Torching Cars Continues To Be France's Hottest New Year's Eve Tradition

I unfortunately have never been to Paris, but if it's anything like New York, I can imagine it's a tough town to own a car in. You've got lots of traffic, narrow streets, scores of pedestrians, and parking that is both expensive and hard to find. The only difference is that in Paris, your car stands a good chance of getting torched on New Year's Eve.

Yes, that's right, our least favorite French New Year tradition was in full effect again this year, and stronger than ever, according to Time. Officials say 1,193 cars were burned between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Not just in Paris, either — only 209 of the fires took place there. In total, this is a 4 percent increase over the fires in 2009, the last time the French government released these figures.

Sadly, this is nothing new. We've been writing about it for years. I jokingly call it a "tradition," but that's exactly what it has become, unfortunately.

Here's what AFP reported: "In France's rundown suburbs, it has become as much of a New Year tradition as champagne and fireworks in more affluent neighbourhoods... an orgy of vandalism to which the authorities have, until now, largely turned a blind eye." (Journalism tip: Any time you can sneak "orgy of vandalism" into a story, do it.)

Time reports that it began in disadvantaged areas of the country in the 1980s and quickly spread everywhere else. Some say it's a form of protest over poorer areas lacking good public transportation, or an attempt to draw media attention to urban poverty, or it's done for "artistic" reasons.

France's government stopped publishing the figures on car fires for several years in an attempt to keep people from joining in on the car-becues, but obviously that hasn't worked. And as bad as car burning is on New Year's, apparently it's just something that happens all the time in France.

Here's Time again:

In announcing the New Year's Eve tally on Jan. 2, Interior Minister Manuel Valls also revealed that figures provided by fire, police and insurance officials indicate that somewhere between 42,000 and 60,000 automobiles are intentionally torched in France every year. The majority of those go up in smoke in or near the disadvantaged suburban housing projects located outside most French cities. Indeed, the rest of the world first took notice of France's distinctive car-burning penchant during the three weeks of nationwide rioting in French housing projects in 2005, when 8,810 automobiles were incinerated by enraged youths. Yet, despite that riot-driven surge of car arson, year-end figures of around 43,000 for 2005 came in at around normal levels. Normal, that is, for flame-happy France.

The story concludes by saying that the French government may only really start to pay attention when this happens in middle class and affluent neighborhoods. It's funny how that's always what gets the ball rolling.

Photo credit Reuters via Time