at that tongue!
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