It has taken me a while to understand the system and the rules; unwritten naturally, but well understood by the locals despite that. I, too, used to think that French drivers were nuts when it came to parking their cars. Understanding came slowly and it was frustrating to drive around & find no place to park while the locals didn't seem to have a problem.
Nooks & crannies is the answer. You park in any nook or cranny that you can squeeze your car into, but... and its a big one; said nook or cranny must be within the rules. Ah! the unwritten rules. At the risk of being deported for giving away national secrets I'll tell you what they are. Here goes:
- No parking in the no parking zones. You'll get a ticket for doing that in France just as fast as you will in any other country. If, however, you can make sure that 1/2 of your car PLUS one inch is in legal territory you'll get away with it. Most of the time anyway.
- No parking across driveways or in front of garage doors (if that is the garage door in question has a no parking sign on it. Fair game otherwise.)
- No blocking the road. Technically no blocking side walks either, but people don't need much room to edge by - do they?
- No parking so that other drivers can't get their cars out.
The game of finding spots becomes a lot of fun once you get into the spirit of it. Just today I had the pleasure of watching the guy ahead of me try to squeeze his SUV into a small spot in a prime location. It was market day so parking was even more difficult than usual. Anyway, he gave up & I was able to tuck my little Opel Agila into the spot with no difficulty. You now begin to understand why there are so many small cars in Europe.
Market days are the most fun of all since parking is at a real premium & all the local farm folk who don't drive a lot come into town. A cafe with a good view of a parking area can be a great place to watch the fun & games. Better yet if your French is good enough to understand the comments the regulars make as they watch the antics.