Reaching the first 100 days of living and studying in Paris felt like a sizeable achievement. I congratulated myself on surviving and (to some extent) thriving within an environment that initially filled me with so much fear. This week marks a slightly gloomier outlook; less than 100 days remain in Paris. In all honesty, I’m not exactly sure how to feel about this.
The idea of counting down the remaining days until I can wave ‘Au Revoir‘ to the French university system is to some extent a positive goal; no matter how many slightly-acidic vending machine coffees I consume, nothing seems to make a 9am class on the theory of New Wave cinema any less painful. I don’t think that I will ever understand the system and I can only hope that Diderot is an exception to the majority. There is also a limit to which I can enjoy learning in an environment where I constantly feel out of place, an outsider. The question – how long do you need to live in a country before you no longer feel like a foreigner? – has crossed my mind on a daily basis since I arrived. Do you ever feel like you belong if you have known another culture for such a significant amount of time? Granted, Paris is not a world away from home; it’s just the culmination of daily, subtle nuances that give the perpetual feeling that this isn’t quite what I know.
Added to this, every conversation I have with a year abroad student who is working in Paris confirms that perhaps I should have made some effort last year to secure my own work placement. After having applied to the 2 vaguely relevant offers given (UoB’s department is somewhat lacking in an abundance of work placements compared to other universities) this was seemingly insufficient, given how competitive these opportunities can be. In truth, I think the idea of living and working in another country seemed altogether unrealistic. It was easier to make minimal effort and allow myself to receive Paris 7 through the allocation system than to motivate myself earlier to reach for something unknown.
Genuine advice offered on how to make friends whilst abroad? “Head to a bar or café if you’re feeling adventurous; locate a group of people roughly the same age, smile and introduce yourself!”. Brilliant – because everyone enjoys having a foreign student thrust into their friendship group, and the response will always be “Sure, come join us whilst we speak slowly!”
I can count the number of French friends I have using my fingers, and that isn’t to say I haven’t genuinely tried to expand this social circle. Regardless, I don’t think you can pin your hopes of fluency on your social group. I don’t believe that you can succeed and develop if you are unhappy; certainly, without the lovely non-francophone people that I have met so far, I would be comfort-eating croissants hysterically. That isn’t to say that I would not like to know other French students; I am merely balancing the lack of social education with the need for sanity. If English friends are needed for happiness, I’m not going to deny myself socialising with other Brits in a vain hope for fluency.
“Even when you’re with English speakers, make an effort to speak in French”. I think this is a good idea in theory; in practice, I don’t want to have to google every word in order to tell a friend about a nightmare lecture. I can honestly say I start every conversation with foreign students in French, regardless of whether they are fluent in English. I can’t say the same for those with fellow Brits. Unless you count tagging each other in French Buzzfeed articles as a genuine form of communication and language practice.
This semester also marks my first translation class taken at Diderot, which has turned out to be one of the most amusing sessions so far. I find myself learning more about the English language than about anything else. Although the class is French to English, I am the only native student speaker in my group. Hence, I have become my Professor’s favourite guinea pig to interrogate. The issues that arise – political hustings, why ‘mendacious’ is a better choice than ‘deceptive’, what is a ‘mote’ of dust, the correct usage of a scimitar, the dying usage of ‘wont’ – reassure me that no matter how much I study French, I still apparently have a lot to learn in my own language.
For the poor French students sat in the class attempting to follow these unforeseen tangents, I can only imagine how hard it is to keep up and understand the entire conversation. Perhaps that is why I find each French lecture so exhausting – Professors are focused on using a level of language that I have not often encountered in my own education so far. Either that or I need to learn vocabulary in both languages ahead of the looming exam.
Semaine de Lecture
To be completely honest with myself, I spent my Reading Week avoiding Diderot and all associated work at any cost. Whilst the French students jetted off skiing in the sunshine, I simply enjoyed living like an English student, including lots of cocktails and bacon and the karma induced chest infection that followed (a cold sounds too trivial). I even introduced my French flatmate to the wonders of scrambled eggs. Of course, I could have spent hours practising grammar exercises or rereading Les Misérables (because I’ve totally finished my first reading of it, honest).
I have the fourteen weeks left at Diderot mapped out; there are certain horrors ahead, with at least one deadline or one exam every week between now and May’s exam season. There is already a slowly growing pile of assessments and as becomes increasingly apparent each day with learning a language, there is always more to do. The saving grace is that with a deadline on my Parisian experience, “this might be the only opportunity” is a viable excuse for most things.
Boulangerie update – my local little shop has now acknowledged my deep relationship with croissants. Monsieur has a pain-au-chocolat, and a slightly judging smile, ready for whenever I trip through the door. Surely this has to count towards establishing a solid Parisian identity?