Archive | October, 2012

Blog neglect

25 Oct

Well this post is definitely long overdue, but I’ll try and catch you up on what I’ve been up to. Unfortunately there isn’t a huge amount to tell, as most of my time last week seemed to be taken up by lectures plus some extra classes that got thrown in at the last minute.

On Monday I got to experience the French health system properly for the first time. If anyone studying in Bordeaux is reading this and have put off going to the doctors because they’re worried about costs etc., you’ll be happy to know that appointments at the student health centre are free. When it comes to prescriptions, you pay whatever they cost and then you get reimbursed afterwards if you have an EHIC card. I’m not really sure how to go about this, will investigate soon.

For DEFLE I usually have 2 classes a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays 5.30-8pm (character building some might call it). During our class on Tuesday evening last week, the teacher made the surprise announcement that she wouldn’t be there for one of our classes in November so she was instead moving it to the following evening. That’s right. 3 CONSECUTIVE DAYS of evening classes. Horrible.

Wednesday’s classes were a write off, I would have probably learnt more if I had stayed at home that day. Firstly, let me tell you about my Italian oral teacher. He turns up 10/15 minutes late for an hour class. His lesson planning doesn’t seem to go much beyond printing out a roleplay sheet he found online somewhere. He gets angry at us for not doing work that he never told us to do, and spends more time arguing with students over how little sense the work he’s given us makes than actually teaching.

This week he was on top form. We spent 30 minutes looking at a 2-page scripted roleplay, which only took the students about 5 minutes to read, followed by 20 minutes of him pacing up and down the room looking at the sheets while people stared out the window/texted on their phones. He then got a few people to act out the roleplay, wherein he criticised them for not accurately portraying the emotions suggested on the script (the scene only involved people getting coffee at a bar). We were then told to semi-learn/be familiar with it so we can run through it again next week, and we will be marked on it! I’m sorry, but I did not sign up for a drama class.

Following another great lunch at the uni cafeteria, Charli and I happily went along to our linguistics lecture, as it’s our favourite subject here. Half an hour later, the teacher still hadn’t turned up, despite him saying that this would be the week he would explain how our essay assessment would work (still no idea what it’s about or when it’ll be in for). We decided to give up and I went home, deciding this was clearly some kind of cosmic balancing for having to spend that evening in a French class.

Thankfully me evening was brightened up by a trip to the funfair that’s currently set up at Quinconces. It’s around till November 7th and on Wednesdays the rides are cheaper, definitely worth spending an evening there.

 

Everyone else went on this but I chose not to as I don’t have a huge amount of faith in the structural stability of fairground rides. It does a full 360 as well.

Funfair food is the best

On Saturday a few of us went on a daytrip to Saint-Émilion, where we had a tour of the town, had an amazing lunch, then got to be all sophisticated and do some wine tasting.

 

 

 

More gratuitous photos of steak

 

 

Ok so maybe I was wrong about not having done much last week.

This week has mostly been spent being ill and feeling sorry for myself. You definitely miss home comforts when you’ve run out of food but are too sick to drag yourself to the supermarket.

Sights of the day

No one really ‘needs’ a petrol cap right?

While in Auchan (land where dreams come true) I was looking for some sort of chocolate dessert and noticed they sell this monster 1kg tub. Clearly I had to buy it as it’s clearly far more efficient than buying individual pots. Although there’s no portion control meaning that after 4 servings I’ve nearly finished it. Woops.

 

We’re not sure what was in this drink, but it’s what I got given when Lucy tried to buy me a glass of white wine at a bar. I drank it anyway.

 

 

If you ever go to the bar La Comtesse on Rue Parlement and go to the toilet…don’t look up. It’s fucking terrifying. Who puts taxidermy on the ceiling?

 

 

Simon came home the other day and offered us some biscuits, since he gets them discounted/free from the Lu factory where he works. However I was not expecting him to drag out this giant Ikea-style bag full of Mikado, Tuc, Petit écolier etc. etc. I tried to hold back my greed and only take a couple of packs, although as he said himself, he’ll never be able to finish them all on his own…

 

 

L’Entrecôte

14 Oct

On Wednesday night I visited what is now my favourite restaurant ever, l’Entrecôte, which literally means ‘steak’. The general set-up is pretty cool: turn up, take a seat, say how you want your steak cooked (rare for me of course), order any drinks, done. No menus, no hassle, just good old steak frites.

We went at around 8.30pm when the queue wasn’t too bad (there’s almost always a queue) and didn’t have to wait too long. I’ve seen it snake round the block before, as shown in this picture (borrowed from here), but I’ve been told that even when you’re queued round the corner you won’t be waiting for more than about 20 minutes.

L’Entrecôte combines the concept of fast food with really good quality steak, and if you’re in a rush you could probably be in and out in under an hour. Before the main course is served everyone gets a salad, which thankfully isn’t too filling as let’s be honest, all anyone really cares about is the main meal.

Following this, you are served steak frites, all covered in a magic mystery sauce. This sauce is probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted, it’s had articles written about it trying to guess the ingredients, and even has it’s own Facebook  fan page.

Once/if you’ve managed to make it through your initial giant potion, which includes the best frites in the world, your waitress comes over with as many more frites as you want, plus the rest of your steak on a giant platter.

They put everyone on the table’s remaining steak onto one dish, so this was between five of us, and here you can see the difference between ordering saignant (rare) and cuit (medium). Despite flagging towards the end, we managed to finish all the steak as it’s definitely a sin to let it go to waste.

The total cost of a meal is €17 not including wine, plus there’s the option to have a dessert afterwards (although it’s unlikely you’ll have any space) for around €5.50. For students this is a bit on the pricey side, but as a treat I would definitely recommend saving up and paying a visit. There are a few other L’Entrecôte restaurants, not just in France but also internationally, so if you do a bit of research you might find there’s one near you!

Here’s one last close-up to round things up, avert your eyes if you don’t like your meat to have a pulse.

Interesting new discoveries this week

10 Oct

My weekend consisted mainly of translating the 3 pages of work given to my It>Fr class, so no fun stories there unfortunately! Although I did manage to buy some boots on Saturday, meaning I am now one step closer to being weather-proof in this country. In the aforementioned class on Monday morning we also pulled a cheeky ‘nous sommes anglaises, la vie est si dure ici’ which persuaded the teacher that we should get an easier test on the 22nd. Playing the English card actually works surprisingly well sometimes, and has been known to get us discounts or even free food/drink at the market.

On Monday afternoon I met up with Louise (remember the one from pole?) at French Coffee Shop. I guess the name makes it stand out from all the other cafés. Embarrassingly I had already been there a couple of times that week, despite the pricey drinks, as they make amazing Oreo hot chocolates with 2 inches of cream on top. Definitely one to keep an eye out for. We chatted for about an hour, her in English and me in French, mainly about Bordeaux, France, and cultural differences. Being from La Réunion, there are a few things she misses about her home too, so we had that in common to chat about.

One of the many delicious offerings at French Coffee Shop

One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet is our new flatmate Emiliya, who comes from Bulgaria. She moved in on Friday to replace Kévin, is 30, and is doing a masters in Sociology. Unfortunately she doesn’t speak a lot of French so we mainly have to chat in English, although I’m sure she’ll pick it up soon enough! Having never really spoken to any Bulgarians, it definitely put my life in perspective . The main reason she is over here is due to a lack of jobs in her home country, plus the fear of communism returning, and the fact that the Mafia are slowly taking over. Next time I’ll think twice before complaining about the lack of hot water in the shower that morning, or the fact that I had run out of cereal and so had to eat compotes for breakfast instead.

On Tuesday I set off on the intrepid adventure of trying to book a doctor’s appointment, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. After managing to find the student health service, I put on my ‘help me I’m English’ face and spoke to the woman at the front desk about I had no idea how the health system works over here. Apparently you can go directly to a specialist, bypassing seeing a GP at all (I guess because they have no NHS here, people want to have to pay for as few appointments as possible), so the receptionist sent me to a room where I found myself talking directly to a doctor in their treatment room to book my appointment. Having worked as a surgery receptionist, the concept that a doctor has enough free time to casually discuss a patients problems in order to decide if/when they need an appointment seems completely bizarre to me. In fact I’m not entirely sure what more the doctor will do for me next Monday other than maybe write a prescription and take my money.

Today I had my first experience of the library, no big surprises to report about it, although they have a study room specifically for 3rd/final year students which Bristol could definitely benefit from. I made the mistake of using the toilets there, although to be honest using any toilets in the university or in any public space in Bordeaux just doesn’t seem to be a good idea. None of the toilets have seats, which is a bit of a pain (major thigh workout), plus there is nowhere to hang any coats/bags and you DEFINITELY don’t want to be putting them on the floor. The general upkeep of uni toilets is similar to that of car park toilets in the UK, plus I saw two people leave without washing their hands today. I’m going to have to invest in some alcohol hand gel asap. Another interesting note is that most uni toilets are unisex, which was a bit of a surprise at first, but generally makes no difference.

In an update to my ‘things I’m getting used to’ list, I have a few additions:

  • Square pillows. They provide more support than standard UK rectangular ones, and seem to have more stuffing too, meaning you only need one.
  • Overly lined paper. At first I wondered who could ever need as many lines as this but it’s turned out to be surprisingly handy for learning Japanese, or for the little diagrams my linguistics teacher loves to draw.

Sights of the day

This one isn’t really shocking or bizarre, I just wanted to rave about the food at the uni cafeteria. Having only gone there for the first time today, as I finished for lunch at 12 instead of 12.30 (the queues get obscene around then), I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of food I got, all for a mere €3.30 (about £2.65).

 

 

Fun times and nights out

6 Oct

My new, marginally easier Italian class on Monday morning went surprisingly well, so much so that afterwards I went into town to make the all-important purchase of a mini French to Italian dictionary. Because I love languages that much. I also finally sorted out the ongoing saga of my Orange simcard. To get you up to speed, September 3rd, I arrive in Bordeaux, sign up to Orange, all is fine and dandy.

The next day, I get a message saying I need to bring ID into the store or they’ll cut off my line on October 3rd. I head into one, where they tell me I have to call up some number and ask them for their fax number. I don’t understand what the automated voice on the phone says, so give up and just go to a different Orange shop where they enter my driving licence details on the computer, job done. The following day I get the same message again, so go back to the same shop, where they say it’s just an automated message and to ignore it. I then continue to get this message every 2 days for the entire of September.

On Monday I decided that it was probably worth trying to fix it before my only means of contact when I’m not at home got cut off. What should have been a simple task turned into a saleswoman at Orange shouting down the phone asking for someone to untick a box on the screen, which apparently she didn’t have the power to. After faxing a photocopy of my driver’s licence, it was supposedly all sorted. I still got the same message as usual later in the day, but my phone line hasn’t been cut off. Yet.

On Tuesday evening I had the first of many DEFLE (Département d’Etudes de Français Langue Etrangère) classes. 5.30-8pm twice a week isn’t going to be easy, but it’ll be worth it in the long run as the teacher is aiming for my group to reach C1 proficiency by Christmas. The group is mainly made up of Erasmus students, with a few people doing a full Masters here, and others just wanting to get their French up to scratch.

It was reassuring to hear that many people had the same experience when it came to househunting, with one German girl originally starting out in University accommodation (think cockroaches and peeling paint), then moving in with a family, who seem to be a perfect example of the kind of crazy landlords everyone has had to put up with while here. All three daughters have moved out and the husband works away during the week, while the wife refuses to eat meals with her and won’t let her use the washing machine to do her laundry. Other friends here have had issues such as being grounded by their landlady and having their keys confiscated, or the landlord banning them from having friends round and continuing to store their own personal possessions in their renter’s bedrooms, which they feel they can access whenever they please.

For Matthew’s 21st and Dan’s 20th that night we all met up at Apollo Bar (highly recommended for the great cocktails), had a great time, and ended up staying out past the last tram. Thinking it would be easy to catch the night bus back, Emily, Aaron and I waited at the stop for over an hour, before giving in at 3.15 and getting an overpriced taxi back to Aaron’s. We did however make friends with a lovely hobo who spoke a few different languages, definitely overqualified for the role. We politely turned down his offer to buy his camera off him for €20.

Feeling a little worse for wear: “I can’t feel my face”

Thursday was another busy day of lectures. I’m somewhat getting used to the number of contact hours at uni here, which is a fair bit higher than what I’m used to at Bristol. Here I have 18 a week, although some have 20+. The length of lectures is also a major step up, with 2 hours being the minimum for most classes, stretching up to 4 hours for some unlucky souls eg. Aaron and Abbie’s marketing lecture on Friday afternoons. Seriously, I feel for you guys. Even the lecturers themselves have complained about the length of classes, since neither the students nor themselves have attention spans long enough to care about anything said after the first hour and a half!

Feeling a bit stressed about how much I’m lagging behind in Japanese, I have bought myself a grammar book, which has turned out to be incredibly useful and I sort of get what’s going on now! I had a bit of fun with Google translate as they have a converter which changes romaji (our alphabet) into hiragana/katakana/kanji. While trying to type in the simple phrase ‘ わたしは イギリス人 です ‘ (I am English) it somehow managed to get translated as ‘I cut people’. I’m now feeling very cautious about trying to introduce myself to any Japanese speakers.

On Thursday night we went to Victoire for a ‘quiet few drinks’ (famous last words). There was a street party going on for La Féria which was some kind of Spanish event involving running away from bulls in a sandpit. Although we didn’t attend the main event, which had finished by the time we got there, apparently it involved a number of different teams (including an Erasmus team who won!) running away from a bull, and losing points if it headbutted them into the pool in the centre. At one point everyone got naked as well. I’m sure British health and safety would never condone an event like this, but this is one of those things which we’re probably better off without. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to explain to A&E how you ended up getting gored by a bull.

After having drinks at Victoria Cafe, where a few people picked up some rather fetching foulards (neckerchiefs), although as they ran out I got given a t shirt that says “Garden Party, C’est naturellement frais!” instead. No idea what that’s about, but I love free stuff so I was all over it. We then headed to El Bodegon, a mad bar which had free entry and turned out to be some kind of club. Highlights of the night include having my head touched inappropriately by a stranger, doing shots of what looked and tasted like mouthwash, and the bartenders setting the bar on fire a few times, just for laughs. We eventually got the nightbus (which actually turned up this time) home, although my English phone got stolen in the crush of people trying to get on. Sad times, but I’ll live.

Finally, at their request, here’s a special shoutout to Conor, Niall and Sammy, just a few of the lovely Irish people I’ve met while out here. No matter how many times you ask, I’m not going to dedicate a whole post to you, sorry guys.

Sights of the day

While in Auchan I was feeling a bit peckish, when I spied this sandwich-alternative. It’s basically a wrap, but with lettuce instead of bread round it. In essence I think it’s a great idea, although the name leaves a lot to be desired, and there was a clear lack of chicken in what was supposed to be a chicken and parmesan wrap.

One month in

1 Oct

Apologies for the lack of blogging in the last few days, I’ve been busy acclimatising myself to French life (more about that later). The end of last week brought about my first (and last) 3rd year Italian translation class. Upon turning up I found it was just myself, Charli, and 3 French girls. The dropout rate year to year in university here is astonishing. From what I hear the very first class in first year is full to the brim with 2 people to every seat, which slowly trickles down as the weeks and years pass until (for Italian at least) there are a meagre few left.

Straight off the bat it was pretty apparent I was going to be out of my depth translating from French into Italian with others who have been studying Italian for about 6 years, but thankfully the teacher was very understanding. She even complimented my ‘rhythm’ of spoken French, saying she assumed I was Spanish (are they automatically better than us at French?). I’d rather people think I was French, but hey, Spain is geographically closer to Bordeaux, so I’ll take it. At the end of the class I decided I would switch to the 2nd year group, which would probably still be difficult, but not quite so intense. I steeled myself for more admin fun, getting through the international office’s queue in a relatively speedy half hour, sorting out both my timetable and buying a sports pass in one efficient rendezvous.

In the afternoon I had a bit of a freak-out in the Japanese lecture when the teacher started picking people out to read bits of texts IN JAPANESE. I know this should be expected, but it’s (supposedly) a beginner’s class and I don’t even know all of both alphabets yet! After a quick word with M. Sastre, Chynna and I found out that everyone clearly learns a lot from the oral classes, which we are not enrolled on. He’s going to try and pull a few strings and get us into them anyway.

Panic over, I headed up to the Connemara briefly for Arthur’s Day, then at 7 finally got to experience my first pole class in French! Having not revised my vocab du corps beforehand, I was very thankful for the teacher demonstrating everything, plus most of the names of moves have been stolen from English and frenchified a little (eg. the move ‘fireman’ becomes ‘fi-ah-mon’, bit confusing at first). I also met a girl there called Louise (it’s clearly fate) who studies English at Bordeaux 3, and we are now planning on meeting up for coffee to practice eachother’s languages. All-in-all, it was a pretty productive day!

Friday’s are my day off so I did pretty much nothing until the evening when a few of us had drinks at Abbie’s (€1.60 wine this time), where we got to meet her flatmate Bruno and his dog Ruby. For any of you who read my post from several weeks ago when I was still househunting, the name Bruno may ring a bell as the owner of the flat I stupidly turned down a visit to, but at least it means Abbie found somewhere to live!

While in town earlier in the day I received the shocking news from Emily that Kévin, my quiet, unassuming flatmate, had done a bit of a runner and had dropped out of uni and moved out entirely. Without saying a word to any of us apart from the landlord. There’s a definite emptiness about the flat now that Jean Marc has yet to fill with someone new. We’re all in mourning.

On Saturday I actually had to do some uni work (shock horror) but thankfully this was interrupted by going out for a curry with a few English friends. It turns out the word for Tikka Masala is the same in French, and it tastes just as good over here. What wasn’t so great was the mystery poppadom sauce served alongside the dal and lime chilli. It tasted like someone had put bananas in a fruity sauce, which would be great on ice cream but doesn’t really work with curry.

Being tourists while trying to find the curry house

The weird jam sauce

We went for a few drinks after, where we discussed the benefits of pepper spray being legal here, and how we would go about acquiring some. Purely for self-defence purposes of course. The next day we went for a Sunday roast at the Connemara followed by watching the hurling final, which Kilkenny won. I’m not going to comment on this as I’m not sure who I was supposed to be supporting.

Anyway, back to the ‘acclimatisation’ I was talking about earlier. I’ve compiled a little list of signs that I’m slowly becoming French, which is a bit worrying:

  1. UHT doesn’t seem that bad any more. Yeh I only put it on cereal or make hot chocolate with it, but you can’t really tell the difference. Plus it’s pretty handy knowing you can keep one in the cupboard for 6 weeks just in case.
  2. Trams. Knowing that the doors only open for 10 seconds. Knowing that it will definitely be packed if you try and get on at Victoire or Montaigne-Montesquieu. Knowing that it’s unlikely the ticket inspector will get you (today was the first time I’ve seen them at all), but if you don’t have a ticket it’s a €50 fine.
  3. Being fine with having to buy baguette every other day because it goes stale so quickly. I LOVE baguette. I would happily never go back to sliced bread.

But then to balance it out, there’s the things I will never get used to:

  1. Vehicles going the wrong way. I will almost certainly get run over at some point in the next 3 months. Especially since pedestrian crossings don’t seem to give pedestrians the right of way here, so you generally just have to push your way out into traffic and hope that someone stops. What’s worse is that the trams also go on the right, so when I’m crossing the tramlines (they’re not electric so people just walk across them/cycle on them with reckless abandon), I have to do an embarrassing ‘Brit abroad’ quadruple check to make sure I’m not going to get squashed. There are also these intimidating posters dotted around, just in case you’re not scared enough of the trams as it is. I’ve been warned that there are many tram/car collisions in the winter when the roads get icy. Looking forward to it. 
  2. The way they tell time here. In England, even though it may say 17:00, we still say 5pm. Here, they actually say ‘seventeen hours’. I’ve had a few awkward encounters with people on the street asking what time it is, to which I look at my watch, see it’s 6pm, try and work out the French equivalent (18 heures), but then end up mixing the two together and saying ’16 heures‘, before realising my mistake and trying to say it correctly again, by which point the passer-by is long gone as they have grown tired of my foreign antics.

Sight of the day

A man dressed as what I assume is the pink panther, dancing to Call Me Maybe on his balcony above Rue Ste Catherine.

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