Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Two American tourists will have a pretty embarrassing story to tell their family when they return home from their trip to France. According to our local paper, the Midi Libre, they confused the marche avant et marche arrière sur le levier de vitesse (basically first gear and reverse on the stick shift) on their rental car and drove it into the canal in Sète. Doh! Luckily there was a policeman nearby who helped them fish it out and get all of the water out of the car, but unfortunately their luggage was soaked through. Puts a bit of a damper on the holiday, n'est-ce pas?

I guess I never thought about it too much, but it does seem that automatics are rare here in Europe, and they can be difficult to find at rental companies in France. If you do find a rental company that does automatics, you have to be prepared to pay 20-30% more for it.

I've had clients from the States who've told me they simply do not know how to drive a manual car and I know French people who have never even seen an automatic transmission. So why such a big cultural difference?

I'm American and I learned to drive on a manual car. In fact, my dad dropped me off at the car dealership and told me if I wanted it I had to drive it home (across town). I learned pretty quickly.... I don't think I've ever owned an automatic, for some reason I prefer shifting gears. I guess I feel like I'm more in control or something.

I do sorta think it would be a good idea to know how to drive both; you never know when it might come in handy. And it just might keep you out of an embarrassing situation while on holiday in France!


Jennie said...

I haven't yet learned how to drive a manual, but I would like to. My family never had manuals when I was learning to drive, so I really didn't have the opportunity back then, especially since our driver's training class would not teach us either.

I bought an automatic in France, but it did take a few months of searching for one that I could afford. I love it though. It's so small and cute. And driving in France is stressful enough as it is with an automatic, so I don't know how I'll do with a manual!

La Belette Rouge said...

I have never learned to drive a manual car. I probably should and yet it is likely I never will.

Ksam said...

I've tried to learn a couple of times to drive an automatic without much luck. Which meant that in Bretagne, we had two automatic cars - neither of them were very difficult to find though, they are becoming more and more popular with the over 60 set.

And I rent at least two automatic cars per month - in the smaller towns I need to book ahead, but I just booked a car yesterday for a rental in Rennes today and didn't have any problem getting an automatic (Thank God - I would've been SOL otherwise!). But most agencies now have at least one C3 semi-automatic car on offer, plus some sort of larger family-style car and maybe a fancy mercedes too.

Anonymous said...

I've actually had French people ask me if I can drive a manual transmission. They are under the assumption that manuals don't exist in the US.
What a funny story!

Almost American said...

We always rent a manual when we visit the UK and I end up doing all the driving because engineer husband can't drive a stick-shift! I suggest it might be a good time to learn when it's someone else's clutch he's ruining, but he says it's too much to learn all at once when he would also be on the 'wrong' side of the road. I guess a trip to France is what's needed!

Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

I drive stick as well, but I've wondered about that for people who don't. Or, more specifically, what I've really wondered is how someone who drives automatic in the States can drive stick in England, where everything's on the left anyway. I don't even know if I could do that.

Maybe tourists should rely more on public transport?