It’s time to say au revoir: Partings, Parties and People Skills

This is a bittersweet post to write; on the one hand, I’ve miraculously survived for 4 months and am writing this ON THE PLANE (and trains) HOME YAY!! but on the other hand, Christmas kind of marks the end of an era. Do you want the good or the bad news first? (That’s a rhetorical question, you don’t get any choice. Bad news it is.)


I’ve been lucky enough to meet some super-awesome people this term, most of whom have just the one major flaw of inconsiderately being Not French. One particular group is departing en masse, which will leave me bereft, as I’ve been enjoying a linguistically disastrous amount of time with them, only for fate to cruelly and prematurely tear us apart. If you think that’s melodramatic, you clearly aren’t familiar with my attitude to goodbyes; I’m terrible at them, and react by going into either denial or mourning. To the survivors: please do not be alarmed if I cry profusely every time I’m in any way reminded of the fallen – this is to be expected.  

On the plus side, Suzi’s leaving! (Don’t worry Suzi, that isn’t in and of itself a good thing – miss you already.) However, it does mean I get to move into her FABULOUS apartment with her equally fabulous flatmate, and escape the hellhole that is French student halls. To commemorate this particular parting, here’s a tenuously-90s-romcom-inspired list of the various things I will not miss about my old accommodation. Unlike the original, it’s not in poem form as I’m to lazy to condense this much resentment into a sensible rhyme scheme. And it doesn’t end in a declaration of love.

Ten things I hate about Voie Domitienne

1. My room: 10m2 is not enough space for a clumsy hoarder, especially when it’s entirely filled by a desk the size of the moon.

2. The sinister metal blind and the plastic-coated mattress: The blind gives an overwhelming impression that the walls are closing in, and results in alarmingly rapid changes in temperature. I have on occasion woken up thinking that I was in a sweaty coffin. 

3. The internet: or frequent lack thereof. You’d think this would motivate me to be productive and sociable, but it instead results in entire days disappearing into a black hole of frustration and bitterness.

4. My corridor: which is always ominously empty, and usually smells of weed. 

5. The kitchens: Things I’ll have in my new kitchen that I didn’t have in Voie Domitienne: Oven, microwave, kettle, cupboards, utensils, fridge/freezer, bin, will to live. 

6. The campus: There used to be trees, but they cut most of them down. Now there’s just tarmac and a strong sense of the inherent futility of everything.

7. The deeply unpleasant walk from the tram stop: which produces the same effect on my mood as the abundant quantities of dog crap adorning the streets of Montpellier. 

8. The apparent impossibility of all amenities working simultaneously: They took the table and chairs out of my kitchen early on. Then they put them back, at which point the hobs stopped working for 3 weeks. Then they fixed those and my shower went on strike. Then they fixed that but took away the chairs again… you get the idea.

9. Demon Woman: who, yesterday, along with her evil cronies, stood and watched my five-minute struggle to single-handedly get my ludicrously heavy electric piano through the Acceuil doors. To be fair, she’d have had to lean over slightly to open the door, and I suppose she needed to conserve her energy for evil death-glares.

10. The barefaced lies: Voie Domitienne supposedly boasts a canteen, a laundrette, a gym, a multimedia room and WiFi. None of these things exist. 

In summary, despite the extra cash I’ve been able to irresponsibly spend due to paying minimal rent, four months was enough, and I am completely delighted to be moving. I will live the high life next term. And I will be able to make cakes.


The other silver lining of people leaving is that it means Fun End-of-Term Events. I’ve been attending a near-constant stream of these, aided and abetted by Amy, Chris and Harris during their visit, in which I’ve haemorrhaged money and drunk decadent amounts of wine orange squash. Here are some snippets of what I’ve been up to… (instead of revising for my pointless exams. One was at 8am. Yuck.)

Early Christmas dinner with these silly bitchez. My contribution was, unsurprisingly, cake. 

Sightseeing. The town is still shockingly beautiful. Incidentally, I’ll be living next door to this park as of January. 

Being edgy and French. We are definitely not tourists. Would tourists sit in cafés and look disenchanted in black and white?

The zoo, once again. I think the animals are starting to recognise me… The highlight of this particular trip was when I was unexpectedly interviewed for a local radio station, answering hard-hitting questions such as “Do you like the zoo?” (Answer: Yes, it is nice) and “What is your favourite animal in the zoo?” (Answer: The maned wolf. And the cheetah.) The Q&A’s I learnt for GCSE French have finally proved relevant.

Almost-victorious pub quiz, followed by an impromptu but fun night out to a completely empty club. The fun ended abruptly when Harris declared he had lost his passport and we’d have to go to Toulouse (several hours and 40€ away by train) to get a temporary one. We subsequently found it on my desk, saving me from an anxiety-induced heart attack.

Speaking of nights out, I’m beginning to think that “Erasmus = partying” cliché is true; I’ve spent more time in clubs over the last term than in the entire rest of my life. This is partly because, as anyone who’s met me for more than five minutes can probably tell, clubbing’s not really my thing. Contrary to popular opinion, that’s not because I don’t like fun – it’s just that my definition of fun is more along the lines of tipsy pub conversations and pratting about in fancy dress, than bodily contortions in a darkened, sweaty room full of strangers.

That’s not to say I don’t like going out sometimes – it’s actually often great fun – but I’m also handicapped by my inability to dance, due to the fatal combination of having to improvise and feeling like people will be judging the inevitably regrettable result. Therefore, unless I’m in a Zumba class, various conditions must be met before I can manage anything but an embarrassed shuffle. These are:

I must know (and like) the song 
I must be with people I know very well OR I must be very drunk.

This last usually entails a severe hangover, which is why I tend only to go out when it seems strictly necessary (although that’s surprisingly often here). Also, there’s always the risk that someone might take a video like this one:

People Skills

Finally – because hitting the half-way point provides an excuse for over-analytical musings – I’ve remarked that the other Erasmus cliché remains true. While I have the odd day where I’d rather gouge my own eyes out with a wooden spoon than have another stilted conversation with someone I’ll probably never see again (but then, who doesn’t?) my “interpersonal skills” have improved immeasurably, to the point that I’ll now cheerfully and immediately bond with near-strangers. I do conversation exchanges, for goodness’ sake. I’ve also become thicker-skinned than a rhinoceros as regards uninvited grammar corrections or looks that say “Why on earth is this foreign idiot asking me X question?”

Unfortunately, my memory for names hasn’t improved at the same rate as my networking skills, which doesn’t facilitate initial encounters, given that during small-talk I’m usually panicking about the fact I was too busy trying to look like I’d got their name to actually listen to what it was. Add to that the variety of possible nationalities and you get something like this: 

Me: Hi! I’m ʁowanne (this is the best approximation of my name that French phonemes can manage, the result if I pronounce it à l’anglaise being ‘wowa?’)
Can you remind me of your name? (ALWAYS account for the possibility you’ve already met and forgotten them.)
Them: I’m €•§¢ª#‘«® 
Me: Sorry?
Me: Ah, ok… How is that spelt?
Them: ø-∑-∆-†-≤≥
Me: Great! What a lovely name *makes mental note to ask someone else later* 

Despite minor qualms like this, the term has ended on a really good note. I’m ridiculously excited to be home, and am particularly enjoying being surrounded by people who understand queueing, but I’m actually kinda looking forward to going back to France afterwards. This is a huge step forward, especially given that there really have been some difficult times. I’ll miss the silly bitches who’ve helped me through them, but I’m also looking forward to getting to know the people who are staying a lot better. À l’année prochaine! 

Bonus picture: La Vallée de la Vis, where me and Susi (not Suzi, this one is staying – yay!) went with my walking group last week. 


Franglais: Part 1

Just a quick one as I’ve suddenly realised how many minor administrative tasks I haven’t dealt with this week, having just dropped my friends off at the airport after a great week (Yeah, I have friends. Who paid money to come and see me. Got this life business sorted.) Naturally, rather than doing anything remotely sensible, I’m going to beat the post-visit melancholy by lounging about in my PJs, drinking flat Orangina and sharing my inane thoughts with the internet. However, as I’m genuinely pretty short on time, actual news will be dispensed next week.

Given that this blog appears to have sneakily become language-themed, I’m going to post the finest examples of hilariously mangled English which I have collected throughout the semester. This is not intended to be catty, as my French no doubt contains a lot of extremely bizarre mistakes (and I still have to avoid saying any words that could potentially be mispronounced to create an innuendo. This is why ‘queue’ has become ‘ligne’ now). Still, I do sometimes wonder whether it might have been a good idea to run the slogan past a native speaker before going to print… I think these can speak for themselves.

Posters for club nights: 

F*ck me I’m student’ soirée

An absolute horror titled ‘Come to Daddy’

Boobs are future

On the menu of my favourite crêperie: 

Bon appétit!
Guten appetit!
Good appetite!

Overheard in a bar:

‘blah blah french french french Let’s go to the mall!!
(This makes me realise how strange the French phrases I use for jokes must sound to Actual French People).

Said to me repeatedly by the very lovely but otherwise incomprehensible little old lady I recently visited on a volunteering scheme:

‘I am a little boy’. I did not fully get the context for this, as she had the strongest Southern accent I have ever heard.

My two favourite interpretations of my apparently unpronounceable name:

“Brauwen” and “Ron, spelt R-o-w-n.”

The best of the exceptionally strange slogan tees I’ve seen
I mean, it looked kind of cool but when you read it in your head it’s… odd.
Dramatic pictures of animals seem to be big here.

The picture does not do justice to the dazzling choice of colours on this one. 

There will be information and profound thoughts next week! (Probably). For now, I would like to leave you with a rendition of parts of ‘Danny Boy’, as sung by my new choir of almost exclusively non-English-speaking French people. I was asked to correct pronunciation errors but I’m just enjoying them too much…

Oh Danny Boy, ze pipes, ze pipes are cooling
From glen to glen
And down ze moonteen side,
Ze summer’s dead, and all ze rosies falling
Tissue tissue, must go and I must bide.

The awkward moment when French doesn’t have a word for awkward: An ill-informed guide to when cultural differences show up in the dictionary

I have no excuse for yet another delay in posting, except that it’s now basically traditional. Also, I’ve been feeling bitter, xenophobic and uncreative due to a few setbacks last week, so I decided to wait until I had something to write other than a lengthy rant about the apparent impossibility of finding volunteer work. Apologies to everyone who got said rant down the phone instead… 

Anyway, this week’s offering contains some of the words I’ve most often found myself trying desperately and unsuccessfully to explain to French friends, due to the inadequacy of the nearest equivalents. Any French speakers with better ideas, please let me know! As a linguist I ought to preface this by saying that exact translations pretty much don’t exist anyway, especially not for nebulous cultural-type concepts. Nonetheless, I’m going to be wild and crazy and irresponsibly use minor linguistic differences as a basis for poorly-justified generalisations about two entire countries.

Awkward: adjective

1. The atmosphere when you have to introduce two people to each other without knowing either of their names.
2. A reeeally helpful word to drop into overly long silences. 

I can’t even begin to express how irritating the absence of this word is, given that my life as a foreigner is one of near-constant misunderstandings and toe-curlingly hideous faux pas (see what I did there?) To be fair, there are French words for certain aspects of ‘awkward’, such as gênant, délicat and maladroit, but none of them really seems to match the all-encompassing nature of the English version.

Quite apart from being deeply useful, the concept of awkwardness is a mainstay of most of the last century’s British sitcoms – from Mr Bean, Fawlty Towers and Yes Minister to Peep Show, The Inbetweeners and Miranda. You can extrapolate your own conclusions about British culture from this…

Greetings are a particular minefield for awkward situations, especially as I now move in fairly international circles (I’m such a social butterfly) with a near-infinite number of possibilities to rapidly decide between, taking into account the nationality of the greetee. Crucially, you then have to successfully execute your chosen greeting. Here are the main options, in order of potential for disaster:

Handshake: Pretty much safe and neutral. Deeply unfair that men get first dibs on this.

Generic ‘hi all’/wave: Low-risk and useful for large groups, but may get you forever labelled as standoffish.

Hug: My personal favourite, but doesn’t appear to be a thing in every country, and requires a certain amount of coordination… Useful save if you end up caught between kisses and a handshake.

Bises (air kisses): Oh France, why do you want me to suffer? Being a naturally jumpy person, it’s taken me months to stop recoiling when people walk towards me AND JUST KEEP ON WALKING. With air kisses, not only do you have the hurdle of making sure you don’t both go the same way (this comes across as a little too friendly), but you also have to pick the right number. Apparently two is more or less standard, but in Montpellier the norm is a somewhat time-consuming three. 

Cake: noun

1. The best thing since sliced bread. Actually, much better than sliced bread.

Another concept very close to my heart, this is SO not translated by gateau. Gateau, apparently, means gateau. Or maybe some sort of fruit flan if you’re lucky. It’s easy to buy all manner of viennoiseries, tartes, patisseries, fondants and moelleux, but I guarantee that none of them will have icing on, and they will probably contain pastry. I am ridiculously excited about my upcoming move to an apartment with the facilities to make a good old fashioned lemon drizzle cake/chocolate fudge cake/5-tiered multiflavour tower with handmade macarons and biscotti (yes, I may have been watching the Great British Bakeoff).

Mum and my uncle Richard’s joint 100th birthday cake, which weighed
several kilos and mostly consisted of chocolate. 

Procrastinate: verb

1. Any activity undertaken in order to avoid real work. 

2. Nothing to do with the fact I’m finally updating my blog (and have an essay due). 

The French equivalents of this word all seem to be variations on ‘put off until later,’ but I think we all know that procrastination is so much more than that; it can stretch out any piece of work or admin to terrifying proportions. I demonstrated this perfectly last week, when the uni reopened after strikes and I realised I had work to do. Naturally, my response to this was to panic and fill my previously empty diary with the following:

Last weekend: Fun but shockingly extravagant trip to Toulouse, where we went to approximately 7 cafés in 24 hours due to the blistering cold. 
La Ville Rose
Monday and Tuesday: Classes (shock horror!) and choir. Over 12 hours spent trying to stream The Hunger Games on both my abysmal internet and the university library’s wifi, only to find I’d accidentally loaded a version dubbed in Korean. 
Wednesday: Shopping, washing, errands, skype calls, conversation exchange and a premature viewing of Love Actually.
Thursday: Trip to café in order to start essay. Did not start essay (too busy drinking hot chocolate and being in denial about essay). Volunteering event to help school kids with their homework. Relatively unsuccessful due to lack of both kids and homework. Went on a surprisingly good night out, during which I became the proud owner of a free hat. 
Friday: Morning spent pretending not to be hung over and feeling guilty about essay. Afternoon in art gallery; evening at Christmas market, before watching Elf (which I found more creepy than uplifting). 
Les Hivernales

Saturday: Impromptu trip to a surprisingly impressive cave. Went to see the Hunger Games 2 in French; understood a satisfyingly large percentage of the dialogue.

La Grotte des Demoiselles
Sunday: All-day choir rehearsal, then laser tag from 8am-12pm. Brilliant fun, especially as too many free soft drinks meant I spent most of it in a caffeine-fuelled frenzy. Unfortunately I managed to inflict (hopefully not-too-serious) facial injuries on a fellow player with my gun, and proceeded to lose the next two games very badly. It turns out that laser tag is great exercise though. Speaking of which…

Ache: Noun

1: The considerable muscle pain experienced after spending several hours alternately sprinting and crouching whilst waving a heavy laser gun around.

There’s a translation for ‘ache’ in the sense of ‘yearn for’ (languir) but no specific word for the feeling in your arms after lugging the shopping home. How very French.

Fun: Noun, Adjective

1. Something it is very difficult to have whilst trying to look cool.

2. Increases exponentially upon application of face paint. 

Now, I’m not trying to say that the French, as a nation, take themselves too seriously… OK, maybe I am a little bit. I find it odd that I’m technically a fresher here, and yet haven’t once worn fancy dress or played any pranks. I often find myself eliciting a look that says ‘Why on earth did you just do that?!’ in response to something or other that I found hilarious.

By the way, French also doesn’t have a translation for sketch comedy; after failing dismally to explain it to my neighbour, I found out from Wikipedia that there is in fact only one sketch group in the whole of France. Amusingly, they are called les inconnus. I’ll come back to the topic of fun at some point – my pet theory is that our vastly differing senses of humour are the main reason the French and British traditionally hate each other. But for now, I’ll leave you with some pictures of my fancy dress creations from years gone by. Note the expertly applied peeling skin on the zombie facepaint.