The year abroad game

The reason for yet another delay in publishing a post is that, despite uni being closed since the end of the holidays (yes, seriously), I’ve somehow managed to be quite busy doing things like going to fun events, meeting nice people and speaking French! This turn for the better has put a spanner in the works of the post I’d planned, which, prompted largely by my brief and nostalgic trip home, was essentially going to be a long list of reasons why France is terrible. Fortunately, I’ve begun to revise my opinion about this, after a much more positive week. Unfortunately, it transpires that I lack blogging motivation when I’m not in a state of constant and irrational rage about things like the distressing lack of cheddar and culturally ingrained self-deprecation. 

So, instead of my original post, I’ve decided it’s time that the secret competitiveness of being-on-a-year-abroad was made official, and have created the Year Abroad Game. Rewards are measured in smug-points; any inconsistencies in the rules are down to artistic licence (and definitely not the fact that I couldn’t be bothered to make up a real scoring system). Feel free to add up your score and let me know how you did if you are so inclined. 

START: You find yourself trapped in a foreign land where everyone speaks funny and doesn’t know what Doctor Who is. Will you survive? 

Gain 5 points
for each cool attraction you discover in your new hometown.
The latest one I’ve been to is the ice rink, which has a disco section complete with a light tunnel and hills. In classic French style, this is completely dark, and full of terrifyingly reckless locals. It was great fun, but I had several near death experiences.

I appreciate that this isn’t a great photo, but it gives an idea of the light levels…

Gain 10 points
if you manage to wring a smile out of one of the many bitter and twisted administrators you will no doubt encounter.
There is a woman known as Demon Woman who works at the Accueil of my accommodation, and has told off me and most of my neighbours for the heinous crime of asking for our post. After a determined campaign of sickly sweet ‘bonjour’s, I actually got a smile back today. I take pride in the fact it means NOTHING to me.  

Lose 15 points and go back 3 spaces
if you accidentally let out a bitchy to comment to one of the many bitter and twisted administrators who will no doubt be pointlessly rude to you. 
Believe me, this does not help get things done.

Gain 30 points
if you get a non-disastrous haircut during your time abroad.
I managed this the other day, despite a raging hangover and general lack of French hairdressing vocabulary. Aside from one minor misunderstanding where I nearly agreed to a fringe, it went surprisingly well! 

Gain 20 points
if you go on a spontaneous trip with no particular destination in mind. 
We accidentally did this after trying to go to Nîmes by bus (it turns out that there is no bus to Nîmes, despite the confident assertions of 6-8 people in offices who sent us on a frankly impressive wild goose chase). After giving up on our original plan, we hopped on a bus and ended up in Pézenas, a really pretty village/town a couple of hours away by bus. 


Lose will to live
if you get trapped at a bus stop or similar with a creepy man. 
This happened on the way back from Pézenas. Due to French bus timetables being almost entirely meaningless, we ended up waiting for about an hour in the cold with a creepy dude who offered us a ride back in his car (which we politely declined). Unfortunately, my overly expressive face gave away just how unimpressed I was by his stalkerish questions, and he had the barefaced cheek to announce that I must be the ‘méchante’ (mean) one of the group.

Gain 15 points
for each new town you visit.
The Nîmes story does have a happy ending; we finally made it there (on the train) the other day!

We saw this gem…
…and then this badass.

When uni is cancelled for 2 weeks due to continuous protests…
Gain 5 points/day if you use the time wisely,
Lose 5 points/day if you just sit in bed watching House M.D.
I’m about breaking even on this at the moment…

Gain A MILLION POINTS (and lots of money)
if you ever manage to actually manage to receive CAF (the French housing allowance).
I was lulled into a false sense of security when I received a letter saying I had been approved for CAF, but apparently this is just a hilarious prank they like to play before asking you for every document you have ever heard of and a lot that you haven’t.

Lose 1 point 
every time you accidentally insert English phrases like ‘yknow,’ ‘oh my god,’ and ‘like’ into your target language. 
This is particularly embarrassing in official situations, such as negotiations with the Erasmus demons coordinators at Paul Valéry.

Gain 10 points
for each new hobby you take up.
I have joined a walking group. Yes, I have become my parents… It’s actually a pretty good way of exploring though, as the people with cars drive everyone to somewhere cool. I also speak French all day, which is a plus.

Last week we went to a ridiculously picturesque village called St Guilhem le Desert

Gain 15 points per nationality
for all the international students you manage to befriend (i.e. talk to more than once).
So far I’ve met people from Germany, Spain, Italy, Algeria, America, Switzerland, Poland, Brazil and Hungary. Most of my international friends seem to be German though; clearly I’ve chosen the wrong country.

Gain 30 points 
if you do something ridiculously brave that you would never do at home.

I went with a German friend (see what I mean?) to a café that had ‘libre-service’ instruments, and eventually decided to go for the plunge and play the piano (after her of course – I’m not THAT brave). Nobody booed, although hell may have frozen over.

if you completely change your plans for the year. 
By ‘completely’ I mean ‘quite a lot’ – I’m moving house at Christmas. It’s also now official that I’m only doing 2 or 3 days a week at uni, and I have found a few possible volunteering jobs.

Gain 100 points
if you get genuinely mistaken for a French person by another foreigner.
This has happened to me a few times, although usually briefly, from people with pretty ropey French. I am also often asked if I’m German, due to my Nordic good looks (I like to think). 

And if you get mistaken for a French person by an actual French person
Go home, you have won. 

Here’s a bonus picture of the French doing what they do best: taking extremely strange and pointless things VERY seriously. The man in the photo was darting about and pointing at people, and occasionally shouting “ACHÉVÉ!” all filmed by some solemn people in white coats.  

NEWSFLASH: Important demonstrations by the students of Montpellier fix LITERALLY ALL OF FRANCE’S PROBLEMS!

As you can imagine, the French attitude to politics takes some getting used to, and this week I have been exposed to some particularly fine examples of “activism”. Basically, the students of Paul Valéry university are, once again, not happy with something or other; from what I’ve gathered it’s to do with austerity and the fact that, as the uni is several million euros in debt, they may have to close part of it. The students have valiantly responded by making all the wrong peoples’ lives hell. 

Basically (and there’s no way to phrase this without it sounding MORONIC), they have put tables and chairs in front of all the doors in the uni. This means that it is of course completely impossible for a class of 50 people to somehow get inside by, say, moving the chairs and walking through the door. The uni is therefore very much closed until some time next week, despite the *sarcastic cough* dedicated efforts of teachers and students alike to continue with classes. Their failure to do so is understandable, given that the barricades rival those of the revolution itself.

As you can see, anyone wanting to get past this stonker
of a blockade would have their work cut out. 

To be fair, some of them were more imaginative. Which kind of explains why so many of the university’s chairs are broken.

Although some were just disturbing. I always feel that sinister effigies turn a good protest sour. 

After closing down the entire uni in a bid to prevent the closure of part of the uni (Well done, France) a couple of hundred students then proceeded to demonstrate on the tram lines, forming a slow-moving, noisy mob of people fronted by a giant sign saying (I paraphrase) “Let’s stop austerity and all that other bad stuff, we can totally do that by telling people that austerity and other bad things are bad, right?!” Meanwhile, the police sat usefully around on motorbikes doing absolutely nothing, as exasperated citizens (including me) waited in vain for the trams to start again, before giving up and walking home.
Tramoflauge: a wily tram attempts unsuccessfuly to sneak past the protestors. I actually had some dramatically blurry action shots of the protest on the tramway, but have managed to delete these in a deeply annoying series of phone-based mistakes. I am still bitter about this and intend to cite it forever more as the reason I never became a journalist.
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that  I have had a sum total of two days work this week, something I have to admit I’m not exactly gutted about. In fact, I have actually used my free time for the good of humanity in an unprecedentedly productive few days; I’ve signed up for three separate volunteering programmes and am planning to give blood tomorrow. I really do have a lot of spare time at the moment…

Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
By the way: I was going to post about something different but I thought the REALLY IMPORTANT PROTESTS should take top priority, given how REALLY IMPORTANT they are. However, this means I might actually do a record 2 posts in a week – keep your eyes peeled. I promise the next one will be marginally less vitriolic and off-the-cuff. Maybe.