I have been in Mulhouse for a week and a half now, taking my time to get to know the city. I haven’t started teaching yet, classes start on Monday, but I’ve still been busy with setting myself up. I’ve gathered some of the first impressions that Mulhouse has made on me as well as some general ones about moving to France.
Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport was a breeze.
Big shoutout to the Irish passport for this one. After a long day of travelling, first from Edinburgh to Bordeaux and then on to Basel, it was super nice to waltz through the airport on arrival. In fact, my passport wasn’t checked at all when I arrived in Basel – the beauty of the Schengen area – and neither was my covid documentation which was all looked at before boarding.
Transport in general has been very easy to navigate.
After getting out of the airport, it was just a quick bus to Saint Louis, the nearest town, and then the train to Mulhouse. It took under an hour and cost less than €10. From the train station, my landlord and his wife came to pick me up. Within Mulhouse, the transport system is called Soléa and you can get pretty cheap monthly passes that cover tram and bus travel. I live a one minute walk away from a tram stop and it’s just a couple of stops in one direction to get to the university and a couple of stops in the other direction to get to the centre of town.
Mulhouse reminds me of Edinburgh.
Mulhouse is a city of around 110,000 people, with 275,000 in the wider urban unit that includes the surrounding villages, some of which operate more as suburbs. It is quite a bit smaller than Edinburgh’s population of 524,000 but there’s some similarities I’m seeing. Both are cities that feel more like towns, especially around the city centre. They are very walkable, at least from what I’ve experienced in Mulhouse so far. Mulhouse has a lot of the small, cobbled streets that you expect from European cities, similar to the streets you would find in Edinburgh’s old town.
The city’s past has a big influnce on the Mulhouse of today.
There is a long history of industry in Mulhouse, to the extent that it has been nicknamed the “French Manchester”. In the 19th century, Mulhouse was the centre of France’s textile industry and the remnants of this are still visible across the city’s skyline. Another industry that developed around the same time was engineering automobiles and today Mulhouse is home to a number of well know museums including Cité de l’Automobile and Cité du Train. Now that a lot of this industry has left the city, Mulhouse has spent a lot of time, money and effort on revamping itself. There is a lot of greenery and there has been a rejuvenation of the town centre.
There seems to be lots to do!
Everyone that I’ve spoken to so far has been kind enough to give me many recommendations for things to do around Mulhouse. One thing I knew I wanted to find, even before I arrived, was a water polo team! I even got an email from my old coach the night before I left (hi David!) wishing me luck and letting me know that Mulhouse looks to have a pretty good water polo set up. I’ve been to a couple of training sessions now and I can confirm that! There are lots of other sports around as well, in particular I’ve heard that there is a very competitive women’s volleyball team. There is also the Université Populaire where I’m looking to take a Chinese course, lots of art museums and exhibitions, theatres and so on. Basel in Switzerland and Freiburg in Germany are both easily accessible as well as the French city of Strasbourg, all of which are worth a visit. To the west of Mulhouse is the Vosges mountain range which has stunning views and the ‘fermes auberges’, farmhouses where you can get a traditional bite to eat and something to drink during your hike.
It is every bit as bureaucratic as you think… if not more.
A lot of my first week here was taken up by pretty boring life admin tasks like opening a bank account, setting up a French number and signing my work contract among other things. Some of these were easier than I thought they would be but even when they were easy, they often weren’t quick. What I’ve also found funny are the many jokes made at the expense of the French bureaucracy, both by expats that have had to navigate it and by the French who have grown up with it.
COVID-19 has had a big impact on education here.
The education sector seems to have been messed about a lot over the past 18 months. Schools and universities were initially told to go home and take up online learning but then told to come back for the start of the new academic year before things went back online again. It made it very hard for teachers to plan for anything and was frustrating for some students who gave up their students accommodation but were then told they had to come back to in person classes. Thankfully classes will be in person when they start on Monday and hopefully they stay that way.
I have a good feeling about my colleagues.
All the other teachers in the English deparment seem really supportive and friendly. I already had this feeling from a meeting I went to back in June but it has been confirmed after being taken around Mulhouse in my first day by the head of the department who had also only just arrived and in meeting a lot of other teachers at various meetings this week. Everyone seems to socialise outside of work and in normal times there are a lot of work functions which I always think is a good sign of an enjoyable work environment.
The fact I am in Alsace is very important.
I’ve not just moved to France, more specifically I have moved to Alsace. There is definitely a strong regional identity here. Alsatian is still spoken by the older generation although it hasn’t been passed down to the younger generation as much. I see a lot of parallels between Alsatian and Gaelic, not just this lack of intergenerational teaching but also that there has been a bit of a resurgence of interest in recent years. A lot of the street signs are in both French and Alsatian as well. Alsatian food can be found in many restaurants here. So far the only thing I’ve tried has been tarte flambée (or flammekueche in Alsatian), thin dough with creme fraiche, thinly sliced onions and bacon lardons on top with lots of other toppings optional.
So that’s what I’ve made of my first ten days or so in Mulhouse. It’s still very early stages but so far, so good! I’m looking forward to getting started with the teaching on Monday and continuing to get to know Mulhouse and the wider area.