Sealed with a bisou from France

How accurate are French stereotypes?

Stereotype tells us the French are a nation of wine-guzzling, beret-wearing, snail-munching, cheek-kissing “frogs” who parade around wearing stripy tops and strings of onions around their necks. I am yet to see a “frog” wearing onions as part of their daily attire, yet it is true that on meeting anybody you “faire la bise”, kiss both their cheeks. Can you imagine if men kissed every time they saw each other in England; you’d hear epics chants of “shlaaaad” all over!

I work as an English assistant/occasional translator for ESIEE–Amiens, a specialist engineering university. You would think that working in a university which is about 95% male (in year two, there is one girl, poor guys) I would have experienced French men in all of their irresistibleness, as stereotype dictates. Hell no. At a ratio of about 500 boys to 10 girls I hear you cry ,”oh là là!” How lucky must I be to spend my day surrounded by a plethora of hot-blooded French males – but alas, do remember it’s an engineering school. As a girl, and an English one at that, I am a novelty; although some have definitely made an effort with me. One student sent me song lyrics from a French love song called “Don’t leave me”. According to the song he wants to cover my body in gold and rule an empire where I am the queen. Hmm. I’m not sensing romance so much as complete and utter creepiness!

I enjoy working with the students though, especially when they make glorious mistakes. One guy who is Mr Uber Keeno, told me that the work I had given to him was “too easy as he likes really hard things”. How I chuckled. Immature, I know, but it was genius at 9 o’clock in the morning. Although he had no idea why I was giggling so much and I thought it best to keep it that way. I do sometimes wonder where they get some phrases from. After telling one guy that I was already in my overdraft and he said “that’s because you’re a hobo”. Charming. Where on earth had he learnt that word!? And the charm continues. Another guy said that it’s obvious I’m English as I dress weirdly. Pleasant boy. So I’m sorry to say that whilst working in a male-dominated environment the conception that all French men are beautiful and romantic has unfortunately failed me.

I have been predominantly struck by how diametrically opposed the student life here is to that of Durham, and to English universities in general. We all (well I can only speak for the fabulous Mildertians here) love Studio Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Loveshack Wednesdays and Klute Saturdays, however the students here venture out only on a Thursday – and if they’re feeling particularly adventurous and wild they can squeeze in a Tuesday too. Wow. Although I may have discovered the reason for this travesty. Drinks are stupidly expensive here. As a girl who really can’t stand the taste of beer I need my vodka or skittles fix on a night out, yet the €4.80 price for a single and €7 for a cocktail are enough to turn anyone to beer! College prices, how I do miss you.

And club entry, hello a cheeky 8 euros! Where oh where have my cherished 50p Studio nights gone? Although I was ridiculously impressed with supermarket wine prices; forget Tesco Value vodka, you can get wine for €1.44 down the local Carrefour! The students here also have to make their own social life, as there is no college to organise balls or events; perhaps we only have college to blame for our dwindling degrees and killer hangovers!?

Prior to my arrival I envisaged gorgeous French boutiques and pretty streets exuding French class and Amiens has not let me down. It is home to the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, which happens to retain the skull of John the Baptist (I can’t help but think this is a teeny bit gross) and is insanely beautiful. It also has a pretty canal lined with exquisite restaurants and cafés. It’s funny how having lived in England all my life I instantly gravitate to shops that we have there. Back home I think I have ventured into H&M all of once yet here I can’t get enough! And the crêpe stands on almost every street corner definitely enhance the whole shopping experience. Thank you Lord for creating these. They almost manage to fill the Dairy Milk shaped hole inside me.

When writing an article about my life here in France I cannot fail to mention the utter pain in the backside that was the strikes surrounding Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial pension reforms. You only have to look at May 1968 to see that striking is traditionally successful in France. The French regard May ’68 as a cultural milestone in their history and its triumph, which brought civil war to France’s doorstep, is still prominent today in France with university selection still non-existent. With an impending trip back to my beloved Durham I was not amused to discover that 40% of all flights from Charles de Gaulle airport were cancelled due to strikers blocking access to fuel depots; France and I would so not be friends if my flight did not make it off the ground. The government only wants to raise the retirement age by two years, what’s the big deal? Yes, it’s good to inject some passion into beliefs but come on now, is it really necessary to incur the paralysis of society whilst doing so? I found it immensely interesting when discussing the strikes with three students that they believed the strikes to be ridiculous and didn’t agree with them at all. Furthermore the strikes this time were fruitless, so perhaps this is a sign that the striking tradition in France is on the way out. Watch this space…

Alors, life in Amiens so far has been an eye-opener and fingers crossed life is just going to get more interesting and filled with delightful tales… bisous.

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