Houston, We Have Feck Off (Day 1)
This is a true account of my first day in France. Although the story begins, not in Toulouse, but at Manchester Airport…
How I internally slagged off everyone who shows up late at the gate and then was that person
The Bank, The Coordinator (collectively known as The Folks), along with The Wife, had accompanied me as far as the airport. We’d left at 5am and as of 8:30am I was alone in the departures lounge. Having had to unpack my carry-on case (see Gravatar) to reach the laptop so wisely left at the bottom (and in the meantime showing the whole of Manchester Airport my Keep Calm and Carry On teddy bear), I’d spent a while re-packing and re-dressing whilst chatting to a very nice old couple from Cork. Although that’s hardly relevant. Point is, I was quite chilled out. Glancing at the departure boards, I noticed a trend: green for “meander on over to your gate, please”, orange for “get ready to meander on over to your gate” and red for “RUUUUUNNNN!”… So when the orange message displaying my gate number showed up, I duly noted it, gave it ten minutes since I was comfy and then began meandering over to my gate (approximately 3,000 light years away) assuming that in the process, it would turn green and all would be well. As I reached gate 28, I glanced again at the boards to find that the standby orange had been replaced with run-like-feck red. As I approached my gate, trying to keep the world’s most violent adrenaline rush at bay, an announcement rang through the entire terminal, announcing that it was I and two others who had failed to arrive alongside our flying companions. And after judging the subjects of the previous announcement for “no doubt getting too carried away in the Duty Free”, I felt a bit of a tit.
How I was tempted to do a “Terminal”
The flight went expectedly without a hitch. My baggage being too big to go through ordinary check-in however, I was somewhat concerned that I may never see it again. However when it came to picking it back up, I was reluctant for it to come, because that would mean that it would be time to leave the security of the airport and the plane-load of English people milling around it and go outside into real France, talk to real French people and get myself into a taxi.
How I nearly literally left my (permanent) mark on Chapou
After more French bureaucracy and handing over 340 euros (where are you, Erasmus grant?!) and going to the wrong floor after reading my room number wrongly, I finally got as far as my room and spent some time unpacking since there was precisely no sign of life. I’d said a few awkward bonjours to people I’d passed on the way up, but that was it for human contact. It wasn’t until I was feeling a bit sad and lonely and had texted The Folks and The Wife to tell them so that I decided to go look out the window in the corridor. From behind me, a voice said “bonjour!”
LIFE ON MARS.
The voice belonged to a very sweet Réunionaise, who I will call Token French Person, because when I find myself in English-speaking company, she is there to save me from temptation.
Token French Person and I chatted for a while and swapped numbers. I politely declined her invite to go jogging around the canal and decided instead to meander towards a supermarket (wherever that might be).
Disaster struck at this point.
My residence is under construction. Not that in my sleep deprived and starving state I had noticed. I came out of the lift not realising that someone had clearly spent a long time laying concrete and ignored the metal plank on the floor that to me seemed to be awkwardly, even irritatingly, blocking my path. As my foot sank into grey sludge, I realised my mistake. I stared in horror as I lifted it back out and reflected upon my own footprint. “SHIT SHIT SHIT,” was all I managed to declare.
After washing my trainer, sending some frantic texts home for advice and deciding to pretend it never happened, I descended once more, only to find that my mark would not be forever left at Chapou. I later found out from Token French Person that an angry member of the maintenance team had covered it over, with love, care and a million French obscenities.
How I proved that at least some French stereotypes are bang on
My first trip out proved exciting and profitable. I live a stone’s throw from a beautiful canal and the city really is very picturesque. I bought breakfast, toothpaste and toilet paper from Supermarché Simply and was infinitely proud of myself. I successfully asked directions. I was asked directions and completely failed to be of any use.
On my travels, I spotted a real day-maker. I’d been in France a matter of hours before I came across a Frenchman wearing an almost-beret and a stripy top. I wanted so desperately to take his picture, for having the audacity to be so painfully stereotypically French, but couldn’t manage it with any degree of subtlety.
I stopped for lunch/dinner/who even knows- I was dying of hunger- at what turned out to be a reggae bar. I popped in for a sandwich and ended up listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers and watching a hilarious French sketch show called Lol!. Another brilliant French stereotype come to life: there was garlic and olive oil in my ham and crudités sandwich. How beautifully Mediterranean.
How I didn’t manage to sleep with no pillow or curtains/ shutters
I spent the evening chatting to Token French Person. She kindly made me some pasta and promised to show me how to get to the University using the bus and metro the following day. We watched two American films dubbed in French, including Eh mec, où est ma caisse? (Dude, Where’s My Car?) All was going well and I felt comfortable and happy, which is more than I expected for a first night.
In much need of some rest, I went to bed early, determined to get some shut-eye despite the lack of curtains/blind/shutters and pillow. I threw some dirty clothes in a canvas bag and proceeded to make myself as comfy as possible with my makeshift pillow. Deciding the smell was not worth the added neck support, I promptly abandoned that plan and did without. I wouldn’t call what I had sleep as much as a series of power naps. Toulouse waits for no one and come sunrise, the light was streaming through my apparently east-facing window and soon after I was greeted with the sound of drilling and hammering from somewhere within my as yet unfinished residence.
Details of day 2 to follow…