Bonjour à tous!
Hope everything is going well in England and you’re looking after the Queen etc. Great news about Kate, I hope it’s a princess this time.
Things in the South of France are going very well and I’ve fallen in love with Montpellier. It’s highly likely that it’s the honeymoon period at the moment and I’ll start to find faults later, but for now I’m smitten; after being here for two weeks, it’s just about stopped feeling like a holiday and started to feel like I live here. I just love it. I love the language, the people, the square, the buildings, the wine, the weather, the beach, the tram, les estivales, the nightlife, the food. It’s so pretty and vibrant and sunny and full of fun young people – according to a statistic we got given in a welcome lecture, 50% of the population of Montpellier is under 36! I love it all except the bureaucracy, which I’ll talk about in un petit moment.
Where to start when describing Montpellier… with my room, I suppose, which is where I am now. I live in halls called Colombière which is about a 20 minute walk from uni or two stops on the tram. It takes 15 or 20 minutes to get to the centre by tram from my room. It’s a good size with a huge window that lets lots of light in, a huge corner desk, a double bed, a ‘kitchenette’ (well, a hob and a sink), and an ‘en-suite’ which reminds me of a caravan bathroom. It’s basic but it suits me very well and after I put up my pictures and unpacked it already feels like my own little home. And I finally have (intermittent) wifi which makes everything infinitely better.
I’m in building 7 of 8 (it’s big, like four or five times the size of the halls I was in in first year) and there’s a huge courtyard outside and a giant chess set for all the times I want to play giant chess, i.e. never.
I’ve bought some roman sandals in order to fit in here better and because my ballet flats were giving me truly horrendous tan lines on my feet. The other thing I need if I want to fit in properly is a dog – there are sooooo many dogs here which I love but it’s also sort of inconvenient as I spend a lot of my time in public going ‘awwww, look at the doggie!’ The people here love their dogs as well. I saw a man having a full on PDA moment with his dog on the tram, he kept kissing it and letting it lick him his mouth. It was sort of uncomfortable to watch actually. There are three other people I’ve come to recognise on the tram: line 1 connects my halls to university and to the centre of town so I use it several times every day. I guess I’m kind of a regular now *hair flick*. There’s the old lady who pushes an (empty) buggy and asks for money for a tram ticket. Nobody gives her any money and she gets on anyway. There’s the man who goes round asking people to sign a petition to make the tram easier for handicapped people to use, cleverly hiding with his hand the small print that says you need to make a minimum donation of 5€ after signing (I didn’t fall for it), and the drunk who gets on and off at the same stop every time I see him and who lies on the floor in the middle of the carriage with a can of beer and goes to sleep and then tries to press the button to open the door with his feet.
Having said that, the majority of people in Montpellier are young and gorgeous – like seriously, I’d say the average here is a solid 8 for both genders. And that’s on average. Everyone’s so nice as well, like I expected people to be a bit snotty about my less than perfect French, probably because I’ve been to Paris and I assumed all French people were like that. Here in the South of France people are so happy to hear you try, and they want to chat with you and help you and hear where you’re from and why you’re here. It’s also not true that all French people speak English – there are a lot of people here who can only speak a very few words. It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve met a French person whose English was worse than my French and it’s been a massive ego boost, which I definitely needed at the beginning. I’ve met a lot more French people whose English is better than mine though, but c’est comme ça.
Beautiful weather, beautiful people, beautiful city! Montpellier is gorgeous. Everything is so accessible and easy to get to: it’s big enough that it doesn’t feel claustrophobic, small enough that you don’t have to travel hours to get to places. I think photos will convey how pretty it is better than I can though…
La Place de la Comédie
The fountain in the Place de la Comédie
Comédie at night
Classic Montpel street
The view from Corum
L’Arc de Triomphe
Parc de Peyrou
Rue Foch haha
The only downside is that if you venture towards the backstreets there is usually a delicate fragrance of wee and/or weed. Sometimes it’s delicate; sometimes it’s downright pungent. But whatever.
There’s a lot of street art in Montpellier. Some of it is amazing, like the facades that are painted onto otherwise plain walls which I didn’t even realise were painted on at first:
Some of it is super artistic/cute/funny.
Sadly a lot of it is just downright vandalism to be honest but there’s a bit of that everywhere.
Ok, I’ve been singing Montpellier’s praises but now it’s time for me to talk about the thing that’s not so good: the bureaucracy of Paul Valéry AKA the bane of every Erasmus students’ life. It is impossible to exaggerate the extent of the sheer incompetency and disorganisation of the systems in place here (I’m sorry if any of my new French friends are reading this, but it’s true). I have never used nor heard such creative swearing in two languages as when trying to make our timetables: “What a pile of sweaty, steaming, French, bureaucratic merde!”, “Jésus sur un vélo!” and “Un merde dans le lit!” are some of the repeatable ones. They don’t make sense in French, by the way, and there was some debate over whether or not ‘Christ on a bike’ is something English people actually say. I maintain that it is.
Let me give you an example. I remember when I went to get my student card at UCL. There were hundreds of us in the queue which moved swiftly round the engineering building where there were about ten booths set up. We sat down, gave our details, had our picture taken and the card was printed. Boom. In and out in 15 minutes. Ah, those were the days. On Monday I queued for three hours outside the Erasmus office in thirty degree heat. There were perhaps twenty-five people in the queue and it still took that long even though most people were turned away when they reached the front for not having the right documents. When I arrived at the front of the queue, I was sure I’d be able to register because I’d both emailed AND sent a hard copy of all the required documents directly to the university during the summer. When I said that, they told me they didn’t have them (had lost them, in other words) and I needed to go and get more copies of them and come back. I was sent away. The next day I came back, having paid for more passport photos and photocopies of several documents. This time I waited an hour. I arrived at the front of the queue, sat down, the woman opened my folder and voilà, all the documents I’d sent were there. They hadn’t even bothered to check the day before. I signed something and the lady told me to come back on Thursday to collect my student card. I returned on Thursday. I waited an hour. They did not have my card. I went back the following Monday. I queued for forty-five minutes. They finally gave me my card. I was telling Ruth about how pleased I was that I’d finally got it and she asked if they’d also given me my certificate de scolarité (just some other paperwork, there’s a ton of it). No, they had not. I went back and queued again. When I got to the front, the woman at the desk tried to close the door. I asked why. She told me, ‘We close for lunch at midday’. It was 11:45. Ruth pointed this out and the woman glanced at her watch and said, ‘Oh. Come in, then’ with a look of pure hatred in her eyes. I asked for my certificate de scolarité. The woman looked surprised and said I should have been given it when I received my student card. She went away to search for it. She came back after a few minutes. They didn’t have it and there was nothing they could do about it but I could have access to some deep dark corner of the internet from which I could print it off if I signed twenty forms, showed them ID and gave them my first born child. You get the point.
The annoying thing was that without a student card, I had no student number. Without a student number, I couldn’t get proof of address. Without proof of address, I couldn’t have a bank account. Without a bank account, I couldn’t get CAF (which is money they French government give all students to cover some of their rent). I also need a certificate of good health if I want to join a gym, which is sort of defeating the object of a gym, I feel. There is so much paperwork in France. You couldn’t make this up. It’s actually quite funny and endearing after a while.
Remember the common timetable at UCL? Remember when all the modules were listed online with descriptions and places and times and credits? Ah, those were the days. In France, or at Paul Valéry at least, they like to make you work for your place. They couldn’t just give you information – oh no, far too easy! We have to search. But we have to search without knowing what to look for or where to look for it. This has been made even more complicated for us by the fact that Paul-Valéry changes what modules are on offer every five years and of course, this is the year that everything has been changed and nobody knows what the hell is happening. We couldn’t sign up to any modules without our student cards and there were no module lists available online. The only way to make a timetable has been to physically seek out a booklet from a department and look through it (which is a complicated process, modules do not work in France as they do in England and it takes hours to decipher all the acronyms and bizarre vocabulary), and write down the modules you want to take and their times and places and credits, a selection of which are given to you at random in the booklet but a lot of which remain a mystery. Then you have to re-do it a million times because everything clashes. Then you have to go to the class to see if you like it, and then, if you’re lucky and the class isn’t already full, you might be able to register and take the class. I’m one and a half weeks into term and I’ve only just managed to register for a few modules that I’m not even sure I want to/am allowed to take. I have no idea what’s going on and nor does anyone else – it’s difficult even for the French students and everyone knows that it’s a crappy system but nobody has bothered to change it. Anyway, ça marche, eventually. Maybe.
But enough of that. Here are some pictures from this week :)
As if we actually have to work while we’re here waaah
Beach day woohoooo
Les monacos! A monaco is basically beer with grenadine and they sell them in most bars even if they’re not on the menu. You can have different flavours and syrups in them and they’re delicious!
Super cute candle shop that we found that smells amazing
Freya and Izzy came to visit from Lyon and we had a pique nique dans le Parc de Peyrou…
We ate a lot of seafood at Les Estivales this week. I couldn’t swallow the oyster or the seasnail, they were just too slimy and gross. The massive prawn and mussels were nice though :)
Classic night out photo. I love Panama.
Ruth’s flatmates made us a delicious Vietnamese dinner and Ruth made an amazing tarte tatin for dessert. Bravo les colocs :)
A beautiful sunset just outside Ruth’s flat.
Things crossed off the bucket list this week
- Visit the Promenade du Payrou
- Make a French friend
- Try a conversation exchange (ok, it was an Italian conversation exchange and when I wrote this I originally meant a French one, obviously. But whatever)
Anyway. I’m going out tonight to an Erasmus student party and am going to continue to ignore the fact that this isn’t a holiday and I am actually going to have to do some work for as long as I can. I’m gonna go and have a power nap and get ready now, byeeee.