Of course I know the countryside has its merits: birds chirrup, flowers blossom and the occasional animal plods around. But when it came to my year abroad I went for the more appealing prospect of urban decadence. I didn’t want to end up in a secluded village, teaching English for a few hours a day with nothing much else to do except monitor the movement of hedgehogs, so I headed for Paris expecting to have French friends, a French job and a French life! But it wasn’t quite that simple.
I got an internship at a small company that deals with teaching children English. My job was to interview potential teachers and essentially play Lord Sugar. Although the internship taught me a lot, it was wholly in English, from the work itself to the other members of staff – who were also interns from UK universities. Worried about honours, I sought a new internship and I am now a junior editor for a news agency. Pretty swag, but again, to my chagrin, in an Anglophone environment. It’s therefore quite clear that in Paris at least, being an unqualified student you tend to be hired only for your English skills. Why not just have a French speaking social life? I tried. At first I was the keenest socialite in Paris, latching on to any and every French person I met, butterflying from one to the other. I soon discovered that the stereotype of Parisians being unfriendly is sadly quite accurate. They may say bonjour to you but that’s about it. There are of course exceptions, but they are needles in a very large haystack.
Another problem: where were these friends I planned to cultivate? It’s not like at university or the work place where there is a legitimate reason to talk to someone. You have to meet real people, in the world. “No problem!” my enthusiastic self thought. So began my quest to frequent events, meetings and anything else I could lay my hands on. But I wasn’t going to do that alone, so I called on my St Andrews roommate, also based in Paris for the year, to network with me. We ventured to Franglish, the language equivalent to speed dating. Not a bad idea, until I got stuck with a woman recounting her extensive marital issues. I also ended up meeting a host of Cambridge and Oxford expat students. Good fun, but not really the plan. After that francophone failure the next scheme was a Couchsurfing meeting in a pub. A friendly atmosphere with French people suffused in alcohol: perfect, we thought. Alas, no; foiled again. The international crowd all leaned to the common language, which is of course English.
Yet another memorable catastrophe was a soirée in Paris, when I sneaked past bouncers into a VIP nightclub. While waiting for my friends to do the same I saw a golden opportunity and struck. A girl was standing alone, separated from the pack. She looked as though she was begging for someone to come up and talk to her. [pullquote]I initiated a conversation, no doubt about the weather, but to my surprise she interrupted me, saying: “Sorry, I have to work”. Oh yes; my best friend to be was a hooker.[/pullquote] My enthusiasm dwindled after dozens of similar events and I became less picky about the language my friends spoke. The good thing about going to a capital city for a year abroad is that there is always a good bunch of people from St Andrews there. To my knowledge there are over ten of us here in Paris, the majority of us facing the same issue with varying degrees of success. For nostalgic purposes we often meet up in one of the three Scottish pubs in Paris, embracing our non-Frenchness.
Now in my seventh month of living here, I know some French people but I have given up my frantic search for a completely French infused life. I’m probably going to have to start French lessons but I decided to reap the other benefits of studying here. I might as well make the most of a vibrant city before returning to our lovely three-street town.
Vive la difference!