Our French Life

An Amateur In France

bald tyre

Although I’ve been living here for just over a year now there are some days, or more recently a few weeks, that I feel like a complete amateur in France – and this generally costs me money.

So where to begin? Okay, so last September whilst we were busy sorting out our house, Mr Normandy noticed that the back two tyres of my car, were completely bald. Little did I realise that this was the beginning of my car troubles. In fact, if I have any sound advice to give you upon moving to France, I’d say treat yourself to a new car! It will be cheaper as second-hand cars, with double the mileage, cost a small fortune. This is even allowing for the fees you will pay for your Carte Grise, Certificate of Conformity etc.  I’d also check to see if there’s a main dealer near where you going to be living. But yes treat yourself and hopefully you won’t spend the best part of a year, in a garage, learning new French words for all manner of car parts.

My 11-year-old Volvo (oh gawd I need a new car!) has started to do what most cars do at that age – play up. I’m sure I’ve made many a person either Brit or French (I’m not fussy they’re going to know) glaze over with my tales of woo with this car. In fact, one person now says to me “how’s the car?”.

Back to the bald tyres. So I went in and was mighty proud of myself for getting the job done. This novelty has now worn off.

In January my front two tyres are bald. Again, went back to the same place and got those replaced.

A few weeks ago, somebody said “did you know your back tyre is bald?” What?! No!!! So I returned to the tyre place to ask why they were bald. Turns out, when I got the first set of tyres replaced, the garage put on the bill (facture) that the tracking needed doing. They didn’t come out to me and say “excuse me luv, there’s no point putting tyres on as they’ll be bald in a few months. Do you want us to do the tracking?” There is no scenario, world or universe whereby I would say “no thanks” They wrote it on the bill after I’d paid for the tyres and left the building. Did I look at this bill? What do you think? This gal was already fist pumping thin air, that she’d been proficient enough in French, to get her tyres changed.

So you can imagine what happens next. The same thing happens in January. I am blissfully unaware that my car really does need its tracking doing. Hence the bald tyres after (turns out the front one was also going) only a few months wear.

Now, when I tried to argue this point they were having none of it.  This is the thing – I’m very good at arguing. Takes a bow. You don’t say but even I (granted the French needs to improve to articulate myself better) can’t get a word in edgeways and that’s going some.

There seems to be a lack of logic, a lack of understanding and a lack of letting you explain your reasons why you think something is unfair! We told you the tracking needed doing. What on the bill after I’d paid? Yes, its advisory. What?! Anyhow lesson learnt at the cost of the best part of 500 euros – that in France they don’t do the tracking on your car as standard. You have to ask.

In the UK they would assume what’s the point on putting new tyres on if there tracking is out. They might include it in the price but am pretty sure it’s done as standard. I have come from a land where I can assume the next step will be taken without me having to ask.

So my current motto for living in France is NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING! Never assume logic will be the order of the day. You have to spell e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g out. Otherwise you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time saying “but why wouldn’t they do that anyway?!”

For instance, you can go and get your car diagnosed for problems but they don’t fix it there. Why?! God why?! It is purely a diagnostic garage. So you take your diagnostic report to a garage to fix it #wails.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a pantomime.

panto horseNow, if you haven’t glazed over already. When I did go back to get more tyres to replace the bald ones, they actually took off the wrong tyre (a perfectly decent one), so I had to get that changed again. How they wouldn’t know it wasn’t bald is beyond me. Of course, I complained and was offered 20 euros for the inconvenience. Hold the phone!

Oh and when the technician was told to change the tyre back – the clock struck 12pm. Lunchtime. I knew I was in for it. The previously charming young man, turned into a lunchtime pumpkin and my wheel nuts were being flung all over the garage in sheer rage. I pointed out that he wasn’t happy – the lady looked a little embarrassed but I’m sure I detected a touch of lunchtime pumpkin sympathy.

When I left the garage I really hoped my tyres wouldn’t fling off at any given point especially in the area that has no mobile reception. They’re still on my car.

Okay so what else on the amateur front? Well, who knew that I wouldn’t get a refund of my doctors bill (25 euros) if the trainee doctor signed it? That would be me. I have to go back and stalk my local doctor, time it just right, so I avoid paying the 25 euro appointment charge. Luckily I now have “sorry to trouble you” in my pantomime vocabulary memory bank.

Recently I got a speeding ticket. Yes I am a walking disaster at the moment. Didn’t you see the sign asked Mr Normandy? Nope. There are signs for speed cameras? Turns out there are and if you look to your right, you’ll see this thin speed camera poking out through the grass of the hard shoulder. Now I thought I could do 130 kph turns out this stretch of road is 110 kph. I was doing like 5 miles over so yes got a ticket. In the post. 45 euros thank you very much.

What I do like about the French system is that whilst getting money back is quite a test of your character internal strength and any other facebook profound statement – giving money is so easy! In a warped kind of way you feel you’ve achieved something. I did it all online. Never have I been more satisfied whilst paying a fine.

I’m currently awaiting for the Gendarmes to knock on my door to insist I change my driving licence to a French one to take off a point. In France you get given points to be taken away whereas in the UK you have a ‘clean’ licence and points are added. So I don’t mind having -1 point on my licence. I jest. I think as I paid it very quickly – guilty as charged – it might go in the don’t worry about it file.

Whilst we’re on the subject of car stuff – your V5 aka Carte Grise has to be either in your vehicle or on you. Said she with it currently sitting in a drawer so I don’t lose it. If I get stopped that’s a fine #amateur.

And finally, did you know that car breakdown cover is included in your insurance here? However, check that it covers you for 0km from home as you pay extra for that. Otherwise you’re only covered if you are 30km from home. Again, what world, what universe would you not want cover to include anywhere you break down?! Not my world but hey this is my world and I still love it.

But guess what? Maybe this Mrs Normandy isn’t such an amateur after all as turns out I’m covered 0km from my home! Pure luck mind.

Are you an amateur in France. If you are I’d love to hear your stories as I’m sure this won’t be the last thing I had no idea about.

You have been reading….Our Normandy Life




11 thoughts on “An Amateur In France”

  1. Most french tyre garages will only replace both tyres on the same axle.
    Tyres in uk are at least 50% cheaper.
    Watch yourself with radar cameras. Most now work for on coming and departing traffic


  2. Amateur drinker in France here. Yesterday went to a cafe with ” ‘appy hour.” Husband orders frozen margarita that he had another day at half price. Same deal as before for him – 7 euros instead of 14. Great!
    I, without looking at the menu, decide to have a simple gin & tonic. 15 euros!! not a happy hour special, for some reason. The real cheek of it was that they charged me 12 euros for the gin and an extra 3 euros for the Schweppes, and only gave me two ice cubes. Live and learn!


  3. Great article! Good to know these things. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say! Thank you and I hope things get better -you seem to have had more than your fair share of challenges!


    1. Thank you- yes these are things you just don’t realise until you live here and when it happens people are like oh yes you always have to ask for tracking! I think as we had the total renovation it does seem a lot of challenges but then I just think this is probably normal for most people! Just makes entertaining reading!


  4. Culture clash. I have lived in France for more than 20 years and I can’t tell you how long it took me to understand how fundamentally different the thinking is in France. I think it was medical stuff that finally got through to me. I never really considered the term used in the UK ‘Nanny state’ or what it mean’t or whether it applied to me but now I see it. In France you are, sort if, in charge of your own destiny. In the UK people sort of look after you. Being given my own medical scan results to look after and take to the GP was a bit of a shock. In the UK your GP interprets them and lets you see them…maybe. I am at the moment vaguely concerned about a car service where it was pointed out that our ten year old car has something on the way to going wrong. Advisory, written on the bill. Saw it when I got home. I have no idea what the part is that is failing. Too technical for me. No one else I have asked, Brit or French, knows either but it is up to us to deal with it. No one at the garage said when it will need changing or how big a job it will be and they are really nice people. Oh well! Phone the garage….when I get round to it.

    Having said all that, I would change your tyre garage. That’s just bad service.


    1. Hi Carol – yes we had that with the x-rays although had to give them back to the doctor to have a look. So true re the car we are still awaiting a part (probably 2 months now to be ordered) but I don’t even think it’s been ordered and am sure would have been quicker to order it from the UK at this rate. I really do try and support our local garage but yesterday my husband’s pickup died and I have contacted a British mobile mechanic as it will just be easier and faster. I most certainly will change the tyre place I’ve been recommended a good one near us. Re the nanny state I think it’s more a question of thinking outside the box – going beyond what is intially put in front of you!


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