On New Year’s Eve, while corks were a-popping up and down the Cote d’Azur, a very different tradition was being played out in low-income suburbs all over France… the annual lighting of your neighbor’s car on fire. It’s customary in the banlieues, that on New Year’s Eve, bands of vandals run wild and burn cars as an expression of their anger against the establishment. Nice has three of these crime-ridden, so called ‘hot zones’, on the far outskirts of city, and a New Year’s Day drive through the Ariane saw enough burned-out hulks to testify to a wild night. The government maintains that the number of burnt cars is sharply down from last year’s ‘festivities’, but they have curiously refused to release the figures.
It would be a tragedy for anyone to find their car burned up, but even more tragic for the car owners in the Ariane, who usually work for low wages, scrimped for years to buy that car, and many don’t have the money for insurance.
This uniquely French ‘tradition’ started in the Strasbourg suburbs in the ’90’s and quickly became ‘de rigueur’ in ghettos all over France. The ‘lighting of the cars’ is not limited to just New Year’s Eve but is practiced on other ‘special’ days throughout the year as well. In 2010, a staggering 42,000 cars were torched in France, but the Cote d’Azur is just a small portion of that, so not to worry. …That is, unless you are spending a holiday with friends in the low-income suburbs!