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Jul 17

So how committed are you?

Driving around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris can be quite an ordeal, especially for a nervous tourist.

Arc de Ttriomphe, Paris

Hesitate at your peril

I was with Pierre and we were driving to Paris for the day. Our rapid progress on the toll motorway came to a grinding halt as we encountered a major road works project. This prompted me to recount my first experience of driving around the Arc de Triomphe many years ago. It was a scary and nerve racking experience. There are no traffic lights and not even any lines to indicate priority or lanes. Cars seem to hurtle towards you at great speed, with drivers switching deftly between accelerator, brake and horn.

Pierre's reply was that "you need to show commitment". If you hesitate too much you won't move forwards and if you are too aggressive you might cause an accident!

"Showing commitment" is good advice and has far wider relevance than the Paris traffic.

This shows the importance of recognising that what may appear to be chaos is in fact a sign of a different set of rules in action. The bewildered tourist just sees chaos, whereas the seasoned and battle scarred Parisian drivers understand the nuances and manage to navigate their way around. Sure, there may be some animated gestures and hooting of horns, but this is all part of the apparently unscripted driving. One could call this a self-regulating system.

As an aside, most tourists want to get a photo of the Arc de Triomphe without cars "getting in the way". In my case, having cars in the photo was central to my story.

It is easier to show commitment when you are on familiar ground and "know the rules". It is far more difficult when your framework no longer applies, as it often the case in an unfamiliar country. You probably need to do your homework and seek help from someone who understands the customs and nuances. Do this well in advance! If we go back to the analogy of driving in Paris, there is not much point in realising you need help with you are trying to edge your way around the Arc de Triomphe by yourself.

Forewarned is forearmed. Bon voyage!

Simon Fawkes
Business to Markets Ltd