Post-Feck Off Part 2: Rosbif dans la Ville Rose
So, let’s revisit Day 2 in a little more detail. A recap:
- I’ve slept fitfully with no pillow or curtains.
- I’ve woken up in a strange country.
- I have, however, started several bureaucratic processes. And finished one.
Part 2: Rosbif dans la Ville Rose
Am I “inscrite” yet?
My first task on Day 2 was to “make myself known to the University”, to register. This involves tree murder extraordinaire and an inexplicable red pen obsession. As well as a baffling number of codes, details, documents… and without the help of three separate organisations (Erasmus International Mirail Association [EIMA], Division de la Vie Etudiante [DIVE] and Pole des Etudiants Etrangers), I would have had no hope completing any of it. Best of it was, after all that to-ing and fro-ing, the conclusion was basically “come back in a week and we’ll pick it up from there.” Excellent. To put this into perspective, no registration means no student card, which means no internet, no laundry, no bank account, which means no French mobile contract, which again means no internet and a terrifying phone bill.
It’s not so much a vicious circle as a vicious web of paperwork and high blood pressure. A web you can do nothing but to sit and look at, just dying to take your duster to it…
I’ll briefly fast-forward a week here. I’m back at Relations Intérnationales for my rendezvous to finalise my inscription. I’ve paid for assurance civile, I have all conceivable paperwork and my EHIC card at the ready. I’m offered a seat and I hope, naively, that this is not necessarily a sign that I will be here long…
“Vous avez un nom francais.” This will be the first of countless times that I will hear that, yes, by some coincidence, I am in France, with a French name and I’m not French. I know right? Impossible to imagine how that might have happened… Anyway, we establish I am indeed in the right place (I try to give the woman the benefit of the doubt and imagine that this question is not in fact intended to get rid of me as effectively as possible so she can return to her game of Solitaire) and she begins going over my paperwork.
“Veuillez écrire l’adresse de vos parents.” So I write down my parents’ address and offer it back to her. She looks at me as if I have used this vital document to clean up a dog’s particularly nasty morning sit-down. “Ca veut dire quoi, meadow?” She wasn’t familiar with the word “meadow” and this greatly irritated her, evidently. I replied with the French word for “field”. Close enough.
“So how do I pronounce this?” Seriously, lady, you don’t need to know how to say it, just write it down, before my parents move out of this address and into a retirement home.
Next: email address. “Ah yes, this is not going to be easy, we don’t say this in French either…” I made a gallant effort not to point out that I wouldn’t expect either my email or residential address to be something a French person would say, since they are both in fact British addresses. And for your information, my email address consists of a combination of words I would rarely use in my own English conversation anyway.
Then we come to my telephone number. And I just know the dog’s morning sit-down is going to hit the proverbial fan now, because my (including international code) 14-digit British phone number is not going to fit into her 10 pretty boxes intended for French mobile numbers (for this precise reason, I hadn’t dared fill it in). Why don’t I have a French contact number? Because I don’t have a French bank account. And why don’t I have a French bank account? Because I don’t have my student card. And why don’t I have my student card? Because I’m still here and I’m still not “inscrite”.
Remember that this is after I’ve been attempting to attend lessons for five days. And even after Madame What-Is-A-Meadow is content that my paperwork is in order, I still have to go to the other side of campus to hand in another piece of paper and request and collect my student card.
This will surely require a photograph. And this time I’m ready. I have spare photographs I had taken when I applied for my travel pass. And to say I had them taken on my first day, they’re a pretty good shot.
“Look into the webcam please.” Oh for crying out loud. My hair is in a lazy ponytail and I’ve had four hours sleep, since I went out the night before. “With or without smile?”, I ask. “Either.”
So I may not look amazing, but the hilarity of the moment, combined with the stark realisation that I’m in for one hell of a year is plastered across my face. And I look truly ecstatic about it.
IKEIMA for “curtains”, “a pillow”- and internet
Back to Day 2 then- and I’m heading to register at the International Erasmus International Association, or EIMA, as originally briefly mentioned. For 3 euros, I was welcomed to a society of friendly (and some confused and lost-looking) faces, promising many exciting events and a hangout with every inch of wall and ceiling covered in international flags, heartfelt messages from Erasmus veterans and posters poking fun at national stereotypes.
I left some time later with a wristband (which I have barely taken off since), a few new friends and two old friends (I will explain). Most importantly though, I came away with “curtains” and “a pillow”. Fine, I came away with a bedsheet and a cushion.
With the bedsheet, when it starts to get dark, I trap it in the window and let it hang down, blocking most of the light. If, however, I wait until it is already dark (which I like to do, because my view of Toulouse is pretty at all times of day), I have to open it and trap it really quickly, lest all the insects in France collect in the corner of my room, spend the night buzzing away and then promptly die all over my desk come the morning.
The cushion (intended for a deckchair, I think) I have since replaced (more to come on the shape of French pillows- and French homeware in general), but for a few days, I coped quite well with it wrapped in a pillow case.
As for internet, I managed to acquire a password from a lovely ginger German, who I will call Streetcar, as his surname is somewhat un-pronounceable for anglophones. In the two and a bit weeks it took me to get my student card, he had a very predictable internet regime, which allowed me to be online until 11pm every night. I will never quite be able to repay him.
But yes, going back to my “old friends”. Once enjoying a coffee, in the comfort of EIMA HQ, I was greeted with a sudden “Steph ! Mais qu’est-ce que tu fais ici ?!” Turns out that two Erasmus students (who I’m going to call Trop Bien and Palm Tree) who had spent their Erasmus year in The Shire were now volunteering with EIMA at The Destination, to help Erasmus Generation 25 to settle in.
La bonne cuisine française
Trop Bien is so named because everything, in her way of seeing the world, is literally too good- just so entertaining. It was over lunch with Trop Bien and Palm Tree that I learnt the phrase “oh mais c’est trop bien” (said whilst stifling a giggle) and have positively overused it since.
It came about after some playful banter about the quality of cafeteria food (we were eating at Resto U) and after Trop Bien spotted a couple that, frankly, delighted her. He was comically tall, she was comically short. And they were apparently in a romantic relationship. “Oh mais c’est trop bien !”, she declared.
Trop Bien and Palm Tree are between them a comedy duo. A real Laurel and Hardy set-up, although I doubt they’ve even noticed. While Trop Bien and I were crying with laughter into our steak haché, Palm Tree was attempting to be the voice of reason, to prevent us making a scene. And in doing so made the situation even more comical. Palm Tree is Trop Bien’s balancing force. She’s also full of Year Abroad and Mirail advice for me (it was she who put me onto “Impossible n’est pas Mirail”) and shares my delight in the chaos that is La Feck.
The pair of them were the making of my second day. They stabilised my fairly bi-polar mood and I had my first of many belly laughs in their company (as well as that of another new friend, whose nickname I’m not going to reveal just yet, as the story behind this is the best I’ve got so far).
Trop Bien seems to share my ability to spot hilarious things a mile off and my love of finding the ridiculous and the amusing in everything we do. It’s because of this ability that I’m doing so okay here. I can’t help but appreciate the hilarity in this chaos and confusion.
For some examples of my hobby (read obsession) for collecting humorous tidbits, check out the new page that will be appearing in a couple of days.