I promise next time I will do a proper update with information and photos and stuff in it, but half-term (and a trip home!) is fast approaching, so will do it properly when I’m back… Last week’s post is a bit more in-depth than this if you’ve not already read it! The only important thing that’s happened is a major change in my main activity here. Basically, I have quickly come to loathe most aspects of the university and, by whinging about it to the right people, have managed to get a 50% reduction in the credits I have to do, giving me time to do volunteer work (which I am yet to find, but I am following up various avenues) and join various clubs, hopefully resulting in me actually speaking some French. More on that when I know what I’m going to do! For this week, I will leave you with a brief guide to some new concepts and words I’ve been introduced to here. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of my definitions; google translate may be useful if you want to actually learn new words…
La grève: A spontaneous gathering where hundreds of students come together in peace and harmony to make avant-garde sound art using klaxons, megaphones and fire alarms. And occasionally bongos. Sometimes culminates in a fun-filled parade along the tramway, encouraging the bemused citizens of Montpellier to take life at a slower pace by stopping the entire transport system.
Erasmus: A magic word which gets you into classes you shouldn’t be going to, and out of work you should be doing. To be applied freely in all circumstances, especially in conjunction with a look of confusion and sadness.
Dessin d’Observation: An ‘art’ class I attend which, going by the lessons so far, consists of tracing and colouring. Lessons incorporate an element of orienteering, due to the fact that the classroom changes most weeks.
Emploi de Temps (Timetable): An elusive, possibly mythical creature; sometimes you think you’ve got it pinned down but it inevitably uses the power of shapeshifting to escape your clutches. Not to be trusted under any circumstances.
8h30: A time with which I was not previously familiar, but at which I now have two 3-hour classes. Boo.
Certificat Médicale: A document which is inexplicably required if you want to do any form of organised sport, up to and including ‘relaxing stretches’. I mean, seriously? Each sport must be individually specified on the certificate in order for it to be valid. At my doctor’s appointment to get this, I was asked about my entire medical history (including frankly VERY personal information), told I should have had every vaccination under the sun, and warned about the dangers of going out late at night. I was also asked to do 30 squats with my arms stuck out, before having literally every inch of my torso listened to with a stethoscope.
La Météo: A wildly inaccurate source of information about the weather. The only guarantee is that it will in no way correspond to what you can see out of the window. Fortunately it is usually pessimistic; last weekend’s “storms” were actually a few minutes of light drizzle. Speaking of which…
La pluie: A distant memory.
L’Hiver: The time of year where you occasionally have to wear jeans and maybe even a jacket. Extremely distressing for those who grew up in the south of French.
Being ‘Englished’: When you speak to someone in your best French and they insist on replying in English, despite your obvious exasperation and refusal to go along with it. Happens less and less as time goes on, which is gratifying.
Cousine/Cuisine: Two words I can’t seem to distinguish in French. This is a surprisingly big problem as my cousin Jess is also here; often results in people wondering why I spend so much time with my kitchen.
Email: Apparently not really a thing in France, given the number of replies I have received to the hundreds of emails I’ve sent. May try carrier pigeon if this continues.
Dimanche: A weekly precursor of the apocalypse, during which everything closes and the streets become eerily empty. The only sound is the slamming of shutters and the rumbling of my tummy as I realise that I have, once again, forgotten to buy any food.
|Apologies for the lack of pictures in this post, I’m feeling lazy again. Here is an autumnal
tree from the Botanical Gardens (or ‘Garden of Plants’ as they call it here) to make up for it.
Sorry for the delay (again) – my excuse is that I went to Marseille at the weekend and didn’t get round to finishing this on the train as I had planned! The last couple of weeks have of course been up and down, but I’ve been keeping busy and trying to force my shocking French on as many people as possible.
It’s difficult to know where to start here, as my location really is brilliant. Here are a few things that I’m particularly enjoying:
- Public transport: I know this sounds supremely dull, but it’s not to be sniffed at – as someone who grew up in the wilds of Herefordshire and sees Oxford as a terrifying metropolis, I’m deeply mistrustful of trams and buses, yet even I managed to get to grips with these ones in days. By some never-to-be-repeated miracle, the whole system works really well, despite presumably having been designed by the same bunch of idiots that did the traffic lights (which do NOT work well). The trams are slowish, but they’re regular, easy to navigate, and actually look pretty cool. The only real problems I’ve encountered are a) the 97min wait to buy my transport pass in the TAM office (I know it was that long because my queue-ticket said so), and b) the frequent strikes, which I suppose are to be expected given that I’m in France.
|This is the line I use most but the other trams have more exciting patterns
on – photos will be provided when I get round to taking them.
- The abundance of crêpes: to be honest, there’s nothing to add to this except that I have already learnt the locations, prices and opening hours of a ridiculous number of crêperies. I think this makes me a very useful person to have around.
- The Old Town: it’s compact, pedestrianised and beautiful, with everything from big grand promenades to quirky back streets. I didn’t do much research before coming here, having applied based on a desire to NOT do a teaching assistantship or internship (responsibility? Ew), so the town centre has been a wonderful surprise.
- Free stuff! The art gallery, Musée Fabre, is free for Montpellier students, and huge enough to provide at least a year’s worth of culture. And the zoo is free. FREE. It even has proper animals like monkeys and rhinoceroses (rhinoceri?) – I have no idea how they finance it, but I’m not complaining. There are also loads of free/cheap events, which I have so far been very bad at actually attending, aside from a jazz night at Temple Bar at which I am basically a regular.
|Told you so. There are actually 3 of these.
- Clichés: All that life-affirming, character-building stuff (becoming more confident, independent, outspoken etc etc) actually appears to be happening to me. Good grief. And I am now fantastic at admin compared to my former self.
I was tempted to write about the university in this section, but frankly I think it deserves a post of its own. Instead I’ll talk about…
Which, despite me getting here ages ago, is still a bit of a problem. This is surprising – I’d expected to swan off into a glamorous year-abroady life of beach days and parties, where I’d be too busy to miss anyone, but I’ve somehow managed to fit several crippling attacks of homesickness into my busy schedule. I’m lucky enough to get regular flurries of post from friends and family, which makes me both happy and smug, but I really miss everyone. However, even homesickness has its upsides, the main one being that I will never again take any of these things for granted:
- Living in college, which is basically a large, convenient and architecturally blessed mansion containing food, friends, a library, a bar and half my classes.
- The internet – the WiFi in my accommodation turned out to be imaginary, and the ethernet actually loads pages slower than my phone does.
- Sensible working hours. I have one day which runs from 8.30am to 8.15pm. I thought the French were supposed to be lazy!?
- Knowing that I could just pop home, even though I actually never do.
- Shops – or anything at all – being open on Sundays.
- Political activists having a modicum of common sense. Apparently the students of my university voted to abolish currency during the strike the other day. Need I say more?
- My cats. I think it’s time this photo was made public. No shame.
| I think this is a particularly fine example of a cat beard.
I’ve already talked about the obvious one – bureaucracy – so this is about French men. Prepare for sweeping generalizations. (Disclaimer: this applies only to the minority of pillocks who behave like this, I’m not actually denouncing half the French population.)
I think the best word for the stereotypical French Man is “forthcoming”. In the UK it’s generally possible for a human of a female persuasion to exist in public without too much hassle, but since getting here I (and the other English/Irish/Scottish girls I know) have encountered a ridiculous level of catcalling and general pestering. A particularly irritating example is the tendency of gaggles of men to yell “LES FILLES!” whenever some girls move within earshot. I’m not sure why they do this; perhaps it’s a helpful attempt to teach us French nouns, or maybe it’s just a cry of desperation because every time they try to talk to (read: yell at) a girl, she inexplicably shoots them a contemptuous glare and walks off. It also seems to be acceptable to bellow incoherently/beep car horns/stare at any girl who dares to go for a run in *gasp* shorts.
I’ve been approached several times by men who point-blank refuse to go away, even when I clearly state that I’m not interested (I refuse on principle to pretend to be ‘taken’ as I kinda like having agency over my own behaviour.) This first happened on my third night here, when I was waiting (alone, after dark) for my friends, and couldn’t leave as I had no way to contact them. A man sidled up to me and persisted in trying to chat me up for at least half an hour, despite me being increasingly, albeit unwillingly, rude. He insisted on giving me his number although I said that even if I had a French SIM I wouldn’t call him, and when I finally started just ignoring him, he went off in a huff and called me a racist. In case you’re wondering, my objection was the strange-man-refusing-to-leave-me-alone part, rather than him being black; I am not in fact a racist. But yeah, great chat-up line.
|Bonus picture for anyone who managed to get to the end of this excessively long post: Panorama of Marseille from the big church on the hill, which we shamelessly went to by petit train touristique.
I really wasn’t sure whether I should post this, but I think it would be very difficult, and perhaps disrespectful, to continue straight away with ordinary updates. I have already had to tell more people than I expected about this, as it is by far the most significant thing that has happened here, and I can’t bring myself to skim over it. I’m going to keep this brief and simple but I am sure the incident will speak for itself.
On Friday, I went out with my cousin and a group of other students who I had met that evening, all of whom I was very much looking forward to getting to know. We went the wrong way to the club, ending up next to the motorway, and one of our group, a 22 year old boy named William, was hit and killed by a car whilst trying to cross. Although I had met him only a few hours before, he was clearly an incredibly lovely person, and his sudden death is the most cruel and shocking tragedy. My heart goes out to his boyfriend, family and friends, whose pain must be unimaginable.
In the light of what has happened, the things I was thinking of posting seem trivial, but I think it is vital to hold on the little day-to-day moments and feelings that come to seem unimportant after something like this, so hopefully this will just be a brief hiatus. The best tribute I can pay to William’s memory is to take absolutely everything I can from my own life and experiences, rather than letting his death eclipse everything else.
However, although I am continuing with my classes and keeping busy, it was an extremely traumatic event to witness, with an unthinkably sad aftermath. I expect it will take things some time to get back to normal, so I may be a little out of contact for a while. I am incredibly fortunate in having so many wonderfully supportive friends and relatives, who have been very present over the last few days despite the physical distance from home, and I appreciate them all the more after what has happened. I hope you will understand the wait for the next update, which will undoubtedly be more light-hearted than this one.