Thursday, 1 October 2009
I love Paris. ‘Every moment of the year’, as the song goes.
During my last visit, I was sitting in an outdoors café, sipping my coffee and watching busy streets around me, when I suddenly thought of something that was so different about Paris. Different both from the UK and back home. Different in a very subtle, elegant and, well- French way.
OK, I know what you are thinking-the women are slimmer and dressed better….
But no, not that…It was the cars. Most of them were tiny. Cute. Quirky. Almost humorous. Very French, somehow.
I wonder, I thought to myself, how come the way people view cars in France is so different from the UK? How come the French are so genuinely cool, that they do not care at all about their cars? By seemingly making no statement with what cars they drive, the French are making a statement.
Look at us!- they say- We are way too cool to worry what cars we drive.
Pffft! It is just a car, non?
You see, I would like to think I am a bit French when it comes to me driving my good old Skoda. I would like others to think I am so Frenchiously cool that I don’t care how uncool it is. But, the reality is that I am not French. I can fake as much as I'd like, but anyone who knows anything about Azeries, will see right through me and understand that it is not because I am genuinely cool that I drive an uncool car. But because I can not afford an Aston Martin- my ultimate dream mobile.
Just like the Parisians are so obviously cool without needing an expensive car to demonstrate it, Azeries are the exact opposite. Baku these days is filled with ridiculously huge, black or white 4-wheel drives. Hummers, Range Rovers- the whole lot. Driving along roads that still belong to the 3rd world country.
Of course, it is not just about showing off. Driving a big and reliable car back home has some practical reasons. You get more respect from other, often rude, drivers, and more respect from the police. You have a better chance of survival- should some drunken rich youth (whose father paid for his driving license), smash right into you. And your backside is well cushioned against those bumpy roads.
But the longer I live in the UK, the more I realize that very similar principles apply here. It might not be as obvious. The English are experts when it comes to subtlety. But cars matter.
Back home, I never thought of cars as image makers. But here, you don’t just buy a car. You announce who you are.
Say, you bought a Volvo. It is not cheap, but not flashy. It is safe. It is reliable. It is suburban. You would not drive a Volvo if you were young, trendy and cool now, would you? So you are sending a clear message here: I live in suburbs, I have two children, a nice house, a Labrador and a good, respectable job. Nice to meet you, I am Mr. Boring Middle Class.
If you drive a BMW, you are assumed to be a knob.
Second-hand Mercedes-Benz salon is normally driven by foreigners.
Range Rover Sport is WAG. (I quite fancy one though.)
Bentley Continental –Footballer.
Audi TT- Hairdresser.
And unless your job is either a rapper or a pimp, people would assume you are just too flashy if you drive a Hummer in this country. And flashy is not cool. You are, therefore, also assumed to be a knob.
And people treat you accordingly.
A friend of mine in a Range Rover Sport often complains people are mean to her. And I always notice how hurriedly little cars flatten themselves into the hedges as my husband pushes down the narrow lane in his Pick Up truck.
The other day I was furious about one stupid driver who almost caused us to crash. I was in the correct lane, and he was on my left. We were at a roundabout, and I was going straight ahead. All of a sudden, this Merc cut right across of me. He suddenly remembered he had to turn right, so he did. Without any hesitation or concern. As if I was not there.
-What car was he driving? - A friend asked.
- A Merc! - I announced with disgust.
-What do you expect then? - She laughed. - You are driving a Skoda! You can not expect him to pay any respect to you!? You drive a crap car- you get out of the way and let the big boys pass!
Hmm, I thought to myself. Must get a Range Rover.