Le jour du Souvenir
poilu

conduire

Autumn-cabanon
Cruisin' through the Tuscan Vauclusian countryside yesterday... My husband still gives me driving lessons (from the passenger seat). I tell him I've been behind the wheel for 23 years. Apparently, says he, it's time to learn to shift gears.


Conduire

(kohn-dweer)

verb

to drive
.

 

In the winter of 2001, I left work at the vineyard each night to drive myself to driving school, careful to take the back roads and to park several blocks from the Auto-École Rivière. Though I had driven for ten years in the States, and another six in France, I had failed to exchange my Arizona driver's license for a French one, having had two years to do so. Time and again, Jean-Marc assured me that I had the right to drive in France (convinced that my AAA International Driving Permit was enough, never mind the expiration date), until one day he realized that his wife was driving without insurance (!!!); that is, should she get into an accident, the insurance contract would be void ($$$) without her having a French permis de conduire.

Having spent weeknights at driving school, attending class with would-be motorists half my age, and having finally passed l'épreuve théorique, or written exam, in the town of Fréjus, I would soon be navigating the streets of Draguignan... with a stone-faced inspecteur seated beside me.

On exam day, I shared the test vehicle with a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old who had just been ordered to pull over and get out. "Out! You are a danger to yourself and to others!" the inspecteur shouted. Seated in the back of the car, waiting my turn, I tried to understand just what my unfortunate classmate had done wrong, but was jolted out of my pensées when the inspector resumed his tirade.

"FAILED!" the inspecteur barked. He shouted a few more insults before the French kid got into the back of the car, at which point I was ordered into the driver's seat: "A vous, madame!"

"Allez-y!" the inspecteur commanded, checking his watch. I said a prayer to Saint Christopher, patron saint of safe travel (not knowing who the saint was for driver's-exam scoring), put on the left-turn signal, and drove out of the quiet neighborhood into the chaotic streets of Draguignan at rush hour.

"You don't need to be so obvious!" the inspector snapped when I threw my chin left after turn-signaling. Moments ago I'd signaled a right turn and thrown my chin over my right shoulder for good measure. We had been warned in driving school to exaggerate our gestures during testing to show the inspecteur that we were aware of those dangerous "angles morts" or blind spots. "Et les vitesses!" the inspector grumbled after I'd ground the gears once again. "Oh, but aren't cars automatic in America?!" he snickered.

Though I had been stick-shifting for sixteen years, seated next to the inspecteur I felt like I was operating a vehicle for the first time. Having completed the twenty-minute parcours through the center of Draguignan, where the unpredictable French pedestrian is king and capable of jumping from sidewalk to street center in the blink of an eye, I followed the inspecteur's instructions, pulling up in front of the American cemetery, which seemed like a bad omen to me. The inspecteur sat silently, filling out paperwork, before announcing it was time to check my vision. He ordered me to read the sign across the street. Squinting my eyes, I began:

"World War II Rhone American Cemetery and Memor...".

Before I had even finished reading, the inspector scribbled something across the page, tore off the sheet, and mumbled "Félicitations."

Ornery as he was, I had the urge to throw my arms around the inspecteur and plant a kiss beside his angry brow; only, the commandant was no longer facing me, but looking out over the quiet green fields dotted white with courage, lost in another place and time.

*     *     *

Comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome here.


French Vocabulary

 
Auto-École Rivière = Riviera Driving School
le permis (m) de conduire = driver's license
l'inspecteur (l'inspectrice) = inspector
la pensée = thought
A vous, madame = Your turn, Madam
Et les vitesses! = And the gears!
le parcours = driving route
les félicitations (fpl) = congratulations
le commandant = captain


Un critique, c'est un homme qui connaît la route, mais qui ne sait pas conduire.
A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car.
 --Kenneth Tynan


:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter (9-years-old at the time of this recording) pronounce the French word for "to drive" in today's quote: Download conduire.wav

Un critique, c'est un homme qui connaît la route, mais qui ne sait pas conduire.

Terms & Expressions:
un permis de conduire (m) = driver's license
conduire un orchestre = to conduct an orchestra
conduire une affaire = to manage a business
se conduire = to behave
se conduire bien / mal = to behave well / badly
se conduire comme un âne = to make an ass of oneself

 

FYI: A remembrance poem was posted yesterday, "Poppy Day", don't miss it. Also: a reminder to UK readers: Jean-Marc and I will be at Barbican Centre in London, next week. We would love to meet you there. Click here for more information about this event.

New book:
I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language
French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student.
French Country Diary 2009
Voici is a French magazine of popular culture.


.........................................................................................
French Verb Conjugation: conduire
je conduis, tu conduis, il/elle conduit, nous conduisons, vous conduisez, ils/elles conduisent ; past participle: conduit

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