Growing up as a quasi-millennial, I took a lot of things for granted. The internet was mostly what I take as an essential part of life but that my parents grew up without. I didn’t (and honestly still don’t) understand how life functioned without the internet. How did you find new places to eat? How did people answer life’s everyday questions? However, most importantly, how in the heck did people find where they were going? Especially if it is in a new city, and all you have is a street address.
I pride myself on having a good sense of direction and good intuition when it comes to travel, but I still can barely make it from my bathroom to my kitchen without Google Maps. Most people in the States have caught on: Google Maps and other GPS mapping software make life easier. However, in France, the memo has yet to be received. I am not sure if it is the stubbornness, pride, and overly-nostalgic appreciation of tradition that drives French people to swear off mapping software, but whatever it is, it makes for an interesting blog post.
To do a case study, we will look at my interactions with my exchange student and fan-favorite, Maxime. One time, we were going to visit his sister, who had just moved into a new house in a town nearby. Max had never been to this house, not even the town itself, so I offered to put it in his Maps. Not only did he refuse, but he didn’t even have the application downloaded! Instead his sister sent him a text (more like a novel) explaining where the house is and how to get there from the main road. In the end, it worked out and we only made one wrong turn, but I was shocked that he didn’t just use a mapping application.
From my experience with French people, about 2 out of every 5 young people regularly use Google Maps, as compared to 1 out of every 7 not-young people. (This is an incredibly formal and well-researched survey and definitely not a guess. I plan to publish my results in Le Monde later on this month.)
One influencing factor that makes this independence from mapping software possible is the clearly marked road-signs in France. At almost every round-about, there is a plethora of signs describing how to get to nearby cities, how to get the interstate, and how to get to popular destinations within the city.
Now, how does this affect life in France?
One major impact is that people have a better general sense of where they are. Max, who has never lived in Metz, but has visited a couple of times, has a general sense of Metz that took me 2 months to develop. This is extremely helpful for tourists because if you ask someone in a French city how to get somewhere, they will usually know what to tell you. (But just because they know what to tell you, does not mean that what they say will help you.) Lastly, it gives French people a sense of pride and accomplishment that they “really know their city.”