French Lessons welcomes 2017’s guest contributor:  Rachael, our friend and dinner party guest whose evening ended badly.  She’d only bid us ‘bonsoir’ when she promptly returned to Bellevue’s gate.  A call to the police confirmed that yes, indeed, her car had been towed to Antibes’ pound.  Rachael drove our car home that night with plans to deal with her own, impounded vehicle the following morning.

Here Rachael shares her experience retrieving her car from the local fourrière.   It is one bit of cultural instruction that French Lessons is delighted to learn secondhand. 


I wear a Fitbit and it has a heart rate monitor.

As I didn’t have my first patients in Monaco until 1:00 p.m., I wasn’t too worried about the morning’s timing.  I dropped your car off at Bellevue at 10:03 a.m. and ran/jogged/yomped my way to Boulevard Wilson, knowing I could pick up coffee and a croissant en route.

I couldn’t.

The rosé and champers were flowing . . .

Arriving slightly sweaty but cheerful, I was the ONLY VISITOR at the police station.  The tubby police lady behind the glass actually seemed thankful to have company.  I cheerfully explained that I had badly parked my car the prior night and the police had taken it, and that I was a little bit sorry – but as it was my first impoundment in 17 years of living in France, I wasn’t too miffed. 

The fat lady congratulated me on my near-blemish-free record and demanded the three documents I had been told to bring:

  • My driver’s license:  check.
  • My attestation of insurance:  double check.  I had two!
  • My carte grise . . . .  Well, I had the letter that accompanied it, but LIKE ALL NORMAL PEOPLE, I kept my car registration document IN THE CAR ITSELF.

Apparently the police had never come across such a circumstance.  (REALLY??)  Thus ensued a conversation of bargaining, followed by pleading, followed by conflict resolution at a standard that would’ve made a terrorist hostage negotiator proud.

. . . as our assembled guests gazed out at Antibes’ charming old town . . .

Finally, instead of her suggestion that I yomp three kilometers to my car, then yomp three kilometers back to the police station with the registration document, and at last yomp that same three kilometers all over again to pick up MY car, the fat controller begrudgingly agreed that I could go to my car once, photograph my carte grise, and send her the proof of its existence from my phone.

The police aren’t good with technology.

No wonder this woman has no friends/customers.

My heart rate was now at 110.

So then I had to find my car.  Without a car. 

. . . and the latest mishap in the Med.

The friendless controller told me to take a bus and ask the driver to direct me to the fourrière.  I found the correct bus and paid my Euro.  The driver was super friendly, and when I asked for the fourrière, I could see sympathy emanating from him.  After a while he motioned for me to come to the front of the bus and advised that I get out at the next stop.  When I asked the handsome driver where I needed to go from that stop, he must’ve thought I was completely incapable of following a direction on a straight road.  He told me instead to stay on the bus.  Another 200 meters on, he stopped illegally on the road and let me off at the door of the fourrière.  

What a gent!  My heart rate still ran at 110 but for different reasons . . . .

Eventually the sun set, producing spectacular colours like these.

The office at the pound could have won the 2017 award for being the world’s worst looking and most inefficiently functioning flat-pack office, but that would’ve been something positive to say about it.  Inside were three women, one a school-leaver whose ineptitude was outstanding, one who shouted instead of spoke, and the third who wore a headset and looked like an air traffic controller – and boy, was she efficient.  There also was a pug who snored called Johnny.

My case, unfortunately, went to the school-leaver. 

Even though I had shown my documents to the police, I had to regive them to the child so that she could send them to the police.  BY FAX.

There was a 20-minute wait whilst the police replied. 

My car was so tantalisingly close.  Time ticked away.  It was now 11.45 a.m.  My heart rate had risen to 115.

There was a poster on the wall of the wretched office about heart attacks and the best recovery position, and worryingly, another bit of advice about electrocution.

Only at the end of the evening were we reminded that parking is a real issue on the Cap d’Antibes.

Finally the police phoned back and gave me the nod.  They started to FAX through a form, when the stupid schoolgirl pushed the wrong button.  THERE WERE ONLY TWO.  The machine stopped mid-transmission. 

I had to wait another 15 minutes for the police to fax the form all over again.  I suddenly understood why they might worry about electrocution injuries.

Finally I paid a miserable 116 Euros.  I would’ve happily paid 200 Euros if I could’ve got my car back more quickly.  And I left.

The process had taken two hours and 45 minutes.  In both the police office and the city’s pound, I’d been the only customer.  Imagine if these places had been busy!

I arrived in Monaco 10 minutes late, but luckily my first patient was 12 minutes late so I got away with it.

The moral of the story:  Don’t leave your carte grise in your car, and allow a good half-day in France to show someone three documents.

Postscript:  French Lessons expected the moral of Rachael’s story would have involved a vow to refrain from such creative parking in the future.  Perhaps the difference in our “lessons learned” simply offers a cultural insight of its own.


  1. My car was impounded in Germany the first week of my 2 year stay. The germans lived to stereotype and it was released without too much fuss. The silver lining is that I never forgot the meaning of the verb ‘abschleppen

  2. I live in the United States, the State of New Jersey by the time I pay for car insurance , extra payment for the umbrella policy, petro I gave up the Lexus and just use Uber you know gave me one more reason I did the right thing
    I hope you hold up better luck now; dealing with any form of government any place in the world will make your heart race.

  3. I would say this experience is probably no worse than dealing with a car pound in the U.K. I haven’t had the misfortune to use it myself, but it took a colleague more than half a day to get his scooter released.

    For those frustrated with bureaucracy, try the free game ‘papers, please’ (Google it and you will see what I mean).

  4. Ah, but you never know. We had a parking mishap on our trip to hell to see the lavender fields last year (another story) that shockingly had a totally different outcome. Rushing to get to the hotel with the last room in town before the clerk went home for the night we parked in a city garage and didn’t pay much attention to the sign at the entry. We assumed that it was mostly vacant because it was evening and the shops and businesses were closed. We checked into our hotel, had dinner and a good night’s sleep. In the morning we checked out, grabbed some pastries and fruit and headed to the car only to find the garage was totally locked down on a Sunday. No car, no room ……stuck. We decided to see if the tourism office was open on a Sunday and surprisingly it was. The woman was très sympathique, baffled that the garage was closed at the height of the tourist season and made a call to the city, but to no avail. Then she pulled out her “magic” book, dialed, talked with someone and gave us a thumbs up. A five minute walk back to the garage and we were met by a very nice gentleman who unlocked the garage and freed our car. The entire episode lasted less than an hour and did not cost a euro. This was the second time that a tourism office had come to our rescue (the other story) so at least at this point we believe that the tourism offices are staffed by an unusually efficient and helpful group of people. Hopefully we won’t need to test that assumption in the future!

  5. eeekk, we have the original Carte Grise in all our vehicles (well, apart from the tractors!) as we were told we had to do that. It has always worried me – doesn’t feel right to leave such an important document in the vehicle. I’m going to switch them for copies!

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