It is now October and life is slowly beginning to make sense here. In a way, time has seemed simultaneously so fast and so slow. It is only October, but I have submitted my first assignment, my parents are visiting in a couple of weeks and for the most part, the practical teething problems seem to have straightened themselves out. Coming up this Saturday, I will have met the three-week mark for deeming your home free of bed bugs and I am fairly sure that I actually have a French bank account now.
It is dark out and with the exception of a sweltering hot Wednesday afternoon, it is bitterly cold, especially walking home from university. On my way home each evening, I see bakers sell the remaining pain au chocolats to parents and school children, the icing dusting their pink noses. I walk along the river that I definitely should know the name of, looking at all the shops and cafés shutting for the evening. I find it eerie how quiet Strasbourg becomes at night, but I suppose that is a capitalistic point of view to have; people should rest more than we actually do.
I have managed to get a job teaching English to French primary school children despite having very few qualifications. I go twice a week to the school and teach the children the words for Boy, Girl, Dog, Cat. Their little faces look up at me with curiosity; I must seem so grown-up to them, dressed as a poor man’s Matilda Djerf, commanding them from the top of the classroom. My ill-fitting trench coat a metaphor for this suddenly adult role that I am filling. Erasmus has stripped away the perhaps over-confidence that I had developed in the past two years. Every time a cashier doesn’t understand me or I am completely overwhelmed in a lecture, I just want to call my parents and have them take care of it for me. Learning a language leaves you like a child, stuck and unable to communicate what you want and need.
We decided to take a trip to Basel, in Switzerland, the other week as SNCF does petit prix sometimes, or reduced rates. Waking up at a time that you will only catch me awake at in cases of life or death, we went out into the black Strasbourg night where it also conveniently decided to rain buckets. The saying the early bird catches the worm also neglected to mention that the early bird would also be drinking a five-euro can of Monster while being rained on. Asides from that and the exorbitant costs in Switzerland (One of my friends paid €8 for a cappuccino in Starbucks in a scene that terrifies me still), Basel was well worth the day trip. We saw the Rhine, the old town, and two museums for less than €50; that being said it is the kind of place to bring a packed lunch to. The only person to bring one was smirking as we debated paying €20 for a burger.
As aforementioned, Strasbourg shuts down quite early at night. Unplanned as ever, we ended up going out on a Wednesday night. On my suggestion, we went to a witch-themed bar nearby, where we found that they were hosting a Dungeons and Dragons night with the lights on fully, and no one else drinking. Being glared at by a man wearing steampunk attire and unsure of what anything on the ‘alchemy’ menu actually was, I ended up ordering a ‘hot cocktail’ which ended up being the vilest concoction I have had in my life. Reminiscent of lemsip, I gagged the whole thing down (I am a student, and my Erasmus grant hasn’t come in yet so believe me I was going to drink it). Afterward, we made our way to apparently the only bar in a 2km radius that was open at midnight and being kicked out approximately half an hour later we decided that drunk food was the only way to go.
Apparently, the only Mcdonald’s open at this still relatively early hour was in Germany. Undeterred and two hours later we were tucking into perhaps the vilest meal I have had in my life. Twenty chicken nuggets sounds far more appealing when you are on a cheap white wine buzz than it actually is when it is delivered cold and from across the border. To go along with this poor representation of Ireland we were perhaps delivering, were the rats scurrying all around us. It is not exactly the Pinterest, cutesy vibe I was expecting initially when I wrote Strasbourg down on my form. The land of gastronomy!
Lectures in French universities are two painful hours long. By the hour mark, I am usually conked out on my keyboard as my attention span has been severely damaged by the pandemic and by TikTok; or perhaps I am just getting old. I usually spend the second half of these lectures jotting down the odd word in French that I do understand or drawing cartoon versions of the important French statesmen that are flashing up on the screen. My notes are littered with little Charles De Gaulles, complete with the hat, in the margins.
All in all, the homesickness has faded somewhat. It does take some time to get used to living abroad, and perhaps I still gasped with a little too much excitement when Aisling told us that she found Dairy Gold in the Lidl in Germany. Even though I don’t actually eat butter that much. And I don’t even like Dairy Gold. Myself and Clíodhna were walking home the other evening when all of a sudden she spun around and said ‘Were they Irish accents?’; I do not know if this is every other nation that does this, but Irish people are like dogs when we meet other Irish people, excitingly running up to them and enquiring if they too know their aunty Deirdre, and their best friend’s uncle’s neighbour. And the answer is usually yes. This tight-knitedness I love so dearly is ever-present no matter where I go in the world.
Written by Emma Whitney