Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Was driving in France a problem for you if you don't speak French?

Was driving in France a problem for you if you don't speak French?

Nov 14th, 2007, 10:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 998
Was driving in France a problem for you if you don't speak French?

Hello. I am helping my brother with a trip in June, and was telling him that it's NO problem to drive in the countryside in France. (He's from San Diego). But I'm basing this on my own experience, and my husband and I speak a moderate amount of the language. We've driven all over the place (got LOST, but didn't have any scary incidents).

So...did you encounter any problems, or should I keep on saying, "Go for it!".

Iwan2go is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:01 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 23,074
Since I don't talk when I drive, it's not a problem.

Seriously, I don't it a problem at all. Well, maybe when finding a place to park on the street and you can't figure out when it is allowed, when it is not; or how to pay for parking.

Can't think of much else that's directly related to language.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:02 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 74,268
Hi lw,

He ought to learnthe French for things like, detour, enter, exit as well as know the road signs.

Other than that, I think that driving in France (after the first few hours) is much easier than in the US.

ira is online now  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:07 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,607
well, I do speak French so it wasn't a problem, but I sure can think of how it would be a problem if you didn't --like reading signs. Besides, one I got lost (sort of), and had to stop at a roadstop on one of the big A highways to ask directions, and the folks in there did not speak English. Another time, I had a tire with an indicator that kept flashing inside the car about some problem, and I was in the countryside, but pulled into a local garage and talked to the mechanic about the feu for the pneus, and got it fixed with no fee -- he didn't speak any English either. Not to mention all the people who whine about their traffic tickets because they don't read road signs and drive in restricted areas or ignore traffic warnings. It's true being able to read directions helps a lot in parking garages, and other places, too.

One can get by, but don't claim it is NO problem. I got really mad at a friend of mine who told me how it was going to be no problem to go to some city where I didn't speak any of the language, and I got by but had some problems (unpredictable) and was a nervous wreck. She knew that language pretty well and lived in a neighboring country, so I'm sure that's why it seemed no problem to her.
Christina is online now  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:15 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,134
I agree, you should know some words pertaining to cars, signs, roads, directions, etc. They are not hard to learn and you can keep a cheat sheet in the car. All in case something goes awry which may happen.

I have driven all over France, after learning the above and speaking pidgin French and I got along fine. It is a wonderful experience so go for it but be prepared too.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:24 AM
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 2,522

If you want to get them familiar with French road signs... there are many


ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:33 AM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 8,351
Millions of Europeans drive through France annually without speaking a word of French, and survive. Often in cars that are far older and more poorly maintained than the average hire car.
If he learns the road signs he'll be fine.
hetismij is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:35 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 17,374
I was amazed that all the motorways seem to lead to the town of Sortie.
Gardyloo is online now  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:36 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,256
I certainly wouldn't discourage them from driving. They might benefit from using a gps and also make sure they are familiar with the toll system on the autoroutes, if they will be using them. They might get a little flustered if they went to an automated booth and couldn't pay the toll with a US credit card. For us driving in France is one of the pleasures of travel, not knowing the language shouldn't stop your brother. Deborah
DeborahAnn is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:41 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 530
We've driven in France and didn't find it a problem. My husband has 40 year old high school French and I have old high school Spanish. We've also driven in Germany, Italy, Czech Repulic and the ONLY place we had a problem was Czech Republic because of the alphabet.

Otherwise it was pretty easy to read the signs to figure out which direction to go. We even drove into Paris on one of our trips and had no trouble there. The hardest part for us is understanding some of the signs for parking. I try to have a cheat sheet to see what symbol means no parking, limited parking, pedestrians only, etc.

We drove specifically so that we could get off the beaten track so we were often in places where there was no English spoken. Lots of half French, smiles and apologizing got us through any small problems. And even "getting lost" is all part of being somewhere else, so we don't see that as a problem per se.

One thing that I do swear by is having a good navigator. That is usually me. I do study the maps and print out directions from viamichelin.com. I continually check to be sure that I've got it right so we've never gone more than 20 minutes in the wrong direction (well, again, except for Prague where it took us 2 hours to leave the city!). We love driving and I'd also say "go for it"!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:49 AM
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 2,480
I was really scared about driving around France but after doing it last May, I can't wait to do it again. It was so easy to get around because the roads were well marked, they have great lane discplined and no potholes! I wish I could say the same about our Hawaiian roads. I recommend getting a car with a GPS.

Tell your brother to have a great time and eat lots of delicous french food! You are a nice sister.
cafegoddess is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:57 AM
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 377
I think our only moments of panic were at toll booths. After passing through a couple we were able to figure it out.
jodeenyc is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 11:58 AM
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 432
"I was amazed that all the motorways seem to lead to the town of Sortie."

Funny...all the metro trains in Paris do, too.

shelly_m is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:04 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 514
I second the advice about having a GPS device, I love my Garmin unit, and would never drive again in France without it!
SemiMike is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:07 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 812
The main problem I had driving in France was with the placement of traffic lights. They are on the immediate curb to the right of where you are stopped. They are not (usually) hung in the air or located on the opposite side of the street. I was always stopping too far out in the intersection to be able to see the light.

And it's true, all roads do lead to sortie.
BoniseA is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:11 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 24,826
Not a problem for me. Signs are easy enough to figure out. Get a GPS. And keep a credit card handy for the tolls.
travelgourmet is online now  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:22 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,525
I'd get a good map, I purchased the Michelin maps for the Loire before going. I also liked the MIcheline Green Guides, apart from all the torusit info, they also suggest driving routes.

I also noticed that the road signs will point to the next town, not necessarily the next big town (another reason to have a map). And...some of the most fun I had was getting lost in the backroads of France and going places I might not have chosen to go.

As others have mentioned...get a quick overview of the signs and some of the words that may apply. Driving is such a great way to see the country.
Michel_Paris is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:32 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 448
We drove in France, Germany, Belgium and Austria for seven weeks and never really had a problem. We had a GPS, which I would suggest. It was a life saver, but we still got lost on occasion, which in my opinion is part of the experence. Just pull over and find yourself on the map or ask the locals. We spoke no French, except for the basic phrases. You can read about our experance here:

dgassa is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:34 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 998
Wow. I went to get an oil change and came back to all of this! How cool is that.

gardyloo, I burst out laughing with the "sortie" bit.

I'll tell them all the Fodor's folks said it's fine, give him my cheatsheet of European street signs, a good (new) Michelin map, and wave him off (figuratively, not literally). And tell him to eat lots of food for me
Iwan2go is offline  
Nov 14th, 2007, 12:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
I speak French but on our trip before last we encountered a mother and daughter couple from the States who found it tough. They had been having some trouble for a number of days and asked if we could translate a few they'd encountered several times.

I confess I was gobsmacked when they asked me to translate Centre Ville (I swear I'm not making this up) although Autres Directions was a little more understandable. I could not believe they couldn't work out Centre Ville given that Center is practically the same word and Ville is a common enough word for town in the States.

I'd suggest getting some translations worked out in advance.

Kavey is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 08:39 AM.