Friday, March 13, 2009

Parking Annoying

When I came back to the car after meeting friends for lunch in another village the other day, there was a notice under the windshield wipers. Stationnement Interdit et Genant, it read, in capital letters. But not today, it hastened to explain: on the coming weekend, during the annual village fête.

No Parking is the dictionary translation of both stationnement interdit and stationnement genant. You see both versions of the sign, and they mean the same thing.

Except they don't, really.

If something is interdit, it is forbidden by law. It is interdit to smoke in the épicerie. Interdit to throw trash out of the car. Interdit to stop on the autoroute (unless you are having car trouble, in which case you can stop, but only in certain areas).

Genant, however, means annoying. The girls' profs at the Collège des vignes are fond of telling the kids how genant they are. Mothers at the end of their rope in the cereal aisle tell their toddlers that they are genant. The guy in the car in front of you who's had his turn signal on for the last kilometer, and slows down to 20 kilometers per hour at each driveway: he's genant.

No parking signs are about equally divided, in my highly unscientific poll, between interdit and genant. So my conclusion is that to be annoying is just as méchant as to do something which is forbidden. They're both illegal and could get you anything from a fine to a trip to the impound lot (though I've never seen an illegally parked car ticketed, and I've seen a lot of illegally parked cars). They appeal to different parts of the psyche. Maybe you don't care so much about ignoring the law (stationnement interdit), but surely you don't want to annoy the boulanger (stationnement genant). An annoyed boulanger, with a car parked where he likes to take the sun between customers, might sell you yesterday's croissants, or an over baked baguette.

It is--and bear with me here--another example of the French habit of thinking about the community, and the good of the community, more than of the individual. Annoying parking is different from forbidden parking. Forbidden parking doesn't require an object. It's just forbidden. Annoying parking asks the question, who is annoyed? And that question implies other people. It implies community.

So if you go to the fête des violettes this weekend, don't leave your car in the village parking. Not only will it be forbidden and get you in trouble with the law. It will also be really annoying to the folks who live there.

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