From day 24 of my 2017 30 minutes a day writing challenge . . .

For better or worse, me writing for 30 minutes every day means you get to see more of me. The real me. Not just the “me” that shows up at work or on Facebook or out for a cocktail. The “me” that slaps my hand to my forehead when I discover that French ATMs go broke…

Me, Grumpy

This morning I woke up grumpy. My grumpiness can likely be attributed to the fact that I slept most of the night laying on a pile of stuffed animals and a wooden floor next to my daughter’s toddler bed.

Last night marked the 4th night in a row that our little Nana woke up sometime between 2 AM and 3 AM crying inconsolably. It also marked the 14th consecutive night (not that I am counting) that she went to bed long after 9:30 PM, instead of around 7:30 PM like her peacefully sleeping, little brother. Even her big brother was in bed and asleep by 9 PM.

As veteran parents to a 9-year-old and a 13-year-old, we are not exactly sure of the cause or the solution to our 2-year-old’s sleep problems. Part of it may be personality as she is delightfully precocious. Part of it may be that she identifies more with her 9-year-old sibling than the baby, despite the fact that she is only 14 months older than the baby. And as the days go on, it is likely increasingly because she is overtired.

Ha! Novice parents often think that tiring a kid out will help them sleep. Experience will show said parents that sleep deprived small people sleep worse. Not better. Exhausting your kid to get them a good night’s rest never works (except for good physical exhaustion like swimming or hiking).

The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years

To me, a successful weekend is one in which I feel rested by Sunday evening, I have had some good family time, and my house is tidy. Then when I get up Monday, I feel ready to go out and meet world head-on.

Not today. Not this Monday.

To start the day off, after rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and finding some matching socks, I made a few phone calls, booked an appointment with the doctor and dropped the big kid at school and our littles at the nursery. So far, so good for a sleep deprived mama.

My next destination should have been a 3 minute stop off at the ATM, but to get cash I first needed to find a parking spot.

To get cash, I must park…

France celebrates on average 5 Monday holidays between April and May. Today is not technically a holiday, but it is a Monday. And in France banks are closed on Monday.

Our region just finished Spring break, following a weekend of summer-like weather, which means the banks and the ATMs have been hit by the first wave of TOURIST SEASON. This may be my fourth year in France, but I am still American trained, and so none of these things cross my mind as I pull up to the bank.  Instead, my focus is on the parking.

Our bank is across the street from a police station and a library. There is only parking on one side of the street. This means that for once, blatantly, illegal parking is a bad idea and that there is heavy competition for the existing legal parking spots. On the first pass, I go by several theoretically open spots, but none of them are appropriately sized for my rather large Ford C-max (a small car in the USA).

Picture of parking against traffic in franceThis is a quick photo I shot of the parking situation on my second pass. My readers from orderly and rule abiding countries: do you notice anything odd about the direction of these parked cars?

Parking in France is a nightmare …

For me, the first frustration is that the French generally don’t believe in designated parking spots and it is rare to find street parking with spots indicated by lines.  Even when you find parking in which a town or business indicates parking spots with lines, compliance seems to depend upon the mood of the people parking that day. One would think that parking in a relatively rural area such as ours would be easy, but it’s not. I think parking in Paris might actually be easier because in Paris people have fear of parking police.

The Essential Driving Guide for France (Essential Driving Guides in Europe)

The second irritation for an American is that it is perfectly O.K. to park against traffic. Indeed, I learned quickly when I arrived in France, that if I see a good parking spot on either side of the street, I better just park. If and when I take the time to turn my car around first, someone else will zip up, pretend not to see me maneuvering and park in the spot. The French seem to think this is perfectly normal. They also excel at avoiding all eye contact in this type of situation.

Bus Driver: The Most Difficult Job in France

Truck and bus drivers around the world have a tough job. In France, it is particularly challenging. Not only are the roads tiny, narrow, and rarely straight, but the signage is terrible and people can’t park! Indeed, I think that French bus and truck drivers would gladly give up their 10 AM glass of beer or wine in exchange for American parking rules.

In front of my son’s school, someone boldly (or naively) painted directional lines indicating legal parking zones. In practice the only place parents do not park is in the middle of the crosswalk and the handicap spot. And this is true only because there is an actual policewoman or man at drop-off and pick-up policing the crosswalk!

As a result, each morning I must not only carefully maneuver into my own parking spot, I must also often watch in silent horror at the “forced to be patient” bus driver who must navigate all the random parking and against traffic parking that relegates the two-lane street into a single lane of traffic. To compound the situation, the school busesin our area are actually tour busses: Le Basque Bondissant. In a land of tiny roads, they are HUFrench School Bus: Basque BondissantGE.

And so the poor tour bus driver must maneuver this boat on wheels through psychotic parents who disregard all parking rules. Often the driver’s only choice is simply to block traffic until it opens up enough for the bus to pass through.

Rest assured that there is always some wayward driver in the mix that made the mistake of passing by a school on the way to work. You can identify these drivers by the whites of their eyes, the lack of children in their car, and their use of the horn. BEEP. BEEEEEEEP!!! Because honking at a school bus always…MAKES. IT. MOVE. FASTER.

Rick Steves Snapshot of Basque Country

Not only do the French avoid designated parking spots, they are perfectly content parking half on and half off a curb. In front of the gate. Blocking the sidewalk. Blocking each other. Blocking you. Blocking me. I don’t think Tetris is a popular game in France.

In a car, the French seem to lose all sense of their normally acute sense of spatial awareness. In a dance club, Americans are known for lacking spatial awareness. They step on people’s toes, bump into people. It’s annoying, but I don’t spend that much time in dance clubs. I do tend to use parking on a daily basis, so accepting this lack of spatial awareness and common sense efficiency, is a daily challenge for this American.

To summarize:

There exist two major irritations for an American parking in France:

  1. The first is a lack of designated parking spots.
  2. The second is that people park against traffic.

So, back to the ATM…I still need my cash!

As I pull up to the ATM it looks like there are 4 open parking spots, but as I get closer, I discover that every spot is just slightly too small for my car. Instead of four randomly sized smaller spots, there should be at most three bigger spots. This is why Americans demark parking spots with lines!

Finally, on my third pass without any movement on the part of the cars already parked, I decided to take the challenge to sandwich myself into the largest of the spots. I activate my parking assist, which causes frantic beeping to emanate from my dash as I come within centimeters of the cars in front and behind me. If I was an actual French person, maybe this wouldn’t be so bothersome for me, because I’d just gently “bump” my way into the spot.

My American friends, you would faint at the number of times I have seen French people bump and squeeze their car into a parking spot, that is what bumpers are for, after all, right?

Finally, I am parked. Happy sigh. I get out and I walk over to the ATM. I insert my card. And I get a message “this ATM is temporarily out of service/funds.”

French ATMs go BROKE

The message is actually in French of course, but that is pretty much the direct translation. So, in France, people don’t work on Sunday. Banks are closed on Monday. And, following four weeks of Spring breaks, finishing up with spring break in the Bordeaux School Zone, there has been an increase in the number of tourists in the area.

What does this mean? The ATM has RUN OUT OF MONEY. The ATM is broke. This is not the first time this has happened to me.

Sometimes French ATMs simply run out of 20 Euro notes and withdrawals must be made in denominations of 50 Euros. Sometimes like today, the machine just run flat out of funds. My French ATM is broke. And, 9:30 AM on a Monday is too early to expect a refill. Doh! I successfully parked my car, but I still don’t have any money!

Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting

So, where does a French ATM go on Holiday?

It doesn’t. It has a staycation because it is BROKE! 

The good news is that I did make a pot of coffee and so now my rant is over. I have coffee, the sun is out. And, I feel gloriously better. Thank you.

Originally published as: “ATMs and Parking in France.”
French ATMs run out of funds over holidays