29/03/2012

French Supermarket Petrol Stations

These are usually the cheapest place to buy petrol. This low price, however, has its disadvantages. If you arrive before opening hours, you have to wait patiently until the little hand moves to one minute past the official opening hour. At this point the cashier-attendant suddenly appears from nowhere, and ambles slowly into the little kiosk, where he presses the magic button and the petrol pump display windows flicker into life.

The other disadvantage with the Supermarket petrol station involves the actual payment for your petrol – especially if you don’t have a French bank card, a Carte Bleu, (which means you can use the automated pump).

So you have to drive forward to the cashier. This is when you discover that when the cashier kiosks were first designed, the Renault 2CV was the only car available in France, and the kiosk design has not changed in the intervening years. From any other car you have to lie down on the passenger seat, and extend your double-jointed arm downwards through the car window, then upwards into the little tunnel at the kiosk, in order to put your card into the machine which the cashier is usually holding just out of your reach. Entering your card pin number involves further contortions, and if you wear spectacles you normally end up with them dangling upside-down from one ear. None of this is helped by the fact that the cashier kiosk is always on the left-hand side of the car. Of course, for a left-hand drive vehicle this is fine. But for our right-hand drive vehicle it’s a problem.

Actually, I say it’s fine. Well it isn’t. I’ve seen drivers of left-hand drive vehicles struggling too. Fortunately LSS is generally in the passenger seat, but even then she has to fold her arm into sundry different positions in order to pay for the petrol, no matter how close I can bring the vehicle to the side of the building.

The other option of course is to leave your vehicle where it is once you have filled the tank, and walk to the kiosk. The height of the window means you have to crouch down to pay, but this certainly makes things easier. However, even this method has a disadvantage. When you have paid and return to your car, the vehicle next to you shoots forward to the cashier, blocking you in. And inevitably the driver will be a long-lost cousin of the cashier, leading to a long conversation.

We fetched the aged FIL from the hospital this afternoon. I sensed an air of disapproval from him about my driving; maybe I wasn’t going fast enough. Or maybe it was just that he was unsettled about being in the left-hand seat of a right-hand drive car. He didn’t say a word though, which is probably just as well as I probably wouldn’t have understood him anyway. LSS managed to borrow a wheelchair from her cousin; I had to pump up the tyres as they were a bit flat.

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