Right so I got into Toulouse on the 18th of September and stayed in a hotel with my dad for a night. I’d bought some new toggs before I left. “Nice new toggs”, I thought, “Nice to have new things”, but these girls started laughing at me on the underground. I checked to see if there were vital parts of my anatomy on display or if I’d wet myself (not again) but the answer came back “no” in both cases. I realised when we got out the station that there were still price tags on my new gear. Jings. We went to a restaurant and I ate a bizarre salad feat. melon, figs, mushrooms, lettuce etc at my dad’s expense. It was the first of many salads because as a vegetarian I knew that it was nourishing and delicious and practically the only thing I could buy in a restaurant. Stade Toulousain must have won the rugby that night because the car horns created a racket not dissimilar from the one created in the final throes of an argument at a nutter convention, actual pronounced articulated words long abandoned in favour of just screaming and screaming. Felt like Louis Theroux at the orgy or Alan Bennett in any situation etc
The next day we went to get my keys for the place I’m staying which is basically halls as imagined by IKEA, though I can’t find one of those little hotdogs anywhere and the language barrier exists here because French is a real language. The names of those ikea products are surely just phonetic representations of those little tubes they sell in museum gift shops that have tiny cows in them that moo when you jiggle them around. (where even is Sweden anyway? I bet it doesn’t exist. I’ve never met ONE person that’s been there.) Contrary to what I’d been told the bureaucratic process wasn’t a slog but in fact convinced me that no one knew I was there. I spent the next week in isolation smoking too many fags and wandering around. I became paranoid that people were muttering stuff at me on the street so I bought a pair of hair clippers and, with the aim of making myself as inconspicuous as possible (and possibly influenced by seeing the following film in an empty cinema early one Thursday evening, which features a particularly good head-shaving scene) DIY-ed myself a haircut that Oor Wullie himself would have considered too slapdash. Walking past Friend’s (sic) bar, presumably owned by certain Monsieur Friend, reminded me that I had no friends.
After a week of solitude I realised I was behaving in a ridiculous manner and that I’d gone insane. I realised that holding in contempt the culture and people not only France but Sweden also (which I have since discovered does exist and that any comparison between its language and the sound made by a child’s toy is unfounded and juvenile) was possibly the worst attitude you could have as an erasmus student. Sheer ego is not a substitute for understanding, so I made a few changes and tried making a few pals. These include a few people from dear old Edinburgh who I previously didn’t know, which is surprising as everybody in Edinburgh seems to have at most two degrees of separation from everybody else. The first link in this chain is “we are both at Edinburgh university” and the second is “I know you”. However the majority of the aforementioned pals are other European exchange students from such big names on the whole “Europe scene” such as Spain, Italy, Belgium and so on and so on.
Whilst partial to a bit of good-natured Glasgow vs Edinburgh rivalry, being around so many people of different nationalities has transformed me from somebody who was relatively unconcerned about their own national identity into the Big Yin Incarnate, hoots monn-ing my way up and down the boulevards. I’ve become a cliché and a caricature of everything that I dislike about Scotland. (For a reference see the current video which plays on repeat in the Scottish national museum in Edinburgh which consists solely of talking heads moaning about the weather, probably with a tartan rug over their knee) For the first time in my life I delighted in the reaction after telling somebody that in Scotland, the country where I was born and had lived my whole life until 3 weeks ago, not only does deep friend chocolate actually exist but that you’re meant to eat it with chips. Its simply easier to behave like this.
I’ve always imagined that, in the mind of the rest of the world, Scotland is to England what Q is to James bond. A bit of light relief, nothing too threatening, bumbling sidekick. I haven’t yet developed the ability to communicate any sort of humour or personality in my speech, so behaving like this is a bit like nicking someone else’s joke. Somebody who perhaps doesn’t actually care because that joke isn’t funny anymore. However, this simple persona seems pretty conducive to forming relationships with people when you simply don’t have the skills to express, to the degree you think you should, your undoubtedly multi-faceted and profound ‘real’ self with all of its 7 or 8 different complexities.
I was worried that, staying in halls, the communal language would be English but this is thankfully not the case. Everybody struggles equally in conversation, with me perhaps struggling more equally than others. Sometimes after 20 seconds of umming and ahhing, searching for the right word, knowing that any meaning I could have conveyed has long since been lost, I feel like that athlete who shat himself during that race but kept on going. Chin up, don’t let it get to you, there will be other races. What else could you have done? Just stop running and go to the toilet somewhere other than “all over yourself”? Don’t be ridiculous, there’s a race on! I love that guy. Symbol of our times.
Anyway with that there’s an alarm going off in my head which means its time to crawl out from under the duvet of garbled, scatological prose and faux-cynicism that can only signify some collection of deep insecurities of which I am not yet aware and be sincere. It also wouldn’t hurt to try to be helpful to current and future exchange students, which is the spirit they want us to conduct these blogs in I suppose. Right.
Toulouse is a genuinely beautiful city. I am very happy with my decision to come here and to go on exchange in general. Whilst I’m only three weeks in, after making a bit of an effort and going to a few classes (they start later here than seemingly everywhere else, the 4th of October this year) I can already feel my spoken french improving. The people in Toulouse are for the most part friendly and helpful. They seem to pride themselves on their laid back attitude in comparison to people in the north of France. Whilst leaving a pretty cool club (which was on a boat) last night I was genuinely touched when a drunk Toulousain guy told me in (almost) flawless English “we are very happy for you to have here”. The night life here is good (did I mention the club-boat-club?) and the travel is cheap: ten-ish euros a month for a travel card that gives you unlimited travel on the metro and bus. Everybody at the university itself (Le Mirail) has been extremely helpful and understanding, and there is an exchange students association in the main building which is open most of the day and puts on events. All of the people I’ve met have been super cool. One difficulty is meeting French people, presumably the best method of learning French, as people tend to go to the university nearest their home town and so already have established themselves. That said, the French people I have met have been lovely. I’ll put up some photos of the town and whatever here soon hopefully. This is probably quite long. I should have put the useful information at the top. If you got this far go and have a bun or something because you deserve it. Its 1AM and I have a cold. BYE!