Driving in France

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French customs are not always pleasant

Annoying experience recently with French customs.

I was travelling my usual route from Calais to the Auvergne and pulled in at Lisses Services south of Paris for a comfort break. As I was about to restart, 4 Douane officers strode towards me and ordered me to stand clear of my van. The lead officer made me stand 2 metres away while the other 3 took my keys and began searching the van, removing my suitcases to open in the car park, pulling my credit cards out of my wallet, etc.
One spent most of the time under the van. I could hear that he was using tools - including some of my tools, it turned out, which he had "borrowed" from the van - but boss officer refused to tell me what he was doing. He asked questions about my property in France and the UK, my bank address, etc but refused to answer any of my questions.

Eventually, they strode off, as quickly as they had arrived. I checked the van and my papers, and everything seemed to have been put back as they found it. But I could smell diesel and when I looked under the van there was a pool of diesel on the floor and the fuel tank was soaked with the stuff. I tried to find the customs team but they had disappeared from the site.

I had no choice but to continue on my way - another 190 miles - hoping that whatever they had done had been reconnected properly. The fuel gauge did not suggest I was losing fuel and when I arrived at the French house it was raining so it was difficult to tell if there was a leak. I twice visited the local gendarmerie to report the incident but, despite arriving at the supposed manned times, it was locked up!

I had no reason to use the van much while I was in France and I rather put it out of my mind. However, after filling up, I set off for the UK and when I stopped for a break, there was a clear smell of diesel and the tank was wet. Fortunately, it held out until I got home but the next day - while en route to the garage to have it checked over - the van conked out. It had to be towed and when the tank was removed - a time consuming job - it was found that the 2 spigots for the flow and return pipes to the fuel tank had been damaged.

The mechanic said it appeared that the customs chap, in his search for stuff that might be hidden above the tank, had lowered it slightly to get an arm or a probe between the tank and the floor of the van. In the process, he had split the two nylon elbows, the return one more than the flow. The van continued to run, spilling more and more fuel, until the split in the flow elbow had opened enough under vibration to allow air into the system. Both elbows had to be replaced.

I suppose I was fortunate to get it back to the UK. Even more fortunate that it is a diesel rather than a petrol van as if it had been the latter, with petrol spraying over the exhaust, I might not have been here to tell the tale.

When still at Lisses, I spoke to a French lorry driver who had watched the incident. I said I was surprised to find Customs active so far from the ports but he told me they are often around the Lisses area as it's a motorway hub and a handy place for smugglers, drug dealers, etc to make exchanges. He said there is no point in making a fuss as they are above the law. They don't even give you any paperwork to prove that they have stopped you. So they can leave you stranded with a vehicle they have damaged, and possibly in a dangerous condition, without any comeback.

I don't know how much diesel I have wasted and am waiting for the repair bill....
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

My OH was returning, alone, in his car from an emergency visit to his hospitalised parents in the UK some years ago. He stopped the same as you .. though not at Lisses .. and, on re-entering his car was approached by a number of douaniers who examined his papers and the car thoroughly, though not as aggressively, as your ones did.
Gave him quite a shock but he was lucky, no dismantling, no damage. Matters seem to have become a bit grimmer since his experience.
Apparently lone men are often targeted.
Computing - it's another world
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

About 12 years ago got stopped by customs as I drove along the A64. I was travelling from Tarbes having collected a decrepit UK hire van from being repaired.

Was a little way past one of the turnings to go to Spain. Thet did a fairly quick inspection and were pleasant. They then told me that a lot of drugs are smuggled through France from Spain to the UK using old vehicles............

Saw a TV programme recently on which it was stated that the UK is now self-sufficient in cannabis!
BREXIT - wonder what the future holds
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

I fully support efforts to control smuggling and had no problem about being stopped. I do expect reasonable communication and not to be left with a damaged vehicle, a fuel leak and a large bill.
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

"French customs are not always pleasant"

Especially standing to pee in full view at the side of the roadBig Smile [:D]

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H. L. Mencken 1880 - 1956

Some may not like his views, but what a prediction!
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

Better they sit!
Ticking over, just about.
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

 woolybanana wrote:
Better they sit!

Whatever their preferences, I'd prefer they went behind some cover.

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H. L. Mencken 1880 - 1956

Some may not like his views, but what a prediction!
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Re: French customs are not always pleasant

No body should be above the law, still in a banana republic like France what do we expect?
Passivpool Energy "A++" rated Swimming Pools, the lowest running costs in the Universe.
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