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Thursday, 15 October 2009

Why numbers matter in France

What's in a number? Well quite a lot in France it appears if the latest figures released for car registration plates here are to be believed.

In order of popularity the French have plumped for the following numbers to be included on their car licence plates: 69, 59, 13, 31 and 33

For any of this to make sense there are a couple of things that probably need explaining.

First up France is divided into 100 départements (let's stick to the French spelling with that accent and extra "e" just for the sake of it) or if you like administrative districts.

While four of them are overseas, the other 96 are in what's called here "Metropolitan France" and they're all numbered more or less alphabetically (if that makes any sense) from Ain (01) to Yonne (89).

After that it gets a little confusing because Territoire de Belfort is 90 and 91-95 were created in the 1960s when the area around Paris was rejigged.

Anyway, since 1950 car registration plates have carried the number of the département in which the owner lives.

And over time it has become something of a badge of pride for many. If you lived in Paris - then your car had 75 at the end of its licence plate. Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) - 06, Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône) - 13, Lyon (Rhône) - 69 and so on and so forth. For a full list (should you be interested) click here.

But that system changed this year - the fear being that there simply wouldn't be enough numbers to go around.

New cars now carry a registration composed of two letters - three numbers - two letters, something along the lines of AA-123-AA.

A space is also made available for a département number to be displayed. It isn't actually part of the car's registration, instead it's left up to the owner to choose which number appears.

But the choice has to be a judicious one as it's for life (of the owner). In other words drivers keep the licence plate even if they change vehicles or move départements.

Initially introduced just for new cars, the system is now being extended to second-hand cars as of October 15.

So back to those figures and the apparent popularity of certain départements over others.

Well since April 15 there have been two million new vehicles registered and at the moment according to government statistics the number of choice for those not actually living in the département which under the old system would have appeared on the plate is 69 or Rhône, of which the major city is Lyon.

That's followed by 59 (Nord, major city Lille), 13 (Bouches-du-Rhône, Marseille), 31 (Haute-Garonne, Toulouse) and 33 (Gironde, Bordeaux).

Meanwhile heading the list in which purchasers of new cars have so far preferred to opt for numbers outside of the département in which they live are 92, Hauts-de-Seine and 75, Paris.

Of course that could all change once second-hand cars start carrying the new plates.

But for the moment the figures seem to suggest that the affinity the French have with a region perhaps from which they originate is still pretty strong and the simple pleasure and apparent symbolism of being identified (or wishing to be so) with a part of the country other than the one in which they might live, still matters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story. And so nicely written. Well done, outstanding journalistic content. I look forward to keeping abrust of French news through this website on a regulurl basis. Best, K'sMa

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