Postcard from... Paris


Traffic jams used to be rare within the Paris city boundaries but the spread of bus lanes has reduced space and raised tempers, creating bottlenecks that are almost always accompanied by horn-blaring and fist-shaking.

Green and quiet salvation has been sought in the Vélib system – the Parisian precursor of London's "Boris Bikes" rental cycles – whose success led to an electric self-service car equivalent last year. But like in many cities, the solution Parisians have taken to most fervently is the humble Smartcar – and parking spaces are so rare that you find the little cars shoe-horned into the most unlikely space, or lack of space.

From a sunshine-drenched café terrace, I witnessed how it was done. Having analysed the snugness of fit and the walking distance from their preferred café, two men, summer scarves flapping out of the windows, selected an uncompromising space close to my seat.

After starting to attempt a parallel park of eye-of-a-needle proportions, they conceded that it was indeed a squeeze. Monsieur in the passenger seat asked if either of the other cars belonged to anybody in the vicinity. Seemingly not, as they then proceeded to wedge the vehicle into the space by ramming the Peugeots on either side of it. Their philosophy seemed to be: if the bumper's there, use it.

After much push and shove a very tightly packed Peugeot-Smartcar sandwich was created, rendering the probability of departure for any of the three cars extremely slim. The two men left the car, thanked us and ambled into the café every bit as nonchalantly as you might expect of two Parisian men wearing summer scarves.