Thursday, December 20, 2012


I learned a new English term this week for a very Parisian activity - bumping.

Let me back up for a minute.  As I've mentioned, we recently acquired a car.  Driving in Paris requires confidence, some aggression, large amounts of patience, and a general disregard for any driving safety rules you may have learned.  There is something special about driving in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or driving across the Seine.  Yet I'm not sure that the benefit outweighs the stress and headaches caused by traffic and crazy drivers.

Parking in Paris requires all of the above, plus a serious amount of creativity.  Anything you might consider an illegal or inappropriate parking spot - the corner of two streets, the middle of large boulevard, etc - is apparently fair game.  More importantly, there is absolutely no requirement that you leave any space at all between your vehicle, and those on either side of it.

When I first saw just how close cars are comfortably parked, I thought it was charming. I even snapped a picture.

But then I left my apartment earlier this week, planning to drive somewhere.  When I got to my car, the Parisian parking approach was no longer charming or even humorous.  It was darn right annoying because the car behind us was literally on our bumper, and the car in front had left approximately two inches of space.
Back of our car.

Front of our car.
Understandably frustrated (possibly even irate), I texted Mr. Oil even though he was on a work trip in Brazil.  I had tried to work with the inch or two I'd been given, to no avail.  Mr. Oil conferred with his French boss and informed me that I was supposed to gently push the cars in either direction until one of them moved enough.  Though this seemed bizarre, I gave it a try.  Sadly, I quickly realized that our 1997 not-in-the-best-shape car was more likely to suffer lasting damage than to leave the parking spot.

I went to my source for all-things-Paris, the online forum of my expat moms group.  Several moms wrote back within hours, informing me that bumping is in fact the accepted and anticipated result.  "Bumping is a 'sport'", one wrote. Another posted, "I called it "bump & grind" because we had to bump the cars in front and behind to get out of the parking spot while grinding our teeth because we would be so angry."  The French even have a sense of humor about it, with an entire website dedicated to posting photos of ridiculous parking jobs.

When my first bumping effort failed, I took the bus instead.  And like the non-Parisian that I am, I simply waited until one of the cars blocking me in left. At which point I didn't actually need to go anywhere, nor did I need to move the car.  But I reveled in the knowledge that now I could. Bumping is unlikely to be a skill I acquire anytime soon...