The essence of France can be seen at the first roundabout

An important anniversary has passed almost unnoticed. The world's first roundabout is 100 years old.

And not just any old roundabout but the maman et papa of all roundabouts; the Etoile, the terrifying, invigorating, eight lane, automobile hot tub which surrounds the Arc de Triomphe.

Until the spring of 1907, traffic - mostly horse-drawn - was allowed to go around the Etoile in any direction that it fancied. That must have been fun.

Just over a century ago, Eugène Hénard, the architect for the City of Paris, ordered that traffic should go around anti-clockwise and make way for vehicles entering from the right. Some obstinate American roadway historians insist that a William Phelps Eno - the father of the stop sign and the one-way street - had already invented the "gyratory traffic scheme" a year or so earlier. But the American roundabout rules were not quite as clear as they were at the Etoile. I propose to ignore Mr Eno's claim.

Legends abound about the Etoile. It is said that an American tourist once found himself sucked into the innermost lane and could not force his way out. He drove in circles until he ran out of petrol.

My home lies just to the west of the Arc de Triomphe, my children's schools just to the south and my office just to the east. In the past 10 years, I must have piloted over 5,000 missions through the Etoile.

Each time I approach, I feel my knuckles clench on the steering wheel, as if I were in a wartime bomber approaching the French coast. Its moods are never predictable. The rules, though clear, are never obeyed by everyone.

Some, like me, charge into the centre, trusting the other traffic to stop, as it is supposed to. I then try to twist and turn my way out.

Some rush blindly in and then rush blindly out again. Others, like my neighbour Bénedicte, wander around the outside, blocking all the exit and entrance lanes in turn. Challenged on her technique, she says: "Rules? You have to be an imbecile to obey the rules." I have to admit, however, that in a decade of Etoile driving, I have never seen an accident. Somehow, just enough people obey the rules to allow the rest to break them.

The Etoile is a microcosm of France: a blend of brute individualism and the Republican values of mutual respect and solidarity. It may be baffling, or terrifying, to outsiders; it may not work perfectly; but it works.

President Nicolas Sarkozy evidently intends not just to reform the French economy but to mess with the mind of France. He wants the French to absorb such Anglo-Saxon attitudes as the "can-do" spirit , teamwork, optimism, individual enterprise and discipline.

Whether this can work is open to question. M. Sarkozy should go up to the Etoile for an hour or two and watch the traffic.

The French weekly magazine Courrier International is selling in London this week for the first time. Like Britain'sThe Week, Courrier International is a compendium of the best articles from other publications. In Courrier's case, the articles are translated from the foreign press.

This week's edition (£2.50 in London) makes the startling declaration - for a French publication - that London will be the capital of the 21st century. This is backed by eight pages of laudatory articles on London translated into French from American, Swedish, Arabic and British papers - including The Independent.

Fact one: A searing heatwave in August 2003 is estimated to have killed - or hastened the deaths - of 20,000 old people.

Fact two: Nicolas Sarkozy lost the election among voters aged 18 to 59. He owed his victory to a landslide among the over 60s.

Scribbled message on the Paris Metro: "Since 60 per cent of old farts voted Sarko, roll on the next heatwave."

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary