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French Culture – Driving in France Posted by on Sep 4, 2018 in Culture, News, Vocabulary

My son and I just got back from ten amazing days in France. We were going back to revisit some of the great places we saw the year before. We had a great time seeing family, eating great food, and exploring the sights (and in the coming weeks, I’ll share some of the highlights). And while I loved it all, one of the things that I really love about visiting France is getting to drive in a country where people really take driving seriously.

La conduite en FranceDriving in France

The French take driving very seriously. In fact, driving in France is almost a national sport. And if you want to drive in France, there are some important things you should know.

Not sure what all the highlighted terms mean? The table below includes useful rental-car-related vocabulary to help you out.

First of all, if you are going to louer une voiture en France you need to know what kind of car you want. While most cars come standard with une boîte de vitesse manuelle you can get des voitures de location avec boîte de vitesse automatique. I like to get mine with boîte manuelle (you might also hear boîte normalle) because I think that it makes driving that much more fun. Of course, pour louer une voiture, you will need a valid permis de conduire.

When your adventures are through and you want to return your voiture de location to the agence (the rental agency), you will need to faire le plein to avoid paying extra pour l’essence. Many voitures in France use le gazole (or gazoil) so make sure you know and use the right kind of essence.

Faire attention / Pay attention

When I first went to France back in the ’80’s, there was barely anything like a speed limit. Over the years since, France has gotten more and more strict about making sure people drive safely. If you decide to drive in France, there are two other important things to know.

  1. France has a system of automated cameras and radar that will snap a picture of your car if you’re driving too fast! These radars (radars) are signalés (indicated) with road-side signs, so keep your eyes open … or you might get flashé (the term the French use for getting snapped by the radars and have to pay une amende (a fine).
  2. As of June of this year, the speed limit on many French roads has been lowered to 80 km/h (down from 90). It’s been a bit of a national scandal with many French people complaining about the new, stricter driving laws.
la voiture
the car
une voiture de location
a rental car
louer une voiture
to rent a car
faire le plein
to fill up/fill the gas tank
le gazole
le permis de conduire
the driver's license
la boîte de vitesse
la boîte de vitesse manuelle
manual transmission
la boîte de vitesse automatique
automatic transmission
la limite de vitesse
the speed limit

Pour finir / finally

Enjoy this driving-related chanson (song) from the great chanteur (singer) Joe Dassin. And for some more great car-related vocabulary, see this post from last summer.

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Photo courtesy of [CC0 license].

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris


  1. Constantin Svirchevski:

    In 2-column table (just before Section “Pour finir”) in 3rd row it says: louer un voiture (to rent a car) . It always seemed to me that “car” in French is femenine – une. Maybe it is just a typo?

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Constantin Svirchevski Merci, Constantin! Vous avez raison. Yes, I mis-typed that one … If you listen to the sound you’ll hear that it is indeed “louer unE voiture”. I’ve updated the table.

  2. James Collier:

    Also, do not drive along mindlessly in the fast lane. Use it only to pass and then promptly move back over out of the way. Equally important, do not do what Americans do and pass another car on the right. They just don’t do that here in France (or in other European countries as far as I know).

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @James Collier Absolument, James! That’s one of the things that makes driving in France fun for me. In general, other drivers take it seriously and follow the rules of the road which makes driving more pleasant for everyone! Thank you for your comment.