Sunday, January 11, 2009

Small Car in a Big World

One of the first things Americans traveling in Europe (and probably in many other parts of the world as well) notice that is different from back home is the size of European cars. They're tiny! We're talking two doors, limited leg room, barely any trunk, tiny. All those little go-kart vehicles speeding around the streets of Cannes provided me with an endless source of fascination as an undergrad abroad, and they still grabbed my attention this past spring in Paris.

The most intriguing of all the little cars is without a doubt the SmartCar. This impossibly minuscule, room-for-two vehicle looks like somebody took a chainsaw to it, leaving only the front end of the car. Of course, it's easy to see why they've become rather commonplace in Europe: they get great gas mileage (gas is way more expensive over there), are easy to park (ever try to find an available spot in a Parisian neighborhood?), and are superb at navigating narrow streets (of which there are many in the Old World). Not to mention the fact that it is undeniably adorable. But the Smart is still a rare sight in the U.S., which is why this one easily caught my eye. Parked in the street of my neighborhood, this Smart looked exceptionally teeny because it wasn't in its natural European habitat, where it coexists with lots of other small cars. It was in the land of the SUV - or at least the four door - making it truly something to see.


Greg Wesson said...

I went and saw the movie The Divinci Code in the USA, and everyone laughed at the car chase scene when the heroes were fleeing in the Smart Car. I think most of the people in the audience thought it was some sort of joke or clown car.

Having seen the parking situation in Paris, though, one understands the appeal of the Smart Car. I remember once seeing a woman whose car had gotten trapped, with cars in front and behind right against her bumper. I watched from my hotel room while she spent 30 minutes nudging her car forward and back, pushing and banking against the bumpers of her captors until she was finally able to break free.

Tanya said...

Greg, that's one of the things about parking in Paris that was so difficult for me to grasp when I first started seeing it: the fact that it's perfectly ok and normal to "bump" the cars in front of you and behind you when you're pulling into or out of a parallel parking situation. There just isn't enough space to avoid bumper to bumper contact! But I freaked out the first couple of times I witnessed it, having always been taught it's a huge no-no!