Driving Lessons from a Teenage French Girl

Alex and Ines immediately got back on track as we drove to lunch in Isle Sur la Sorgue. This is a valley town, not a hilltop town, with a big river slicing through it. The Isle is a long spit of land in the middle of the river and town, accessed by bridges on either side. The water is clear and fast with a deep blue-green color reflecting off the bottom.

We ate a typical French lunch of warm sliced goat cheese on top of salad and toast: salad au chevre chaud, recommended by Ines. We noticed Ines asserting more confidence than we’d seen when she stayed with us in the States. After all, she was in her own country with her own language, but she had matured either way. An old Frenchman with little round glasses and a blazer, having lunch with a woman next to us, even seemed to be checking her out the way that only creepy old Frenchmen can.

We paid the bill and walked to a nearby fabric store Alex wanted to see. Back in California at a friend’s of French descent, Alex had seen these simple white sheer cotton embroidered curtains hanging over tension rods instead of curtain rings. The friend had explained that these were great for bathroom windows and windows you really weren’t going to open the curtains on. So Alex was determined to find these here and buy them from the source.

We walked to the first place we saw: Too touristy and expensive, and didn’t have what we wanted anyway. Two more fabric shops were in walking distance, but more of the same. Finally, Alex had the right idea—find the wholesale fabric store these guys buy from, probably off the beaten-track, in the more industrial and local area of town. We asked a few shops and they played dumb. “You’ve got to buy something or they won’t help,” I suggested. A pack of gum and a smile or two later, we got a tip from a nice cashier about a place on the edge of town. The directions were kind of vague, but we would find it.

Driving with a sixteen-year-old as a backseat driver can be tough, but try it in a foreign country on her turf! We had been cruising around Provence for a good 3 or 4 days before picking up Ines, probably breaking traffic laws left and right (I once got a ticket in the mail after an Italy trip for apparently driving in the center of a pedestrian square).

So here we were, with vague directions, trying to find this industrial wholesale fabric place, and we realized we were going in the wrong direction. I saw a street intersecting on the left and quickly crossed the oncoming lane of traffic to turn around: “In France we use the round-about for this type of turn,” I heard from the back. Then when I actually used a round-about, I apparently did it wrong: “in France we use our indicators when exiting a roundabout.” From that moment on I still broke some rules, but I tried to indicate them beforehand so I wouldn’t get scolded by a 16-year-old: “I am running this orange light. I am going right on red. I am going to pass this slowpoke.” These were all new English terms that Ines learned that week.

The wholesale fabric place turned out to be a bust, so we headed home. We passed the Apt pizza joint with the bad attitude and gave them a passing USA, USA chant. Ines wasn’t in on this when it first happened so she just looked at us like we were crazy. Approaching Rustrel, we came up behind an extremely slow car and I made a quick pass, but not before announcing it—Ines may have even learned a curse word on that one.

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