Southern Belle in a Traffic Hell

As I make my way around the corner, I feel a surge of anxiety. The cars rush by rapidly, one after another, blowing my dress in their wake, and suddenly the curved road next to our hotel begins to remind me more of the fourth turn of the Indy 500 than a side street of a medium-sized French town.

I spend most of this first afternoon in Perpignan hesitantly trying to cross the road to get to the grocery store without losing a limb. A blue car speeds past as I try to step into the road. Although the passenger clearly sees me in my American attire of Nike shorts and a t-shirt, he doesn't seem to worry about adding my name to this year's list of French road fatalities.

In the American South where I live, the residents drive haphazardly, so I thought I knew something about distracted drivers. But at home I can walk across a two-lane street with no need for a crosswalk. People wave and stop or slow down when they see you coming to let you pass through the street. So naturally I was shocked when our instructor soon warned us, "Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way here."

Even days into my trip, I continue to question the motives of the lead-foot drivers of Perpignan. Their laid-back lifestyles contradict their uptight driving habits. How can you preach living a life of enjoyable moderation if the roads are so crazy? Do they simply forget their culture when they turn on the ignition?

While I may never be able to answer these questions, I have learned to live with the driving disarray that is Perpignan. I've gained confidence in my intuition, and I've accepted that the fast driving, just like the unfamiliar language, is just part of their culture. Every minute that I waste watching the cars go by is time that I could spend strolling through a pastry shop or sipping rosé with friends. Now I step into the road, commit to the task of crossing the street, and hope that all goes well.

Recent Posts

The Cloth of the Sun by Su Kim

The Sculptor and his Wife by Mary Barczak

The Language Barrier by Jim Cameron

The Sixth Sense: Understanding by Christina Cocca

Bastille Day Bees by Annie Petersen

Reaching New Heights by Sarah Raghubir

Vive Perpignan by Chelsea Boone

The Changing Collioure Art Scene by Ariana Bacle

Having a Boule with Pétanque by Kristin O'Brien

Corridas in the 21st Century by Victoria King

Controversy Fermenting? by Marika Washchyshyn

A Different Culinary Landscape by Simon Arseneau


About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.