I interrupt our vacation stories and pictures to share a great French word we learned in class today: un embouteillage. We learned this word when a classmate was trying to say a sentence that included the words "traffic jam." After seeing it written, we discovered at the core the word for "bottle". So unlike in the USA, where our traffic "jams," in France the traffic "bottlenecks." Why do I share this? Because it is SO TRUE!
Driving around the Paris metropolitan area is a challenge, to say the least. Roads are tiny, one-way, roundabouts abound, and roads do not follow structures that are at all recognizable to our American minds. Add to that the fact that rush hour starts at about 7:00am and ends around 6:59am (as far as we can tell), and you get a driving nightmare. But we've begun to realize a distinct difference in the stop and go traffic around Paris and that of any American city. When we drive to a friend's house across town, we can almost guarantee we'll be calling to declare our lateness due to traffic. What's interesting is that in most cases, we can essentially drive all around Paris and never come to a traffic light. Roundabouts and highways with looping exits and merges are the norm, square blocks are not. And so what happens is that two roads merge, a lane drops, and then a kilometer later your road merges again, a lane or two is dropped, and repeat, and repeat. At every merge, traffic comes to a standstill. In essence, the traffic has indeed bottlenecked! We never find ourselves sitting and watching a light change from green to red to green to red while we inch forward. Instead we find ourselves squeezed onto a road that cannot possibly hope to accommodate the number of cars incoming, we inch along until everyone finds their space, and then we drive free until the next merge.
We just love it when culture and language mesh so well!
Now if only they would unmesh and let us get somewhere on time!