As I’ve completely failed to write about my settling-in process during the past 3 weeks, I thought I’d kick of with a few stats to give a general idea of what’s been going on, before writing anything more specific. They mostly revolve around admin, as that is mostly what my life has consisted of in the last couple of weeks. It may be Stockholm syndrome talking, but I think French administration might actually be so bad it’s good – yes, it’s annoying to wait for several hours in a queue only to be told that the office has just shut for a 3-hour lunch, but it is also weirdly entertaining that the stereotypes of French bureaucracy are actually understated. I should warn you that one or two of the numbers may be very slightly exaggerated.
1: The number of rainy days there have been since I got here. (Contrast with 22: the number of days I have been here). Is it possible to get a vitamin D overdose?
1.5: The number of weeks it took my ’48h delivery’ SIM card to actually arrive and start working.
2: The number of new languages I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to take up since arriving and realising just how bad the English are at speaking anything except English. I now officially study Portuguese and Catalan; wish me luck!
3: The number of times I have been to the beach so far. I feel it’s part of my cultural duty to sample all aspects of Montpellier life so it’s basically work, right?
4: The number of bonafide french people I have befriended, i.e. spoken to on more than one separate occasion. This does not include administrators with whom I have had lengthy passive-aggressive exchanges. I’ve made friends with lots of English- and German-speakers though!
5: The approximate number of times I have waited for some form of administrative service for at least half an hour, tutting at the lack of an orderly line, before realising that the queue was in fact ticketed.
6: The number of separate classes I have tried to attend, only to find they had been cancelled without notice due to lack of a room or teacher. This discovery tends to be preceded by a brief sprint across campus to the building where they put up the lecture lists (because the internet is apparently still a novelty here), and then a breathless and very embarrassing conversation with the nearest person who looks like they might know things, before spotting a cancellation notice in an obscure corner of a noticeboard.
7: The number of subjects I am now fairly sure I study. These are Catalan, Portuguese, art (specifically drawing, although I’m not sure about this as the class was cancelled…), literature, linguistics of French, expression in French, and translation.
8: The number of deeply traumatic days I spent without internet (and 5€, the cost per day of commercial wifi, which in itself is an exercise in patience, being more or less the same speed as 90s dial-up. I will never complain about the wifi in Somerville again). I also had no phone for the first three days, having passed my contract on to someone else; this scuppered my plans to speak to people at home every day for the first week, and resulted in spending a frankly decadent amount in a pay phone on my first night in France.
9: The number of identity photos I have been required to provide since arriving, for documents including my room inventory (which of course requires a photo of me!?), railcard, student registration, halls registration, various cards, bank etc. On the plus side, it’s possible to buy ID photos very cheaply in bulk from a photo booth. I feel these two facts may be connected.
10: The approximate number of times I have completely reshuffled my timetable due to: a) clashes, b) realising I had the wrong number of credits, c) wanting Fridays off – which I have now managed, or d) going to a class that turned out to be appalling. Randomly choosing courses several weeks after the start of uni appears to be the done thing here, making me very glad I don’t actually have to get a degree in France.
£15: The advertised cost of my Ryanair flight, and
£55: The actual cost of my Ryanair flight. Why do they do that? It did at least go to the real Montpellier airport, and despite my worst fears the plane did not fall apart shortly after takeoff, but the fanfare when they landed was alarming. I kind of assumed ‘not crashing’ was part of the service.
500€: The amount of rent I had to pay, alongside general living costs, before Student Finance finally registered the fact that I start a month earlier than usual this year and might possibly need some money. Thank god for parents.
And finally, Several million: the number of forms I had to sign and date in order to open a bank account with LCL (who, to give them their due, were actually really nice and helpful). The amount of paper they sent me home with made my bag noticeably heavier – I’m fairly sure my arrival in France and the associated documentation is responsible for the destruction of the best part of a rainforest.