Human kindness and its opposite

The steering on my car felt funny this morning so I stopped and saw a flat front tyre. I was pretty sure driving on it would ruin the tyre and the wheel, but being impatient, I decided to drive in first gear to the close-by garage with an air pump. Within ten metres, the wheel started making loud noises, and the farmer from across the road looked over. He saw the tyre and said he had an air pump. Actually, I didn’t understand his French, but he motioned me to the next driveway where he pulled out an air pump to fill the tyre. Sadly, it stayed flat so I got out my spare tyre. Old VW Golfs have this ‘compact’ tyre-wheel combo that you fill up to a high pressure and drive at a moderate speed to the closest tyre shop. It saves room and weight, but this farmer and his mate who arrived were not convinced. They told me to get one of my winter tyres. I sprinted back up the road, then realised my keys were in the car. It was 25 degrees outside so I was baking. I walked back down, collected the keys, walked back up, collected the tyre, and walked back down with my hands  covered in grease from the tyre.

When I got back, two problems arose: firstly, the snow tyre had no wheel attached and the farmers had no tools to switch tyres; and secondly, the ratchet thingy that came with my car did not fit the wheel nuts, so the wheel was stuck on the car anyway. Eventually, one of the farmers realised that the nuts had plastic covers on them and that the ratchet thingy was indeed the right size. So, back to the emergency wheel/tyre. The two farmers popped it on, tightened it up and discovered it too was flat. They pumped in some air and the tyre inflated. Relief! The lovely farmers spent more than an hour sorting out a tyre for a girl they didn’t even know. Of course, this happened at midday, which meant I’d have to wait until 2pm before the shops re-opened from lunch. No worries: it was already after 1pm by the time the emergency wheel went on and I repacked my car’s boot to fit the flat tyre, then loaded the winter tyre in the back seat (that tyre was of no use to anyone, but it had a lovely day cruising Annecy with the roof down as my passenger).

The closest tyre shop is ten minutes away. I managed to take sixteen minutes on my emergency tyre, driving at a moderate speed and waving cars past, so I didn’t have long to wait until 2pm. A boy there told me I would have to buy two new front tyres (the law in France states that your front two tyres must be the same model and your back two tyres must be the same model, even if the two at the back are different from the two at the front). I asked him why they couldn’t just repair my existing tyre. He said that when tyres get “close” to not being road-worthy, the shop is legally bound to change them. When I told him they were only five months old, he backed down, and eventually, his boss fixed the problem (something to do with the seal between the tyre and the wheel) and charged me €15 which probably went straight into his pocket since no receipt was offered or given (or requested – I really didn’t care at this point). I chucked the ‘compact’ tyre back in the boot and decided close enough was good enough when trying to get the jack back in the tiny compartment with the spare.

The two farmers were so generous their precious time, yet these two blokes just saw a presumably clueless girl and tried to make a profit. Anyway, I now know how to change my (rather specific) spare wheel and that I can hold my ground against less generous French men. I might make the farmers a cake or something. Suggestions welcome!


I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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