Did You Know the French Set Hundreds of Cars on Fire Every New Year’s Eve?

This year, they celebrated "just" 861 fires. You can guess, then, what it's like every other year.

You know something’s wrong in a country when people celebrate that “only” 861 cars were set on fire during New Year’s Eve. That’s the case in France, where the figure was kept relatively low thanks to the 8 p.m. curfew enforced by local police. They had more success in some areas than others, though that figure remains shocking in peacetime from a population of approximately 67 million people, nearly a fifth of the headcount the United States can claim these days.

As it turns out, according to France’s official crime data agency ONDRP, the number of cars set ablaze has fallen 20 percent from its peak. In 2018, New Year’s Eve saw 1,031 cars burning compared to 2017’s modest run of 935. To understand this phenomenon beyond the obvious, I turned to an old car savior, who happens to be a Frenchman preferring good beer over wine—Ronan Glon. His old hard drive contained the following images:

The messed-up tradition of burning cars can be traced back to the early 1990s when people living in poor neighborhoods pulled such stunts to gain media coverage. Apparently, this method has escalated into a competition between the major cities, with the Paris arsonist crowd trying to beat the likes of those from Lyon and Marseille by scoring a higher number in the headlines. As Ronan explained to me, at one point, the government stopped giving city-specific totals, hoping that with no published stats goes the glory. This theory has failed.

Ronan also pointed out that the most interesting aspect may be how gas stations in France stop selling fuel on the afternoon of Dec. 31, so people can’t fill up their jerrycans.

Finally, insurance fraud comes into this already complex picture. How can a car fetch more than its market value? Park it in a sketchy neighborhood on New Year’s Eve with no sufficient police force, give it some spark, and just blame it on the kids.

If that wasn’t enough, add that these photos from Dec. 5, 2020 show when there’s a protest in France, chances are that cars parked on the street will also be torched fairly early into the action.

Just how many clean Peugeot 205s has the world lost this atrocious way? I don’t even want to know.

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