The good, the bad and the annoying

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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. 
  • Pubs. 
  • 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.

The Annoying

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.


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