Strasbourg and the spring

Strasbourg has become an entirely different city during the last few weeks. The biting cold that set in during December began to wither away during March. These months were freezing and dark, and I kept my gloves with me at all times just in case. But recently there has been somewhat of a renaissance. Where there was once the overwhelming brown of bare branches, there is now refreshing green and sometimes candy floss pink. The lifeless, weed-infested grass is now freshly cut and holds promises of sunbathing and daisy chains.

Today was glorious. After 11 hours of exams this week, I decided I was allowed to sleep in late. When I opened my blinds, the sky was perfection: brilliant and endless blue with an insignificant smudge of white cloud here and there. Definitely not coat weather, heck, it wasn’t even jacket weather. I opted for a cardigan which also proved unnecessary and I stuck it in my bag.

I love travelling around Strasbourg. The bus route to the university campus takes me down a long, straight boulevard lined with embassy buildings, the Council of Europe and the Parc de l’Orangerie. Then on towards the river and through the smaller streets where cafés spill onto the streets and small shops sell vintage clothing or old leather-bound books.

The campus looks so much more attractive in this weather too. Even the ugly law school building with its blue and red panelling looks oddly charming in the sun. Students are outside socialising. Someone cracks out an acoustic guitar. Maybe they play ‘Wonderwall’, or maybe there’s a French equivalent.

It’s so nice outside that I stick on The Maine, my go-to good-weather band, and start walking the nearly 2 miles home. Then I remember that I have hay fever and I sniff my way to the tram stop instead.

The route home on the tram is excellent, particularly now. Les tricolors around Place de la République are an injection of primary colours that stand out against the greenery and the sand coloured buildings. The European Parliament glints as the light hits its glass exterior. Do you remember having a see through plastic pencil case when you were younger? Do you remember turning it inside out so the seams were on the outside? That’s sort of what the European Parliament looks like, an inside out pencil case – thanks Ollie for that perfect analogy!

The flags of all the EU member countries are displayed in two ordered lines, including that of the UK. The warm breeze toys with them delicately and they flutter in unison. It’s a pleasant sight. I ponder that if the flag of my homeland was not there, my process of living abroad may have been much more difficult, or may not have even happened at all…but that’s none of my business. I know very little about politics and would be a truly horrible politician. I know how I’m voting though. I’ll stop now.

kermit

Kermit knows.

When the weather is good, everything is transformed. People are walking, running, cycling, chatting, chilling, laughing. They seem happier. I too am happier in the sun. I fall a little bit more in love with this city through this enchanting golden filter.

I have to leave soon. I need to get a bit more vitamin D before I can be okay with that fact.

 

Now playing: twenty one pilots – Ride

 

 

 

 

Learning To Be French

As the dust of the admin storm fades, I now find myself on the road to becoming settled and actually working out how to live in a foreign country. Culture shock is definitely a thing. Geographically, England is so close to France, but culturally it’s a million miles away.

I sat on the tram yesterday evening, baguette under my arm, pondering how I was one string of onions away from becoming a walking stereotype. Genuinely, I carried a baguette around with me for about half an hour. Then, due to the new-found bravery and ‘don’t give a shit’ attitude that I have developed from living here, I started to eat my baguette. Yes, I sat on the tram eating a fresh baguette not caring about the h8rs. That in itself is very French: they don’t give a damn and do what they want. It’s admirable, but was alien and scary at the start for a timid anglaise.

I got to thinking about other aspects of French life that are surprising for a non-francophone and these are my best offerings, friends. If any of my fellow intrepid explorers of French life have any other suggestions then feel free to get involved!

  1. Trying to cross the road and being almost hit by a car, tram, bike or another person every time because you haven’t yet worked out which way to look. Add to that the fact that French drivers do not seem to play by the universal ‘green man means it’s my turn’ rule makes for some interesting crossing situations.
  2. There is graffiti everywhere. It ranges from single French words scratched into the tram window, to random English nouns (I’ve seen the word ‘tumour’ painted under a bridge), to proclamations of love tippexed on the desks in lecture theatres. Yesterday I saw this absolute belter and thought it was too good to not share.

    Definitely worth a snapchat

    Definitely worth a snapchat!

  3. French teenagers LOVE their Nikes. I’ve never seen so many pairs of Jordans in my life! Everyone has really snazzy trainers and the majority of these are Nikes…we can deduce from this that French kids get too much pocket money. Cool it, maman et papa!
  4. Walking past a boulangerie or patisserie it’s impossible to not stop and steam up the window with a hungry gaze. Man, it all looks so good, I do my strange pastry glance dance – walk past the window, glance at the calorific delights laid out for all to see, stop walking past, go back, eat it all with my eyes, carry on my merry way. I want to eat it all.
  5. Wine is cheap. Other booze is not (as we’ve previously discussed with the diabolical too expensive jagerbomb situation).
  6. The police officers are armed. There are soldiers with gurt off assault rifles who take a turn about the town centre every now and again and armed guards positioned outside the synagogue I pass every day. They are conspicuous and no one bats an eyelid.
  7. Being in France, means that it’s much more difficult to eavesdrop and hear about the mundane aspects of people’s lives which on boring days can be a wonderful distraction. Hearing a snapshot of a stranger’s life is surprisingly therapeutic, but the rapid-fire casual slang of colloquial French is proving difficult to understand. It may sound strange, but this makes me long for England, where I can listen to people planning evenings out and discussions with their parents. My French is improving though, soon I’ll be able to tell you all about Mathilde’s date with Jean-Claude.
  8. They’re mad about recycling. People have knocked on my door twice to tell me about recycling and given me a little bag for separating my waste. On all bins, you’re encouraged to think of ‘le tri’ (sorting). I haven’t yet found out if there are any consequences of not sorting your bins but I hope not because as much as I love recycling, my French isn’t up to asking for directions to the nearest food waste disposal unit or if I can put my paper waste in with the tins, which it seems like they want me to do…I’ll get the hang of it, just not right now, okay?
  9. Finally, number 9 – if they’re rude to you, it’s not because they hate you or because you’re being targeted, that’s just what they’re like as a populace. Don’t get offended, that’s just what they can be like.

As of tomorrow, I will have been living in Strasbourg for 7 weeks, if my maths is right. A scary and exciting 7 weeks. I’m sure the French culture will reveal to me more of its secrets, but for now I have mid-terms and then half term next week which will be a blessing – time to go home, unwind, forget all about the ordering of personal pronouns and how to use the subjunctive tense in real life and eat some proper cheddar.

Now Playing: James Bay – Scars