Les Flics: just as you can’t write about life in France without discussing wine, you can’t write about it without discussing that greatest of scourges, the bugbear and bane of everyone’s lives and a daily topic of conversation all over France, third only to the weather and politics. And what are les flics? The cops, of course.
Mostly, when the French talk about les flics, they are talking specifically about traffic cops, who are universally regarded with almost unlimited contempt and no respect at all. However, when the occasion merits, they expand the concept to include any other kind of cop who’s been getting in the way of the French being French.
Do try to slow down a little in towns
Antoine le Potier, for example, (yes, he of the speedo; you’ll get to hear a lot about him) just the other day was bemoaning the fact that he had been fined by les flics because he had been doing 65 kph just inside the Beaune town limits. “It’s an outrage! I was already slowing down,” he said. “You know that the limit is 50 kph in all the towns? Well, now they insist that you are doing no more than fifty when you pass the town sign. It’s ridiculous!”
Like anyone else living in France, I had long been aware that the French regard the town sign, or the first speed-limit board, as the point at which they begin to decelerate, and the rate of deceleration depends on how much of a hurry they are in. At the same time, the first sight of the town exit sign is the point at which to begin accelerating, not the passing of the sign itself.
These two facts together mean that they can go through small villages without ever getting below 65kph, yet will stoically insist that they strictly observed the speed limit throughout.
Now, les flics are not fools; they know how much they’re hated, and they don’t see their role as being to ensure that the law is observed, but to hand out fines to transgressors. This allows them three possibilities. The first is that they can have lots of lovely convictions to report, and thus enhance their chances of promotion, the second is that they can raise lots of nice money for the State, again improving their prospects, but thirdly and by far most importantly, it allows them to be as offensive, pompous, arrogant, threatening and generally unpleasant as possible.
This, one presumes, is the reason a person elects to become a police officer in the first place, after all. Why, if they made their presence obvious, then clearly, everyone would slow down—now where could the fun be in that?
Les flics hide
So they hide. They hide behind trees and hedges, and they disguise their vehicles. One very good friend of mine, who is as honest as the day is long, but who regards speeding rules as a joke in very poor taste, recently told me that on the journey from Nuits-St Georges to Beaune she had seen six—six—pairs of flics hidden by the roadside. Well, not that well hidden, mark you, or they’d have caught her before she’d the chance to slam on the anchors.
This illustrates, by the way, why you should never tailgate a French driver (even thought they will do it to you.) You’ll need the reflexes of Quick-Draw McGraw to avoid a fender-bender if the driver in front thinks there might by a hidden speed trap—and no, he or she will not know you’re there but, as the flics, who will inevitably attend, will tell you, it’s your responsibility not to collide with the vehicle in front.
Where was I? Oh yes. You know I even have reliable reports of flics setting up a pretend family picnic by the side of the road, with a radar gun under the table, surreptitiously sending details by radio to two uniformed colleagues a little further along, who got to play Hitler; or should that be Richelieu? Presumably they swap over at lunchtime so everyone gets a shot at the fun.
And now they have automatic cameras, presumably removing the need to pretend to be tourists so that they can get on with the important business of being swine. These they also hide as well as they can. Indeed, one of the very rare occasions when a Brit can get one back on the Frogs, is when one relates the fact that the UK police are obliged to put cameras in plain view, brightly painted yellow and black, and put up signs warning drivers.
This rare (extremely rare) occasion when the scions of Albion held the line against the insufferable chancers who presume to govern them (while sticking their snouts in the trough as far as is possible without actually falling in) brings a wistful gaze to a French person’s eye as he (or she) thinks something along the lines of “Zut alors, I wish we’d thought of that.” not that they’d ever admit that to a rosbif, of course.