Honk When You Feel Like It

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BY SHAYNE NELSON
bus 38 at stop
One of those sonorous buses, referred to by the author.

Paris the way it really is these days—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the plain annoying. The city has changed, warns the author. It’s no longer a Vincent Minelli “American in Paris” backdrop, and probably never was.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH ONE OF THESE BUSES IN ACTUAL ACTION, AS RECORDED BY THE AUTHOR.] In Paris of the Fifties, cars and trucks were already a nuisance, but at least they were silent. Because honking was illegal, and drivers universally respected the law. I realize that this is difficult to believe in this day and age, but it was so. Proof of the fact was shown in an article in Life magazine in 1957. The editors asked the Paris police for permission to drive around Paris honking for an hour or two, in order to photograph peoples’ reactions in the Paris streets. They got the permission, and got the photos of shocked anger by the Parisians, and thus provided proof of how the no-honking law was generally respected in those days. It was one of the things about Paris that made living there wonderful.

Today the law is still on the books (and has even been extended to cover all the greater Paris region) but today in Paris, drivers honk madly, loudly, constantly, and joyfully, with almost every one of the many million Paris drivers making his or her horn heard frequently.

This flagrant disregard for a law on the books has already been mentioned in my posting concerning the 35-hour week law passed by the Left in France. It’s on the books, but universally ignored. However, where the flaunting of the 35-hour work week law has only limited negative influence in my life, the disregard of the anti-klaxon law in Paris makes every day in town, if not unbearable, at least painful.

Around ten or fifteen years ago, the city of Paris decided to ‘solve’ the traffic problem for buses by giving them special lanes of their own. Since delivery drivers, tourist bus drivers, police, and other ‘privileged’ drivers blocked the bus lanes constantly, so they equipped every bus in Paris with a blast horn — theoretically a great weapon for clearing bus lanes but also for scaring the life out of all the people in proximity. Totally unexpected blast of one of these bus horns near your ear can actually almost make you wet yourself, and spikes your blood with adrenalin which knocks your heart beat up to double speed instantly. Moreover, in Paris this shock may be experienced more than once in a given day.

Emergency vehicles in France don’t used sirens. They use horns, just like the buses, but twin horns with the added feature of two alternating tones (a diminished fifth, for you musicians) to make them even more annoying. BEEP beep BEEP beep. ad nauseum. Of course, these sirens (two-tone blast horns) are meant only to be used for ’emergencies’, but there are a thousand emergencies a day in Paris, and these French horns are so loud that most inhabitants of the city of light get to hear at least a few dozen times a day.

French police vehicles do occasionally travel alone on emergencies, but a single vehicle is the exception. Usually there are three to ten French police vehicles moving on a typical police emergency, (like getting some bigshot to the airport on time or to an important luncheon) and you guessed it, invariably, they all have their siren-horns going. Just one sounds awful: imagine the cacaphony (basically pure pain!) when three to ten of them go roaring past blasting your ears and spirit one after the others. A long cortege can give you a forty-second eardrum-busting eight-part syncopated eardrum-busting octuor for horns in A minor.

These constant blitzes are unforgettable experiences for visiting tourists, and daily misery for the millions who live year-round in this town.

Naturally, these horn-driven ‘sirens’ have no volume control. Day or night, they’re set to MAX, ear-splitting max. This is one more expression of today’s ‘one size fits all’ mentality which has invaded our world and messed up our lives over the last half century. (One volume level [maximum] suits all situations.)

It’s a great Newspeak phrase: ‘One size fits all.’ That is a growing assumption and approach and judgment in our society. However, it’s obviously a lie.

There are almost no situations where one size really fits all, or one response solves all.

Bill Carroll (see firstchapter.net) said that the sirens were strictly for intimidation. Is that what’s going on in Paris? Whatever it is, I do wish it would stop. Paris is four times as large now as it was in the Fifties, but if you can enforce a law for three million, you can enforce it for twelve million. However, you have do more than ordain it. People must cooperate for this to happen, and cooperate in a big way, overcoming their egotistic urges for the good of a larger community ( i.e. others.)

What has happened since the Fifties is that the Parisians have lost the ability to cooperate.

How did that happen in so short a time?

Where else has this ability been lost?

Can it be restored, and if so, how?

American expat Shayne Nelson has lived in Paris long enough to understand Paris better than most natives.

One comment on “Honk When You Feel Like It
  1. Thankful for this education about the realities of Paris, circa 2007. Visited the city in 1970 and was simply enchanted. Got married, never returned. None of what M.r Nelson talks about in these dispatches had materialzed yet. It’s a lesson in the fact that there’s a global system at work forcing a deterioration of living conditions everywhere. In this case, and without simplifying much, instead of cherchez la femme, we should say, cherchez l’economie!

    Glad to have this window into other societies.

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