Monday, 5 July 2010

Driving in France

Well, I've been on holiday for the last two and a half weeks in France. We had a gite just north of the Pyrenees, near Mirepoix. Very beautiful countryside; lots of sunshine, cheap wine, delicious cheese, good reading, excellent walking, and no computer.

Driving on roads with distances marked in kilometres provided me with a good opportunity to use the Fibonacci sequence for converting from km to miles. This famous and ubiquitous sequence of numbers is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on – with each number obtained by adding the previous two. So, after 21 and 34 will come 55. Now, by sheer coincidence (it's actually because the ratio of a mile to a kilometre is about the same as the golden ratio), one of these numbers in kilometres is approximately the same distance as the previous number in miles! So, when I see a sign saying 'Toulouse 34 km' I know immediately that this is 21 miles. This rule is a very good starting point for quick mental conversions. So, for example, 'Paris 550 km' tells me that it is about 340 miles to Paris (using 34 miles = 55 km and scaling by a factor of 10).

The other thing that keeps me occupied while driving in France is trying to deduce the French Highway Code from close observation of the driving habits of the French (assuming they have one). These are my deductions so far:

1. Speed limit signs indicate the minimum speed at which you should drive, not the maximum.
2. If you are driving behind a car that is moving at less than the speed limit indicated then you should flash your lights repeatedly. In extreme cases, particularly if the car is British, use your horn.
3. It is an offence to leave a gap of more than 10 metres between two cars, however fast they are travelling.
4. If such a gap occurs it is the responsibility of the driver of any other following vehicle to fill it at the first opportunity.
5. When overtaking it is not necessary to be able to see the road ahead. You can assume that the driver of any oncoming vehicle will be pleased to slow down or drive off the road in order to allow you to complete the manoeuvre successfully.
6. A narrow road that may appear not to have room for two cars to pass each other is an optical illusion. Continue driving at the maximum possible speed.

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