La Vie Simple: From Paris with Angst

Columnist Amy Shimmin describes how her year abroad has been getting off to a turbulent start, with terrorism drills, petty crime and technology withdrawal symptoms.

 Right now, after one meeting, nine days* of work, and little more than a month after arriving in the country, I have a fortnight-long holiday. Amazing. I completely deserve this break, though: hear me out on my trail of persistent bad luck.

*(Days meaning, days on which I’ve been in my workplace. So, this includes one day of walking to work, and finding out three of my four classes had been cancelled, and the fourth had been scheduled incorrectly. I’m counting it as a workday, because I had to actually wear something that wasn’t pyjamas.)

First of all, if you hadn’t read the news in the past two years, then being in France would confirm for you that the country is in a state of emergency, following multiple terrorist attacks. This means most schools (and public places, I assume) have protocols in place for such attacks, including impromptu practices, such as in the middle of the morning, without notice. One took place at our training day, yet wasn’t part of the schedule – the man leading the meeting turned off his laptop, calmly told us to stay quiet and in our seats, and little else. All I could think was “this would bloody happen to me, wouldn’t it?” Of course, being so lucky as to have never experienced such an attack first hand, the whole experience was incredibly daunting. I can’t say I feel any more equipped to deal with such an event – would you ever? Learning curves, and all that, I suppose.

I celebrated the first day of the holiday with an overnight stay in Paris with some friends. (There is, understandably, very little appeal in travelling 350 miles to see a church, a crêperie, and a Carrefour.) I put my big girl boots on and took the train to the Big City: so far, so good. We had a cracking wee day – seeing Paris from the Sacre Coeur; watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour; having some traditional French cuisine at Pizza Hut. The tourist handbooks would be so proud. The last train north of Paris, where my friends live, drew near: we took the Metro to Gare du Nord. We were ready to leave, but it turns out my mobile was heartbroken, and wanted to stay…. indefinitely. Like I’ve said before, I’m no stranger to cities, which makes it all the more infuriating. Yet, with any travel network comes pickpockets, it seems. Elongating my stay by an extra day, and by way of Amiens, I had to go to the police station to report it as stolen. I still don’t know how to say ‘I would like to report a crime’ in French, but nonetheless, I managed.

Following the iPhone-shaped hiccough, I booked to head back to Liverpool and Glasgow. That wouldn’t be simple, either. Late-night coach cancellations led to the kindest French family and myself booking into the only hotel with space at 2am: Mary and Joseph eat your heart out. Fog almost stopped me from coming back at all. The thing with being so tucked away is not that you can’t get out, but rather, the endless difficulty in doing so. When I finally made it to London – just about in one piece – I met with a friend who was also heading home. Her straightforward, albeit long, coach journey across the channel sounded like a dream.

I’ve never truly realised until now how much of our lives rely on the Internet. Should the same thing happen in Glasgow, I can just keep in touch on my laptop at home. If I didn’t have Internet at home, I could go to one of the 4000 coffee shops, or the student unions, or the library. It would be fine. If I was Yer Auld Da, I’d harp on about how awful it is to be truly reliant on technology. But, as a Hip and Cool Millennial, it’s not really. If I’m mid-conversation with another French learner and we’re both stuck for a word, we can find out, there and then. Years ago, I’d have to wait for a reply to a letter; now, I can FaceTime anywhere in the world and see a friendly face. Being somewhere as remote as I am right now, a phone truly is a lifeline.

I’m currently on a train taking me back home, and following various emails/texts from other phones/smoke signals, I think someone will be there to meet me at the station. Maybe I won’t get to experience a French Halloween, but at least I get to sleep in my double bed, see my dog, and finally get a pint of Dark Fruits. I never thought I’d be one to crave home comforts, but I think I’ve justified my need right now.

[Amy Shimmin – @amylfc]


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