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

“Is that even their car?!”

I believe a month ago today, I first arrived in Strasbourg. A month which has been exciting and terrifying and painful and thrilling in equal measure. The systems of administration and the hoops we have had to jump through have been atrocious but the city itself is gorgeous and makes up for the lack of clarity in these situations and the lack of toilet seats in France in general. Concerning, I know.

I will not be pretentious and say that ‘I discovered myself and who I REALLY am on my year abroad’ because let’s be honest a) I have been here only a month and b) no one likes that kid. But I have found some of the most excellent friends I could possibly imagine and in my book that’s even better.

The following was written when I got in from a night out this morning at around 6am and I think perfectly demonstrates the fun that has been had with these exceptional people so far in Strasbourg. Sorry if this is one of those ‘you had to be there, man, it was hilarious!!!’ moments. Spell-check can wait another couple of hours. Read on, dear friend, read on!


The time is 05:42. I have been awake for 23 hours. I have only just returned from a night out. My limbs are like ice poles and I can’t feel my fingers; typing is a struggle and the coldest setting on my tap feels pleasantly tepid.

Everything about the night I just experienced just seems completely absurd looking back on it now…yes! That’s it, it all seems absurd!

The night started innocently enough: I was my standard half an hour late for pre-drinks because that’s generally who I am (sorry) and after several minutes, me and the other excellent attendees were passing around a large bottle of grass flavoured vodka…not drinking it…just smelling it. The smells registered ranged from “cinnamon” to “pain”. There was also a large blade of grass in the bottle…what’s up with that?!

After many jokes and laughs, we had found the ideal balance between being raucous and having a laugh while still being able to walk in a reasonably straight line.

We found the bar easily and ‘bon soir’ed and smiled dopily at the bouncer while he checked our ID and walked in…only to find the room dark and loud but almost totally devoid of patrons. But as the enterprising students we are, we immediately marched across to the bar and ordered a round of jagerbombs.

In the UK, jagerbombs (a shot of jager in about half a can of Red Bull so it’s the perfect volume for downing all in one swift action) are a staple of every night out because they’re so cheap. You can often buy 4 for £10 which pleases me and many other penniless students greatly. In France however, we have discovered that they are too big, too cold and too expensive. If you can drink a French jagerbomb in one go, you are a champ.

The bar filled up and our night continued. We danced, we got lost on the way to the loo, we laughed, we tried to understand what the French people were saying to us and we somehow gained lots of glowsticks.

Eventually it was time to leave and due to the fact that I live so far out from the centre of town, we needed kill time before the trams (which don’t run between 00:30 and 04:00). We walked our very drunk friend home and probably woke up all her flatmates as we sat in her room and stole all her food while she almost fell asleep on her bed.

She’d bought the most disgusting flavoured Pringles you could imagine and we ate them all. If you ever see the emmental ones for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY do not buy them. They taste of socks and get progressively worse with every bite. They were just completely awful.

We ate them all, raided her fridge and made our exit. On the way to the tram, we encountered a group of boys and the most bizarre situation. They were standing around a silver Renault Clio which was at 45 degrees to the parking space it was meant to be in which piqued our curiosity. They gave a cry of “un, deux, trois!” and heaved the rear end of the car back towards the space. But this was not enough and my two male friends were enlisted to haul again, the rear of the car into the space.

Why the car was sticking out of its original space by 45 degrees at 4 in the morning is beyond me. Why they felt the need to move it baffles me. I just don’t understand it and it confuses me still as I remember doubling over in hysterical laughter at the expressions on my mates’ faces as they gathered around the car.

We had a fantastic night and all of these events of the night may not seem funny at all when I wake up, but the words of my friend Phil of “is that even their car?!” just contributed the excellence of the night and provided a well-deserved break from reality. I can’t wait to see what the following months bring us here in Strasbourg.

Now playing: Jamie xx – Loud Places