Les interdictions

No dogs allowed. No campfires allowed. No entry, no talking, no breathing. Okay, I made those last two up.

The first thing the visitor notices on arriving in France is the number of things that are you are not allowed to do.

And you quickly become familiar with this word: interdit. It is used to describe both the things themselves that are prohibited (e.g. chiens interdits), the act of forbidding, interdire (to prohibit) and the resulting bans, interdictions.

You are not allowed to walk on the grass, wear your helmet in a store, ride a bike while wearing a headset. Aside from speeding, there are a great many things you are not allowed to do while driving in France. Not being allowed to use a smart phone even hands-free is one that drives me nuts. My guess is that ‘the GPS made me do it’ will not be a viable excuse if you are stopped by the police.

Alternative wordings include the oft-seen ‘défense de fumer’ (no smoking). But défense de cracher? Apparently people needed to be told not to spit in the Paris metro back in the 70s.

Fortunately, the second thing you learn is that many if not most of these bans are somewhat theoretical. This is what makes life bearable in France. A great many rules of which only a small percentage are to be taken absolutely seriously.

The challenge is knowing which ones. A lot of faux pas (as I’ve posted about before) can be made if you get it wrong, and you may want to weigh the chances of getting caught against the associated penalty.

I know, for example, that the park where I walk my dogs by the lake is theoretically forbidden to dogs (and horses) all year long but that the chances of anyone objecting or even seeing me in the off-season winter months are virtually nil. Also, it’s a dumb law. So, I take it as my civic duty to break it as often as possible.

Where we live not far from the border with Switzerland, I have been stopped for driving a car with Swiss plates. It seems there is an obscure rule that you are not allowed to drive a company car across a border other than to go to or from work. I’m pretty sure they only trot that one out when they’re looking for an excuse to get up someone’s nose. Thankfully I got myself out of it by arguing with the cops — when they caught up with me. The thing was, it had not been at all clear that I was being asked to stop. I pointed this out in firm but polite terms while expressing my astonishment at the crazy rule. It was one of those times I realized that I had become truly French. My formerly polite Canadian self would never have dared to argue with a police officer.

What forbidden action or item would you ban? Or, as some have suggested, would you create this as a rule?

Forbidden to forbid!