I hadn’t really thought much about what moving to France would actually entail, until suddenly I found myself sitting alone in my brand new studio apartment, in the middle of a city that was not my own and that contained approximately 483,000 people, of whom I knew exactly none. Lyon partially resembles my home city of London, with its two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, wending their way through the centre in a reassuringly Thames-esque fashion. There is also a comforting similarity to my adoptive university home of Edinburgh, in the narrow, cobbled streets of the UNESCO World Heritage site old town. But despite this, and inescapably evident, is the fact that Lyon is very, very French.
I had chosen the east-central city over Paris for that very reason, and had done the requisite Wikipedia research to ensure that I would be happy to live there for 9 months for the third year of my French and history degree. I had helpfully found out that Lyon ranked 38th globally in Mercer’s 2010 liveability rankings, sending me into a confused tizzy of wondering what the hell “liveability” even was, beyond the capacity to remain alive in a certain place for an extended period of time (a feat I certainly hoped to achieve in my Erasmus year). Beyond that, my expectations largely consisted of envisioning myself cycling to class through the quaint streets with a baguette stuck jauntily in my basket, waving to all my beret-wearing, Gauloises-smoking, Beaujolais-drinking French friends. In choosing Lyon, I had also planned to ensure I would be able to whizz off on a gleaming TGV to the Alps at the weekends to ski. I conveniently forgot that I might actually have to do some work, I blanked out the prospect of reams of confusing and inaccessible administration, and I assumed that the language barrier would serenely lift within a mere few days.
I crash landed back to reality thanks to numerous expat mishaps, including watching a visiting friend order a dish at a bouchon (a restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine) that strongly resembled and smelled of faeces, which he was unable to even attempt to eat, much to the amusement of the locals who wolfed theirs down. Furthermore, I developed a craving for Ribena that I didn’t know I had until someone pointed out I could now no longer buy it except for at extortionate prices at a single shop catering to British émigrés. Worryingly, after having spent a good week of my life on the phone to EDF, I received a letter from them addressing me as “Fufannah” (do I have a lisp when I say my own name in French?). But most importantly, and pressingly, remains the issue of how I will communicate to a French hairdresser the exact length I desire my fringe to be trimmed to.
My hopes for my Erasmus year are thus simple: to be able to introduce myself and have my real name understood (something you would have thought I mastered a while back, but no, apparently not); to be able to see out of my own haircut; to find a sickly sweet French cordial to replace my beloved British version; and to avoid any suspicious-looking local “delicacies”. Anything beyond that – such as true fluency in the French language or a deeper understanding of the country’s history and culture – will be a happy bonus.