IMG_4446If you do something stupid, it’s your problem. The French are big on personal responsibility when it comes to safety.

I was walking along a path around a nearby manmade lake, Lac de la Cavayère. A lovely place, set amid rugged hills of pine forest, with beaches and water sports clustered at one end so the other end remains quiet and wild. And I came across the sign below. Careful: Hold children by the hand.IMG_4444In order to get all the way around, the path had to traverse the dam that created the lake. It was plenty wide—about five feet—with as much grass sloping off on either side. It looked as if the lake side was filled in so if one fell, it was into shallow water, at least at first. But on the other side, there was an almost sheer drop to the valley below. No rails. Just a sign.

This is typical. In France, there exist things that are dangerous, and they either are so obvious that you should just act appropriately, or, in the rare cases of nanny state rearing its head, are noted with signs. In the U.S., the least danger would have to be remedied lest somebody do what they clearly shouldn’t and sue anyway. In France, danger is accepted as a natural part of the world, and it’s on you to deal with it.P1060263In the U.S., for example, I was surprised to see seat belts in grocery shopping carts and on horses of a carousel. No such thing in France. In fact, parents are asked to keep off the carousel, except to hold very small kids. If your kids can climb onto the horses, they can ride around the carousel on their own.

Three of the four castles at Lastours. Note the electrical wire strung across the hills in the lower left.

The hike to Lastours, a spectacular group of four medieval Cathar châteaux, is on a rugged footpath that winds around a mountain. There are a couple of spots with railings, mostly in wider places where people are apt to stop for a photo and where they can pass each other. Rocks poke out of the ground and pose tripping hazards. A fall could send a person tumbling quite far through the brush.

Watch your step.

The castles are lit at night for a sound and light show. It isn’t easy to wire lighting on a rocky mountain. The wiring, in fact, just snakes up, crossing the path here and there. Code? What code?

Never mind the ponies; everybody is watching the people dangling from the trees.

We went to a gastronomic fair recently. Tastings of artisanal foods and wine. Boring for kids. So there were pony rides for the little ones and zip lines through the trees for the big ones. Of course.

Five at once!

Tree climbing and zip lines are popular here. At the lake mentioned above, there’s an outfit called Accrobranche (accrocher means to hook onto, and branche is branch) where folks of all ages can zip through the trees. There’s even a line across the lake. You get measured if you’re a kid (the courses you can take depend on height for hooking the safety line), pay, get your equipment and five minutes of training, then  zip away. There isn’t any “we aren’t liable for your stupidity” contract. It IS completely safe, as long as you follow the directions.

This means, “Look out!”

How many times did my jaw drop when my kid came home with news of a school outing. When I was in school, we visited the art museum. Once we went to a local macaroni factory. We did not go spelunking. Nor did we do rock climbing. Nor swimming in the sea. Nor skiing.

Rock climbing
Just another day in second grade.

That reminds me of when our kid was about four. We went to a ski resort for sledding. It rarely snows in Carcassonne, and even then it isn’t deep and doesn’t last long enough for sledding. But the Pyrénées are a short drive away. Near the café and the beginner piste, there was a designated spot for sledding. It had a gentle slope that flattened out to a broad plateau to ensure the sleds would slow and then stop on their own. The plateau dropped off to the end of a bustling ski piste, with no barriers between them.

05.FEBRUARY 12 - 05
No photos of the runaway sled on the ski slope, but here’s a shot of the only time it snowed enough here for the kids to sled.

Our kid had a wonderful time. We got a workout. Our kid sledded down and we waited at the bottom to haul the kid-heavy sled back up for another round. But our kid was too little and too inexperienced to understand steering. Instead of slowing to a stop on the plateau where we stood, the sled veered to one side, went off the plateau and down the steep slope, picking up speed and crossing the busy ski piste, luckily not hitting anybody. We tried to run after our screaming kid, but the packed snow was slick—bad for running in boots, while making the sled even faster. Our kid was caught in a snow fence, just barely, but enough to get knocked off the sled, terrified but unhurt. The sled went under the net and flew on down to the bottom of the mountain, stopped by a tree. It took the Carnivore half an hour to go down to get it. That was the end of sledding for a while. All of us were pretty shaken.

This was many years ago. I suspect our kid wasn’t the first to inadvertently steer off the sledding area and into the piste. Years later, our kid took ski lessons, and we’ve returned to this resort for practice. The sledding area is still just there in the open.

Accrobranche 1
More kids in trees.

With such a laissez-faire attitude about danger, it’s surprising that every person, young or old, who signs up for sports has to have a certificat médical from a doctor, attesting that one can do physical activity. Even yoga. Even ballroom dancing. Even adults—if you join a gym, you need a certificat médical, with a new one every year. From what I’ve seen, the people who go to the gym aren’t the ones whose fitness needs to be certified.

Call it the French paradox.


30 thoughts on “Danger in Any Language

  1. Oh yes! I’m always telling my American friends about this sort of thing. However, there are seat belts on the bus that goes to Avignon! At one of the Cathar forts, I believe it was Queribus, you could, if you were stupid, crawl out onto a roof that had a sheer drop into a valley about 1000 meters below. You would not crawl out of there if you fell. Who knows, there may be a lot of skeletons down there.
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Considering what happens in a vehicle accident, especially at 130 kph on the autoroute, it makes sense to have seat belts on long distance buses. But not city buses, which drive much more slowly and which you get on and off of more often.
      I think all the Cathar chaâteaux have these drop-offs. The Cathars sited them precisely for that–for better defense.


  2. Unfortunately it is the litigious society we live in here in the States that forces the difference – and the many law firms who look for clients on their constant television ads. If only people would take responsibility for their own actions and consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As an interesting comparison: lawyers are not allowed to advertise in France, doctors aren’t allowed either. I’m not sure if that doesn’t apply to all “professions liberales”. They can be found in the phone book, and are allowed to have signs outside their doors, but that’s it! The no-win-no-fee might not exist in France either. But more than anything, when it comes to personal responsibility, common sense seems to prevail! Long may it last!!!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. It all changed in my homeland with the Tony Blair government – he who had a ‘special relationship’ with George Bush. He turned a previously reasonably sensible place into a Nanny State complete with constant advertisements for lawyers who will represent you if you ladder your stockings on a public lamppost. It was the worst, the absolute worst thing that could have happened because previously Britain was quite common sense in its approach. So you might gather, that I prefer the laissez faire attitude of France and the attendant assumption that we are all responsible for our own decisions. Great article. Loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yup. They have those in Britain. No need for parental discipline nor children understanding the very basic ‘if you do that, this will happen and it will hurt’ that mine were brought up with. Nah nah … nanny them grrrrr 😠

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Wonderful post. On our tiny island, a visitor ignored a no trespassing sign and walked to a beautiful beach…fell and hurt them self….yes, then proceed to sue the owner. Now no one can use that magical beach…I bet you can guess where the visitor was from.

    Arrived in France today….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think it’s a paradox so much as an insurance issue. The associations (based on the ‘loi 1901’) that organize most of these activities have some sort of collective insurance that demands the health certificate in order to cover the participants. And while in the US, people would sue for being exposed to danger, there is no such legal precedent in France. But I do agree it’s funny for North Americans in particular to see this ‘laissez faire’ attitude towards danger on the one hand, and so many seemingly stupid rules on the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I read about the insurance aspect. But why insurance? If I go to the gym and overdo it, why isn’t that my own problem? Nobody is forcing me. And how in the world can anybody not be qualified for ballroom dancing?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it comes down to organized activities vs. individual responsibility. Let’s say some poor ill-fated individual shows up for ballroom dancing that your association organizes and has a massive heart attack…without the medical certificate proving that it was not a pre-existing condition, insurance won’t cover the liability for the organizers. I’m not really sure about the details, because normally everyone is covered for health costs anyway, but it’s a question of responsibility. Et oui, administrative complexity. Vive la France! 😉


  6. I wonder how much of the attitude difference stems from the different legal systems, Napoleonic vs. whatever ours is called. The US is a very litigious society, and it has evolved (devolved?) beyond nanny to a state of fear — be afraid of this or that or the other thing, or person. It also sets up an environment that can be exploited by authoritarian politicians.
    Once seen, it cannot be unseen and becomes ever more unsettling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point–the systems are quite different. But I think there are cultural attitudes, too. Also, I think the name “nanny state” is a misnomer. I think of nannies as being all tough love, with the emphasis on tough. Actions have consequences. The way the term is used, it implies coddling.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I didn’t know we had seat belts on carousel horses now. How crazy is that? We rode through the mountains yesterday on a very winding road with steep drop offs on the side and some spots had guardrails and some did not. Not sure how they decide that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There have been for a while. Back when our kid was little and we went to some fairs in the U.S., I was astonished to learn the kids had to be belted and an adult had to stand beside them. My kid had been riding unbelted and alone in France.


  8. I like THE FRENCH WAY of doing things!IF YOUR STUPID IT’s YOUR FAULT!
    AS FOR THE MEDICAL RELEASE……………..just reminding you to have yourself checked OUT!

    Liked by 1 person

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