Once we had our Long Stay Visas, the first item on the to-do list? Buy a car, which shouldn’t be a very big deal. We had an adequate budget and our parameters were minimal: something used but reliable; a hatchback to make it easier for shopping and hauling things around; reasonably comfortable for road trips; buy it from a dealer, not some guy selling his car on Pierre’s List. Diesel or gas? No matter, just basic transportation.
It probably wouldn’t be a Renault, because I long ago had learned the French have their car prejudices just as Americans do, and many of them do not hold Renaults in high esteem. I once arrived at Chez Anthony in a Renault rental, and he said, “Oh, a Renault! Here we have a saying: leave in a Renault, return on a velo,” velo being French for bicycle, if you get their drift.
That was confirmed not long afterwards when we arrived at a party, and when we pulled up the menfolk in a chorus, all moaned, “Oh, No, he’s in a Renault!”
Uh, oh yeah, and an automatic transmission. Got to have an automatic, because Beloved Wife cannot drive a manual.
In retrospect, it is a valid question as to why it would have to be an automatic, since in the two decades of tooling around France and environs, She Who Shall Go Unnamed has driven a grand total of…let me see now…ahhh yes, ZERO kilometers. Not so much as a single turn of the wheels. Nada. But as we would be living here for long periods of time, it was wise to consider that if I happened to be struck and killed by a piece of falling space junk, She would have to be able to get home with the groceries. And so, it would have to be an automatic.
“Ahh,” said our French family.
“Hmmmm,” says Anthony, with much chin rubbing and muttering.
“Tres dificile,” says Yanick. “C’est un problem”, they all muttered.
And so, early on we set out one Friday to scour the car dealerships in La Fleche, and at day’s end we had discovered a grand total of 0 cars that fit our minimal parameters. Oh, there were used cars in our price range, and cars that were hatchback; cars that looked quite reliable. But none that were automatics.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, when word got out to the family of what we were looking for, the menfolk set out that same weekend to scour every car dealership in Le Mans (45 minutes away), and their search turned up a grand total of 0 prospects. That would be Zero.
So we turned to the internet, and after gradually increasing the search radius we eventually came up with three interesting prospects, all of them in the area surrounding Angers, a nearly 2-hour ride from here.
If you’re sensing a pattern developing, you would be correct. Automatics are scarce as hen’s teeth in France; virtually everyone drives a stick. In fact, when you take your driver’s test, if it’s with a car that has an automatic transmission, your license specifically limits you to driving automatics. Ergo, the default in France is to drive a manual transmission. Automatics are seen as some kind of luxury option.
Come Saturday morning, Anthony and I headed off towards the two prospects in the Angers area, facing the additional time pressure to get there as early as possible because…get this…car dealerships close at noon on Saturdays. Can you imagine a car dealership in the US shutting its doors at noon on Saturdays?
As it turned out we got to the first of the two dealers shortly after they opened, only to discover our target vehicle had already been sold. But when Anthony asked the guy, “So, do you have anything else like that?” he pointed to a sweet little eye catcher and said, yeah, that one there.
Well. That One There was perfect. A red Citroen C4 hatchback diesel, a still-young 65 thousand miler that looked for all the world like it had been owned by the little old lady from Pasadena, and was only driven on Sundays. And so a deal was struck. I would take it as it sat there, for the agreed to price. But I couldn’t pay the man on the spot and drive it off because, next, I had to get insurance, which, it being France, would take about a week. And, said the dealer, he had some things he wanted to do before I took possession.
It actually took two weeks, and when we returned for me to take possession of the car, I was thunderstruck to learn that he had determined he didn’t like the look of the front two tires, so he replaced them with new. And he had ordered and replaced a part on one of the doors that he just wasn’t happy with, had gotten the car through inspection, washed and thoroughly cleaned what was already an impeccably clean car. Then he handed me a check for 20 euro, because he said I had overpaid him. THAT was the French Car Buying Experience, with which I was pleasantly surprised. And all for a used car with an automatic transmission.
Without further comment I wish to report a conversation I had some time ago with Anthony, who is an unabashed Ford lover. He lived briefly in the US, and while he was there he bought a Ford Mustang convertible, and had it shipped to his home in the tiny village of Les Cartes, where he is, understandably, quite the sight. The first time I got into said Mustang, I did a double-take when I looked down and saw the car was… an automatic!
“Anthony!“ I gasped, “You don’t have a 5-speed? It’s an automatic? That’s like putting champagne in a beer bottle!”
“Ah, said Anthony, with a dismissive wave of the hand, “Manuals are a pain in the ass. I don’t want to worry about shifting. I just want to enjoy the driving.”