Bonjour a tous!
After an 8h 30m flight to London & 2 trains to get to Lille, France, coming in with the mindset that a foreign country would be easy to navigate and that I knew plenty French to be able to get by, I stepped out of the train station into Lille & BAM! Confusion. Shock. Panic. First of all, the street signs are not on poles at the intersections like in the States. They’re on signs on the corners of buildings and those signs are not that large. It took me a while of wandering around, with all my luggage might I add, to figure this out. The airbnb that I booked (I arrived a day early before my program) was “only a 10 minute walk from the station, easy to find”. NOT! After getting lost & feeling extremely frustrated, I gave in & called my host who was luckily, kind enough to come get me at another train station I walked to. I got back to the flat, which of course hers was on the 4th floor with the steps so tiny you can barely fit the tip of your foot on it, so it was a struggle to get my 100lb suitcase up. After unpacking, I treated myself to dinner at Le Beaurepaire which was a crepe restaurant. The crepe was AMAZING by the way, it tasted so rich & creamy unlike anything in the States!
On the way back to the flat I got lost again because I of course forgot what the door of the flat looked like. After trying to unlock the wrong door for about 10 minutes, I texted my host and she told me it was next to a restaurant. Then I proceeded to try opening the door by the restaurant (which actually was the door of the restaurant & the people there were like um this is the restaurant… how embarrassing!) and then I found the right door. The next day I spent about 5 hours walking around without my luggage trying to find the way to the train station. I tried using landmarks to remember where I was, which bless the McDonalds, I always knew where I was when I saw it. Unfortunately, the first sign I saw in Lille was “a louer” & I started to use it as a landmark. It actually means for rent or something like that for a building that is vacated, and there’s a ton of buildings that have that sign so that got me lost real quick. Finally I just decided to give up and take my luggage and hope I found it. All the sudden, everything seemed to click & I found the train station with no problem where I met the representatives of my program. They showed me to my dorm which is conveniently right above the train station & it is so nice! My own room, bathroom, closet, kitchen, and cooking ware. It came with just about everything I need to live here for a month.
The university (La Catho) is absolutely beautiful- the architecture is Gothic and looks like a cathedral. I took a French placement test & I think they mistakenly put me in level 6 out of 7 (no way I’m that good!). I also had my 1st class today & I can’t believe I’m saying this but it was so much fun! It was full of interaction and activities and the subject actually interested me (International teamwork & communication). There’s only 8 people in my class counting myself and it’s amazing how culturally diverse we were – about 10 different countries were mentioned in playing in a role in our lives and our roots. It was a very discussion based class where everyone was free to speak & encouraged to speak. I’m actually looking forward to the rest of my classes next week 🙂
Observations I’ve made about France so far:
- It has a smell. Not a bad smell necessarily, but a smell nonetheless. After staying at the airbnb for a night and unpacking at the dorm, I realized all my clothes had a new smell to them.
- Smoking is a cultural thing here. Everywhere people are smoking cigarettes, inside buildings, in social circles on the streets, at cafes… everywhere and the city smells heavily of it.
- I blended in well with the French because people would come up and speak to me in French, but the second I responded in French to them they either responded in English or didn’t understand me because my French accent was so horrible. They knew in 1 second that I was an English speaker. And also I was very disappointed that my French accent is in reality not so French.
- Food here is EXTREMELY CHEAP! I can get a meal for 3 euros. And wine is even cheaper, I got a 1 euro bottle of wine at Carrefour, a supermarket, and it tastes as good or better than $14 wine in the States.
- Streets are not clearly marked. And roads aren’t paved. Everything is cobblestone and a street could look like a plaza until you realize you’re about to get hit by a car. Oh, and all the cars look the same, they’re very tiny (like fiats almost) and I haven’t seen 1 SUV or pick-up truck.
- People wear black. You can’t go wrong with black or neutral colors, but not many people wear super colorful items. It’s quite common to see guys in a 3 piece suit riding a bike in the city or women in stiletto heels walking the cobblestone streets like it’s nothing. Which brings up European guys: ooh la la!!! The rumors are true my friends: European guys are more attractive. Not necessarily because they are genetically blessed, but because their fashion is ON POINT! These men know how to dress & they’ll make you drool 😛
- Lastly, I went grocery shopping for the 1st time and:
- You must bring your own plastic bags or buy them (only 50 cents and good quality)
- You must weigh fruits/vegetables yourself, they don’t do it for you at the cashier
- FRENCH FRIES ARE ACTUALLY FRENCH!!! Everyone says that they’re not originated from France, but in my particular city at least, they are a French dish. They’re more like what you would call “steak fries” in the States.
Overall, I already love this city, have seen so many beautiful sites, and have learned so much about the French culture – can’t wait to learn more & share with you all! A bientot!