Happy New Year: Toulouse Take II (And Misadventures I’ve Neglected to Share)
Happy New Year, Reader! I write this on my penultimate day in Blighty and will post on Day Zero of Take II. And as I look ahead to what I might get up to, I thought I’d catch you up with a few of the things I’ve neglected to tell you I’ve been up to (because of course the more I get up to, the less time I have to tell you what I’ve been up to)… My Big Adventures are to come, but for now, here are my favourite success stories and feck-ups of the term.
Misadventures Past : The WinFail Diaries
At this point last term, I was blissfully unaware of the travesty of timetabling that awaited me. This “build-your-own-timetable” lark turned quickly into a Lesson Lottery. One I often lost.
WIN: Found my Psycholinguistique lecture
FAIL: Spent the next 6 weeks walking through an apparently forbidden corridor, with a welcoming INTERDIT sign on every door, for want of a better route.
FAIL: Attempted to find a Logique et Langage lecture in the Dreaded-Even-If-You’re-Not-Superstitious Batiment 13 and soon realised I was in the wrong class
WIN: Realised the lecture was vaguely linguistics related and decided to stay anyway… For a term
WIN: Mastered Mirail’s layout by creating a detailed grid map (complete with coordinates and key landmarks- such as “broken vending machine” and “condemned door”)
FAIL: Used my map to find the elusive Amphi 4. Which resulted in me getting a door closed in my face. And locked.
WIN: One day I thought I might give doing work and other productive things a go for a refreshing change.
FAIL: I got lost in the library. And the exit lead to some as yet unknown bit of Mirail.
FAIL: I bailed awkwardly from a lecture, desperate for a wee. Of course I had no idea where to find toilets (I was so desperate I would have happily used the holes in the floor- yes, the French motorway station-style loo exists at Mirail- but they were closed)
WIN: I was able to ask directions from a wandering lecturer with a heavy Spanish accent… On the condition that I carried his computer monitor to the next building for him.
At Mirail, there are no worries about whether you’ll be able to follow the lesson or not. You cross that bridge if you ever find it.
Of course I didn’t just get lost around my Uni. There is plenty of Toulouse to get lost in. And a fantastic transport system which can get you lost quickly, efficiently and on time.
The Un-Frenchman (whom I woke up at midnight) reckons (and I’d hazard a guess he’s right) that the best sign you’re getting to know a city is getting lost in it. And boy did Kettle and I get lost in it.
FAIL: After a trip to the cinema with Kettle (who had by this point got to grips with boiling water in a saucepan), we decided to get the bus back to Chapou. Deciding that the bus that arrived was definitely the same one as I’d got coming into town (it wasn’t) and that it would go back roughly the same way (it didn’t) we got on. It wasn’t until we were one stop away from the terminus that we decided all hope was lost and quickly bailed, with a view to heading back on foot to where we knew.
There aren’t many bits of Toulouse I fear being mugged in. We found one of them. Having ignored a greeting of “Eh meuf, bonsoir !” (Hey lady, evening!) by a dodgy looking stranger, I was glad of Kettle’s presence as we discovered Toulouse’s red light district, were heckled by hobos rummaging through bins (“Excuse us for being hungry”) and received regular phone calls from the Un-Frenchman to check on our well being and location and to provide taxi numbers.
Kettle was the epitomy of bravery and masculinity, until we made it to the train station, where, having missed the last bus and metro, we took a taxi home- it was at this point Kettle admitted he’d been feeling a little more like a teapot on the inside.
Come to think of it, I spent a lot of my first term less than sure of my surroundings…
WIN: I discovered the delight (and fear of death by French motorist) of Velô Toulouse (bike rental is THE way to travel), with The Pirate of the CariBean, who’s little land legs reached the peddles with some adjustment. Of the seat, not her legs.
FAIL: Although we didn’t die, we did accidentally end up at the prison. Not in it. AT it.
EIMA, our Erasmus Association extraordinaire, did their bit in keeping us entertained and showing us what’s where (I promptly forgot). Even with the guidance of my adoptive French mother-guardians Trop Bien and Palm Tree (we’re a modern family), I still managed to make a tit of myself in style.
WIN: I entered a Toulouse-themed not quite pub quiz with a few of (who eventually became) my Idiots Abroad and came away with a free beer token (and beer is dear).
FAIL: At this not quite pub quiz was where I met CariBean, mistook her for a Spaniard, asked her if she knew what one of my facurite expletives meant and complimented her English. Turns out she’s from somewhere near Kent.
WIN: I was dead excited to get my Erasmus Treasure Hunt on, particularly because there were extra points for silly photos (and I happen to be a master, even unintentionally).
FAIL: Once we were let loose around Toulouse, we soon lost our bearings and motivation and ended up in a crêperie for the afternoon.
WIN: I was pretty proud of myself for getting up early for a cultural tour of Toulouse. And really enjoyed most of it.
FAIL: After two hours, Kettle and I bailed for a (semi-cultural at least) kebab.
WIN: We even managed a nighttime tour of Toulouse. I took loads of pretty pictures. Mainly of and from bridges. I like bridges. Especially when they’re all lit up and shiny.
FAIL: It took me three attempts to identify Pont Neuf. Which is, like, the big daddy of bridges in Toulouse. And contrary to what the name suggests, the oldest.
WIN: As you’d imagine, a bowling/ karaoke Erasmus night went down a storm, being completely universal. Aside from the Italians going wild for a few show stoppers I could only hum at. My bowling got steadily worse as I got through a few two euro fifty Desperados, but my abysmal score was more than made up for by knowing every word to L’Aventurier by Indochine. Our rendition was priceless.
FAIL: I found myself a bit Desperado for a whizz, so tipsily trotted off to what I assumed was the ladies. Coming out of the cubicle, I was shocked (sobered?) to see two men. Red-faced, I slunk back to the group, marvelling at how I’d managed to end up in the men’s. Oh no no, say my newly acquainted Idiots Abroad, mixed sex toilets are perhaps more common than single sex, have another drink.
I finally started getting to grips with the place, especially after the first month. I call this the Marauders’ Map Effect. You get to know bits because your favourite Subway is there, or because someone had to take a tactical toilet stop there on a long walk home after a night out… And then all of a sudden you go for a walk, take a new route and the gaps in the map all fill in. You go from having a blank sheet to an inky mess of what and who’s where. And that’s when you start feeling like a local, or at the very least, less of an imposter. Even Easyjet emailed me in Toulouse to welcome me home.
WIN: I passed for a française for the first time just before taking my French proficiency test, a little after my first month. It helps that I have a French name. But it was nice to hear “So you’re definitely not French? Or Francophone?”
FAIL: Not only did the invigilator almost refuse me entry for having a French name, but the test was shambolic and I was almost thrown out again for having a giggle fit. I was already struggling, having seen the state of the room they’d put us all in, to take anything seriously. I’d already made a gag about them shipping all the foreigners into the one room with a roof that could cave in at any second.
Then imagine having to listen to a recording of the oldest, frailest French lady imaginable, with the most high pitched, croaky, wobbly voice. Bless her, she was hilarious. To top it off though, every 5 seconds Mirail’s finest speakers spat out an almighty fart. I’d just happened to be seated with a group of mainly English speakers, most of whom I’d already met. We almost managed to keep a straight face until we all looked at each other. Between us we did nothing for the reputation of British students.
I’d almost recovered when the one student taking things seriously (and she must have been the only one) turned to me and asked that I make less noise during a very important test. Like I said, I’d almost recovered. I quickly apologised. Then inadvertently cackled in her face.
WIN: Everything around me slowly switched over to French. Spotify and Google Ads were first to make the transition. Over Christmas, a cashpoint in York rail station accepted my English debit card with a “Vos détails sont en cours de vérification”. Facebook too, but strangely incompetently so (not that I often notice).
FAIL: I wasn’t immune from the Language Switchover. I call this Bilingual Seepage and it happens most when I’m tired, stressed, drunk and/or in the company of bilinguals. It’s led to a few inadvertent howlers, such as “good idée”. It’s also for this reason I don’t notice Facebook’s slip-ups.
I quickly got used to the food. Sure, it took living in France (and eating a 3-cheese panini) to realise I REALLY dislike cheese that tastes like cheese, but I’ve been delighted by French cuisine (as soon as I learnt how to say “well done”). I even got over the fact that compote has the consistency of baby food. But that doesn’t mean I always eat à la française …
WIN: After my third weekly Subway, I finally got to grips with the ordering system of the various establishments (I’ve found 3 so far). Questions such as “Have you chosen your bread?” and “What are we putting on this?” seem less strange to me.
FAIL: It still didn’t stop me getting the gender of turkey wrong.
DOUBLEFAIL: I got so used to French Subway that, upon my return, in the company of The Wife and The Messiah, I asked for “parmesan and origan”. The Messiah quickly stepped in with a “She means herbs and cheese. She’s been in France for a bit.”
WIN: The cleverdick serving asked whether in France you get wine and cheese as a side. I replied that no you don’t, but you can get Heineken.
I even (and as you might suspect, Reader, this has been quite a feat) managed to make Chapou kinda homely.
WIN: I bought Carrefour’s own cutlery and plates for an absolute bargain and some lucky Erasmus student to come gets to inherit them in their acid green glory.
FAIL: I still peel potatoes with a steak knife, Erasmus style.
FAIL: For the first three months my favourite moan was the lack of shutters in my room. As you may have already read, my solution was to hang a bed sheet over my window. Which was great until I wanted to open it.
WIN: After many arguments, being seen less than clothed twice and a privacy protest involving me leaving my bins on my window sill (this started out because I was too lazy to take a particularly smelly bin down, but it gave me an idea), Chapou fitted my room with a blackout blind. I like to walk around naked sometimes. Because I can.
WIN: Chapou even stretched as far as fitting a desk lamp, which I originally deemed nice, but unnecessary.
FAIL: Unnecessary until I realised that I have a bi-polar big light. The bulb is fine, but there are good days and dark days…
FAIL: I’ve said this before, but French pillows are inexplicably square. All of them. For weeks I had three rectangular pillow cases and a square pillow folded in half.
WIN: I’d accepted this as the Erasmus way and was quite content with the set-up when my Ma (you can see now why I call her The Coordinator) decided to make room for a rectangular pillow in her case when she and The Bank came to visit. Thanks, Ma.
For every day when anything or everything has seemed too hard, too frustrating, I’ve had dozens more that have seemed scarily effortless, or so much fun it ought to be illegal.
And even when things have gone thoroughly tits up, we’ve managed to have a good laugh about them.
So happy New Year, Reader. I hope you’re ready for the year to come and that it brings you as much laughter and adventure as I’m anticipating.