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French Logic is an Oxymoron

Tomes have been written about the subject of “French logic.” We Americans in Paris have been living with it and relentlessly trying to understand it. One might even call it an “oxymoron.”

17-10-12pinkpantherIn “The Arrogance of the French” by Richard Z. Chesnoff, he reminds us: “There is a scene in The Pink Panther Strikes Again where Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau goes up to a hotel front desk to register. He notices a dog behind the desk and asks the clerk, ‘Does your dug [dog] bite?’ ‘Non,’ answers the clerk. Clouseau bends down to pet the dog and of course, the dog bites the hapless inspector. ‘I thought you said your dug did not bite!’ Clouseau cries. The clerk stares with proper French bored disdain and answers, “Zat ees not my dug.”

In an article titled More French Logic?, it reports that “The headline of the Bloomberg article misleadingly says that President Hollande of France is challenging labor unions. ‘Au contraire.’ He is asking business and labor to negotiate new rules that will further restrict the right of employers to fire employees, already greatly restricted in France. If agreement is not reached by business and labor, then he says the government will step in and impose new rules on its own. Just one question for President Hollande: what employer in his right mind will hire new workers when he knows that his right to remove the new employee, already restricted, will become even more restricted? How can French youth get a chance to show what they can do as employees if they must be hired for life? This would be a joke if it were not so tragic for those who will never find a job.”

You could easily get killed crossing any Paris street, not by a car, but by a bike traveling opposite the “sense unique” or one-way street…and guess what? The bike has the right-of-way. This is French logic of the nth degree.

Here’s what the Cycling in Paris blog ( says about the “Contra-flow bicycle lane”:

“The newest kind of ‘bicycle lane’ in Paris is the contra flow bicycle lane. This is basically a lane where you hurtle yourself at on coming traffic in a super narrow one way street. The down side of this kind of lane is the fact that cars usually have no idea that you have the right to go against the flow of the traffic and are usually not very accommodating about letting you pass. This results in them swinging out of the way of your bicycle in the nick of time. This immanent and obvious risk to your life approaching you at moderate but yet determined speed usually results in these lanes having to be undertaken at a very slow speed. These lanes are usually spotted with a sign which indicated ‘sauf velo’ under a no entry road sign and then proceeds to have bicycles with an arrow painted along one side of the road.”

So, who thought of this brilliant idea?

17-10-12Priorite-a-droite-MarcoAnd here’s another one that makes all Anglo drivers crazy: “priorité à droite.” Driving/road regulations differ from other European countries in several ways. This is one of them. Believe it or not, “priorité à droite” gives the right of way to vehicles joining in with your forward direction from the right (except if the intersection is restricted by a stop sign, traffic light or solid white line), except in roundabouts where cars to your left have the right-of-way.

So imagine, you’re on a road driving along the normal speed thinking there’s not a care in the world when a car comes from a road or a lane on the right and enters without yielding to you, forcing you to brake to avoid an accident.

And why? Because he has the right-of-way! But don’t follow this logic when you’re in the roundabouts! That’s another idea altogether.

Other enigmas of life in France that one might ask (as in Anglo Saxon Sophie Thornley’s blog) are:

“Why, as a first world, developed country, you feel the need to stop everything on a Sunday?”

“Would it be possible for you to explain to me why you think it’s logical to have a weekly Navigo pass that is only valid from Monday to Monday. Can I not choose when my week starts and ends?”

“I also love the fact that you award yourself a bank holiday on 11th November. I would really like to know what makes you think you deserve a day off for the World War when other countries manage with a simple two-minute silence.”

“In what world do people use the semi-colon more than the full stop?”  

French numerical logic is mind boggling for us Anglos, too: 10=dix, 20=vingt, 30=trente, 40=quarante, 50=cinquante, 60=soixante. Perfect. Now look what happens: 70=soixante-dix (sixty-ten), 80=quatre-vingt (four-twenty), 90=quatre-vingt-dix (four-tenty-ten), 100=cent. My favorite numbers are: quatre-vingt-dix-sept (97), quatre-vingt-dix-huit (98), quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (99). If you can learn this is French, you can learn anything.

17-10-12postofficeBelieve it or not, you can’t mail your letters IN the post office…at least not in any post office I’ve been in, with the exception of the main Paris post office on rue du Louvre. Nope. The boxes where one must drop their letters is on the OUTSIDE. Logical? Not for me!

And look closely at the postage rates. It’s sometimes cheaper to split up a letter or packet into two or even in rare cases three separate units. Here’s an example: A priority letter to the UK weighing (rates of July 1, 2010): 20g: €0.75, 50g: €1.35, 100g: €1.80, 250g: €4.10. “If you send it in one envelope, it costs €4.10. If you split it up in one envelope of 100g and another of 20g (counting the additional weight of one more envelope), it costs €1.80 + €0.75 = €2.55. Voilà, 38% saved by using your head instead of your stamps. Of course, if you’re posting a book, it may be undesirable to cut it in two.” (Streetwise France and

There is a Web site titled French Logic and all that’s there is a message: “The owner of FrenchLogic is on vacation.” No joke!

A la prochaine…

adrian-28-12-07-2Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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17-10-12birthdayP.S. Thanks to all of you who sent birthday wishes! And to all of you who share in the sign of “Balance” (Libra), may you have as wonderfully rewarding a birthday as I have had. Now that I can take advantage of senior discounts and plan for finally recuperating some of those hard-earned social security benefits, life in France looks pretty fabulous, in spite of the upside-down logic we might have to deal with. Friday I head south to Nice for a weekend in the sun where the temperature will be in the mid 70s, the palms will be swaying and the sea glistening. For those of you who have not discovered the Riviera, now’s the time — as there is availability over the next few months at our two luxury “pied-à-terres” — “Le Matisse” and “La Côte du Paradis.” Book your time before I do! Visit Parler Nice Apartments for more information.


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