An hour after I first arrived in Paris, my euphoric feeling gave way to a frantic – and frankly hilarious – situation, in which I somehow had to explain to the glowering housing manager that, contrary to what she was saying, my rent had been paid in advance, and so if she didn’t mind could she show me where to leave my suitcases please? The conversation had been going pleasantly enough, until it came to the small matter of the rent, at which point I awkwardly explained that it had already been taken care of. But she gave me that Gallic shrug that is so common in France – and which I almost came to perfect. Almost, but not quite. From then on, it was a battle of words – hers authoritative, mine faltering. My first day in France. Not exactly a fun ride.
Over the next few days there were so many annoying little things – I was locked out of my building because I had been given the wrong door code, the light bulbs needed fixing in my studio, and when they were finally fitted, it turned out there was no electricity. Arrrgh! At that time I couldn’t imagine adjusting smoothly to my new life, never mind actually coming to enjoy it.
I’ve never been happier to be wrong. It was a fantastic year. It was academically successful. It was a veritable European experience. And shockingly, it was a year ago. How time flies.
I remember the early days when I struggled to understand what was being taught in lectures,
and the embarrassing lessons where the tutor would march me to the front of a class of seemingly hostile people and throw a word at me, and ask me to create a 'situation' around that word. Improvisation lessons that I didn't really appreciate at that time. Until the whole class sort of took me under their wing, and indulgently supplied words and suggestions to make the lesson less 'painful' for me. They probably saw me as some hapless fool they had to take pity on...
Then I remember how I resolved to learn the language well, not because I wanted to pass my exams, be fluent, enjoy the city more et patati et patata (although of course that was part of it), but rather to be able to fight my battles with the maddening minefield that is French bureaucracy. Take that housing manager for example; she was a blast of classic Gallic froideur, and she knew I was intimidated by her, mostly because I couldn't manage to sound convincing in my hesitant French. And God knows I had a fair bit of battles to wage with officials at the post office, the host university, and - most importantly -the préfecture (while sorting out my residence permit - so much drama, so many tears!)
Through it all I remember the wonderful people I met, the long, leisurely days in May and June when school was over and we would spend our days wandering the city, discovering little treasures, and revelling in one another's company.
Ahh..Paris. What a city! What a time! Good times.