Amelia is a third year English Literature and French student currently on exchange at Université Jean Moulin Lyon III. She desperately misses Leeds and being able to go to the shops on Sundays. So far her best French friend is a cat called Sushi but hopes to branch out soon. She enjoys fine supermarket wine and her biggest aim for this year is to try and not get run over whilst crossing the road; ‘look right left right’ just isn’t working out over here.
It’s been exactly 60 days since I arrived in Lyon. After some last minute cramming on study abroad websites I thought I was mentally prepared to face the dreaded French bureaucracy but no amount of ‘survival guides’ could prepare me for what was to come. I was told by Leeds to expect a ‘hectic first couple of weeks’ – they did not lie. Just a few weeks ago, Andy Street, John Lewis’s managing director was forced to apologise after describing France as a place where ‘nothing works and, worse, no one cares about it.’ To a certain extent, I have to take Andy’s side on this one. Don’t get me wrong, I am still in awe of this city— the architecture, the food, the wine and just how damn chic everyone is, but take for example the pathetic ‘Battle of the Registration Process.’ It was myself vs. the International Relations office. Long story short I couldn’t get a student card for a whole month. This meant no timetables, no module booklet, no access to university Internet or email service and most importantly no more places left in the seminars. All this because of one Euro. ONE EURO. Apparently the gym membership I’d paid for in June had suffered from a rise in inflation and the minute price difference meant that I was left stranded in a sort of registration limbo.
So for the past two weeks my time has been divided between wine, croissants and sending ‘cry for help’ emails to various seminar tutors. My life has literally started to resemble a Beckett play. Eternal waiting but not quite knowing what for, the futility of language to express the human essence (well, at least at my level of French) and the perpetual cycle of absurdity. Come to think of it “Waiting for Godeau” as in Mme Godeau my lectrice for Littérature Comparée works spookily too well. I took another trip down to the dreaded International Relations office and this time I was ready— I had carefully prepared the vocabulary necessary to plead my case. I strolled over to the secretary with my speech (I even included a subjunctive to give a more dramatic feel) only to get half way through and have the secretary laugh in my face saying: “nobody replies to emails.” Brilliant. And I didn’t even get to use the subjunctive.
As much as I moan about the way things are organised I can’t deny how much fun it is here. Yes the lectures may be up to three hours long and yes everything in the shops is almost double the price as in the UK but I am genuinely having an amazing time. The bottom line is, even though France and the UK are only across the channel from one another, our cultures are totally different. I really don’t know where the UK got the idea from that we’re amazing at queuing because the French have it down perfectly. I’ve never queued so much in my life as I have here trying to get a metro card- almost three hours! Even though the processes of French Bureaucracy are long and often tedious, in a warped foreign student kind of way, I have to admit I find it all a little bit exciting.
Even between the Anglophones the tension is growing. Our translation class is actually led by an ex-Leeds student so I feel like we have a special connection. There was a little altercation last week between the British and the Americans over the use of the word ‘fortnight’. Up until that moment things had been getting a bit heated over a translation of ‘from strength to strength’ until ultimately one of my US counterparts yelled “What are we, Shakespeare?!” I’ll keep you posted on how things pan out. I have, however, become the go to gal for translation in one my comparative literature modules. We’re working on translated texts and I had to try and explain what a ‘smitten glare’ was to a class of French students. I wasn’t totally sure what Henry James was on about myself but it was nice to feel needed.
My rant against paper pushing is over; luckily my experience hasn’t changed my romantic view of France. The reason I chose Lyon in the first place was because a clever fourth year student told me “it’s like Paris but cheap.” We even have our own mini-Eiffel tower here! It’s called The Metallic Tower of Fourvière— fancy. Talking to all of the Leeds Erasmus students, we’ve all had our ups and downs. My friend Will’s low point was when he moved into his first apartment; “There was no electricity, no hot water and my flatmates hadn’t moved in yet. So I went to Carrefour then came back and sat in my dark, empty room by myself with nothing but a torch and a s**t carrot salad.” Luckily things have now picked up for myself and the other students – Will even has electricity and flatmates.
Since I have been to bureaucratic hell and back, I do feel all the better for it – like an Erasmus super-student ready for the next challenge to come along. I’ve even become more cultured; I went to see a production of Phèdre at the theatre – the first play I studied at Leeds! Nothing can bring me down. Although earlier today I did have a close call when someone threw a lit cigarette at me. I’m going to assume that was an accident.
And the best thing about Lyon? There’s far too much to decide from but my happiest moment to date has to be walking back from a night out and finding that the boulangeries open at 5am. Sorry Hyde Park Zulfi’s.
Images courtesy of Amelia Dunton, Keith Laverack