NB: I wrote this on Sunday night, it’s now the following Saturday and I’m using the internet at Ruth’s to post this because I still have no wifi in halls :(
Bonjour à tous!
It’s Sunday evening as I write this post. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to publish this because, though my halls were advertised as having wifi, they don’t. I was told on arrival that the wifi would be working in our rooms by the end of the month: well, there’s one and a half hours of August left and no sign of internet which is actually not really unexpected. So bonjour, future people, please forgive my backdated posts for the time being.
Well that’s just a straight out lie isn’t it
Well, it’s only been five days but there is so, so much to say that I don’t know where to start! I’ll try to keep it short but I can already feel a serious essay coming on, apologies in advance.
In this post I’m going to write about what I’ve been up to each day, but before I do, I want to say that I was right about my French degree not preparing me for living in France. I’m definitely able to get by, make myself understood and even have a conversation in French – but I’ve been learning French for fourteen years, choosing to continue studying it for seven years, studying it at a ‘high’ level for four years and at degree level for two years. I’d expect to be native standard by now. It’s like when I tell people that I study French and Italian and they respond, “Oh, so you’re fluent in French and Italian then?” Yeah… not so much. If these five days have proved anything to me, it’s that learning a language in a classroom and claiming to be fluent is comparable to googling front crawl and thinking you’ll be able to swim. On paper, my grammar is pretty good, my vocabulary is wide and fairly advanced and I can use all tenses confidently. I texted a French guy this week and he told me that from my message he took me for French (that’s one off the bucket list). In practice, though… well let’s just say that this week I blanked and forgot how to ask someone’s name.
I arrived with Matt on Wednesday morning having said goodbye to my mum at Gatwick. The flight was much shorter than I expected (an hour and a half-ish) and after arriving at the airport we got on a shuttle bus that took us into Montpellier. From there, we got on a tram that took us directly to the student halls where I’m staying. Then I had my first exchange in French to pick up my keys and fill in some forms. It all went suspiciously smoothly… the only thing that didn’t go to plan was when the receptionist informed me about there being no wifi yet. This news was mitigated by the fact that when I paid my first month’s rent then and there, it was about 100€ less than I expected it to be. Then I was handed the keys to my very own ‘studio room’ in France! I was so excited. I’ll save a description of my room and halls for another blog post, but safe to say I was satisfied when I opened the door to my new home.
Can’t believe 38 people liked this on Instagram and nobody noticed the monster I added in for jokes haha
After that, we took the tram to IKEA which took a while but it’s so convenient: the tram leaves from right outside my door and takes me straight to a shopping centre that includes an IKEA and the hugest supermarket I’ve ever seen. There’s also an aquarium, a cinema, an ice skating rink and several restaurants there. And a Zara, of course. The French are obsessed with Zara.
We spent a long time in IKEA and Géant (the huge super market), during which time I was very disciplined with my euros. A long tram ride home later, we cooked some pasta in my new home and ate it with a glass of wine and then fell asleep, exhausted.
The next day, Thursday, we woke up late morning and took the tram into the town centre to explore. At the heart of the town centre is the Place de la Comédie, and we spent a while exploring the streets around it and getting to know the area. Then we hopped back on the tram to make our second IKEA/Géant trip to pick up the things we’d forgotten/weren’t able to carry the first time round. In the supermarket I found some grisettes de Montpellier which are sweets that come from Montpellier (another one off the bucket list). They’re these small, hard, dark-coloured balls made of licorice and honey. They’re really nice! Later, we went out for dinner and had a weird experience with what seemed like a violently bi-polar waiter, some good food and some really good regional wine (another one off the bucket list… maybe I should have written a longer list…).
Grisettes de Montpellier, yum.
Out for dinner my new city
Friday was another amazingly sunny day. It’s been around 30 degrees here every day, by the way, not to rub it in your faces or anything. If it makes you feel any better, it was probably too hot to be walking any kind of distance, but that’s what we did on Friday morning. We walked my route to uni (about 20-25 minutes) and had a wander around the all but silent campus. It seems nice enough, but a campus uni is going to take some getting used to. After that we tried to find a gym for me to join, but the gym I’d found online with it’s shiny high-tech website actually turned out to be a room on the ground floor of what looked like someone’s house. The reception area consisted of a woman sitting at a small table on the pavement outside the ‘gym’ with a bit of paper in front of her.
I did not sign up for the gym. It’s still on my list of things to do.
Instead, we went to the aquarium. I went with Matt, who’s used to my obsession with things that swim, to save anyone who comes to visit having to go with me. My mum is of the opinion that if you’ve seen one fish, you’ve seen them all, as I think are most people over the age of eight. But I absolutely loved the aquarium and learnt loads of fishy vocab – for instance, penguins are les manchots and a hermit crab is Bernard l’ermite (meaning ‘Bernard the Hermit’ in case you couldn’t work that out) which I find really sweet :)
After that we stopped at a ‘50s diner for an early dinner which turned out to be way overpriced but had a completely OTT interior which made it worth it.
Haha when panoramas go wrong
Then it was out to Les Estivales which happens every Friday in August and is basically a sort of festival-cum-market with music, stalls of the usual market-y craft-y things, salsa dancing and, of course, wine. We were told that for 5€ we could have three wine ‘tastings’ and a glass, which I presumed meant we could taste three wines and then have a glass of our favourite. Oh no – much better. It meant three ‘tastings’ (actually a small glass rather than a mouthful) and then we could keep the glass. The wine glasses were actually really nice and would have made great souvenirs or presents but we had to discard them later when we went into a club, sad times.
It was there at Les Estivales that I bumped into some other Erasmus students from UCL, Chantal and Ruth (yay!) and met some more international students from the Erasmus/international students facebook group. Most were American, some Australian and Canadian, with very few other Europeans. If this post wasn’t already so long, I’d tell you a bit about them but that will have to wait for another time. We spoke in a mixture of English and French and got quite drunk on our wine tastings. Most of the others unfortunately had class early the next day (even though it was Saturday, more on that in another post) but two of my new pals and the French guy who organised the meet-up, Ali, went out to a club called Panama Café. I use the term ‘club’ loosely. It is not like a London club or even a Northampton club. For a start it was much smaller. Downstairs they were playing chart music (I think), but we headed upstairs to the salsa room. Salsa must be a thing in Montpellier because there were some really amazing dancers up there… I think dance-offs are a thing as well. Often someone would get singled out and chanted at until they went into the middle of the circle and did a dance, which was unanimously cheered no matter what they did. When it was my turn, I protested that I didn’t want to because I can’t dance but was told that everyone can dance, you just need the practice, so off I went and I was cheered like everyone else even though I probably looked like a jellyfish having a seizure. The other thing that was different to English clubs was the smoking area; it wasn’t an outside area but an actual room. I don’t smoke, but I felt like I’d been smoking after being in the room for five minutes because it was so… well, smoky in there. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just smoke outside to be honest. Weird.
The night ended when there was a power cut in the club and everyone poured out onto the street. I quickly realised that the trams weren’t running any more, that my phone had died and I had no money. Luckily, Ruth found me dithering on a corner and took us under her wing for the night. Thanks again Ruth :)
We woke up at her’s on Saturday morning and got the tram home, with Matt nursing a gueule de bois (google it). In the afternoon I went to get a cheap phone with a French number that makes me feel like I’m back in the ‘90s and we lazed around on the beach at Carnon, which was lovely. That evening we sat in the Place de la Comédie and watched as the sky went from blue to pink to purple to black and the square filled up with evening party-goers and really cool street performers who said, ‘We don’t dance for money, we dance for love. And if you give us some money we will love you very much’. LOL. It all sounds very romantic but we were sat on McDonald’s outside terrace so it wasn’t really, but a cultural French Macdo had to be done at some point and I got it out of the way nice and early.
Back in 1999 haha
Sur la plage
Matt left on Sunday morning. It was a fairly quick goodbye because we thought the flight was an hour later than it actually was and there were a few tears, but eventually Matt stopped crying long enough to get on the plane. Haha, I’m joking of course, but it was a good decision for me not to wear mascara.
Then began my strangest day in France so far.
I was off to meet Mary Ann, Nichola, Zana (who are Erasmus students from UCL) and her friend Katy at Aqualand, a water park outside Montpellier. I was really keen to go, having never been to a water park like this one before. I waited 40 minutes for the shuttle bus from the airport. I caught the shuttle to town. I waited for the tram. I caught the tram to the station. I waited 40 minutes for a train. I caught the train to ADGE (unpronounceable in French). I waited 50 minutes for a bus. I caught the bus to Aqualand. None of this was as easy as it sounds because nothing was made clear – not platforms, times, destinations, or bus stops – and it seemed the French weren’t any more clued up than I was because those I asked gave conflicting advice. Added to this was the fact that everything was running less often than normal because it was Sunday. But I made it to the water park despite nearly giving up several times, and I’m so glad I did make it because it was so much fun. Sadly I arrived really late and the queues were incredibly long meaning that I only got to go on two water flumes for my 26€ entry fee… but it was worth it because the flumes I went on were awesome and we had a laugh :)
Leaving was another huge palava. The water park closed early because it was Sunday, and we got to the bus stop only to discover we’d just missed the bus and the next one didn’t come for two and a quarter hours, again because it was Sunday. We tried two taxi numbers, both of which took all our details before telling us they couldn’t come and pick us up. They gave us a number for another taxi, which didn’t work. So we found a hotel where we asked if they would book us a taxi for 5 people to the station, thinking they’d have more reliable taxi numbers. A taxi arrived for four people. We told the driver we’d asked for one for five. He told us that a taxi for five people would be along to pick us up soon and that it would cost 25€. Another taxi arrived – the taxi driver told us it would be 30€. Why? Because it was Sunday, of course. Apparently nothing gets done on Sunday in the South of France. We argued for a bit about the extra 5€ before he did the equivalent of a stroppy storm off in a mini van, almost crushing some toes in the process. So we headed back to the bus stop to wait another hour for the bus. We started playing cards on the pavement and halfheartedly trying to hitchhike a lift, until a man and a young girl (his daughter?) unexpectedly stopped for us and gave us a lift to the station. It was the first time I’ve hitchhiked and it great because they were so nice and turned the music up really loud for us, and the girl turned out to be studying at our university as well which was a crazy coincidence!
This is the taxi/minivan that drove away
THINGS CROSSED OFF THE BUCKET LIST THIS WEEK
- Drink some regional wine
- Eat some grisettes de Montpellier
- Go to the beach
- Visit the aquarium
- Be mistaken for a French woman, however briefly
Now I’m back home and completely exhausted but very happy. Term starts this week, but it’s just la rentrée (the more sophisticated French version of freshers’ week) so as far as I can tell, all I have to do other than more gallivanting around in the sun is just go to a few welcome talks and sort out my student card. Simple, right? Almost definitely wrong. I’ll keep you posted.
Bisous, Annie xo