Yeah, you read that title right. The French are plotting to kill me.
But really, it’s not just me they’re plotting to kill. It’s you, it’s your neighbor, it’s really anyone who is not from France. What could bring about this paranoia in the sweet, mentally healthy, American girl you so know and love? The answer is France’s traffic signs, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. I’ve spent the last two weeks in Bordeaux, which a relatively calm city in comparison to Paris or New York, and yet I have had more near-death experiences in these two weeks than in the rest of my life combined. Bordeaux has invested a huge amount of money into making public transportation a relatively easy process—that is, if you’re a native.
In many ways, the transportation is actually great. Too great, in fact. First off, it’s everywhere. There are more buses than types of cheese. There are three different tram lines and potential plans for more. There is even a taxi-boat that you can take along the river. To be honest, it’s almost excessive, since you can probably walk from one side of the city to the other in only an hour. Not only is the transportation plentiful, but it’s also beautiful, clean, and efficient. Most of the buses run on a mix of clean energy and natural gas. All in all, the transportation is the best I’ve ever seen. That is, until it tries to kill you.
On our first day here, I asked my host mom whether the public transportation was safe. Her response was, “Yes. Very safe, as long as you’re already on it.” It only took me a few days to understand what she meant by that. As a non-native, you never quite know which part of the street you’re supposed to be on. It’s not abnormal to have four or more lanes on one road: a lane for cars and buses, a tram line, a bike path, and a pedestrian walkway. That doesn’t even take into account the people on roller skates, roller blades, skate boards, and walking their pets, and everyone always thinks they have the right of way.
You literally never see it coming. The transportation in Bordeaux is designed to blend into the city so as to not be an eyesore. The tram lines run both alongside and down the middle of roads. There’s actually grass growing on many tram tracks in order to make them more aesthetically pleasing. I assume the thought process behind the installation of the tram lines went something along the lines of, “Oh, let’s install tram lines because they’re cheaper and prettier than subways.” Unfortunately, it turned out more like, “Oh, let’s install tram lines because they’re quiet and can sneak up on unsuspecting tourists in order to better run them over.” The most messed-up part of it all is that the trams don’t even beep when you’re in their way. They’re like polite assassins.
It doesn’t just stop at the trams. The roads are booby traps too. There is no abrasive yellow paint differentiating one side from the other, no huge overbearing street signs, and most definitely no ugly guard rails. I often found myself walking on what seemed to be a large pedestrian walkway, only to realize that I was, in fact, in the middle of the road. And don’t even get me started on the walking signals. In the United States the walking signals are about as discrete as Bruce Jenner’s plastic surgery. In Bordeaux it’s the opposite. They are delicate and off to the side of the street, made to blend in with the 18th-century architecture. In the United States, flashing neon lights say “walk” or “stop” and make an annoying monotonic beeping noise. In Bordeaux, they glow pleasant shades of green and light red. When you mix this with the fanatics that are European drivers, you are just begging for a collision.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had a few too many close encounters with trams, cars, and aggressive dog walkers. Nonetheless, I’ve been very impressed with the transportation system in Bordeaux. It has never taken me more than thirty minutes to get anywhere, and I have yet to have a bad experience when I’m finally on board. The workers are kind, receptive, and helpful (though most likely secretly planning their next murder attempt). Still, I can’t help think that maybe the reason the French army so often retreats from wars is that its real battle takes place on its home turf, in its transportation systems. Luckily, these assassination attempts haven’t succeeded yet, but the trip is still young.
Until next time. That is, if the French don’t get to me first.
Sonia Lombroso ’16 is spending her fall semester in Paris, France. This column is an excerpt from her blog, “Excuse My French,” edited for style.