We used to live near Saint-Omer, where I did most of my shopping, and I couldn't count the number of times I rescued English people stranded at pedestrian crosswalks.
They would stand expectantly on the edge of the sidewalk waiting for each passing car to stop, then look confused and bewildered as indifferent drivers whizzed by. Their challenge was not simply breaking the English habit of looking right, left, then right again before crossing (the rest of the world looks left, right, left), but learning how the French traverse their rues.
French driving laws require cars to stop for pedestrians once they are "regularly engaged" in crossing the street. What that means is not explicitly set out in the French code, but my driving instructor explained to me that in general drivers here don't stop for a pedestrian until after he has placed a foot onto the street, and not before. If a pedestrian remains standing on the curb or sidewalk, even at a marked crosswalk, then drivers are neither obliged to stop to allow him to cross, nor likely to.
A caveat: The French Code also requires that pedestrians take into account the distance and speed of vehicles before crossing a street, and not to dart out into traffic, even if drivers are obliged to yield to pedestrians "regularly engaged" in crossing. Mind your toes.
Text & photo ©2009 P.B. Lecron