Here I am, three weeks in to la vie en France! So far so good, as I’ve been saying to anyone who has asked. I started teaching last week but the first two weeks I was here were still busy! So here is a little update on what I’ve gotten up to in that time.
I haven’t really talked much about the journey, mostly because it was very straightforward, if a little long. I started off with a very unceremonious departure from Dunblane, just me and my dad. Previously when I’ve been making a big move, I’ve always had an airport entourage to wave me off. Because my flight was at midday this time, it was a reduced to me and my chauffeur. The fact that I’ve made a bit of a habit of leaving the country and that France is a lot more accessible than either Honduras or China also contributed to the lack of fanfare, which I was totally ok with.
I wasn’t able to get a direct flight from Edinburgh to Basel so I flew via Bordeaux. This was my first time flying since leaving China 20 months ago. Travelling in covid times can be stressful but I can’t say that I found it much more stressful than a normal trip through the airport. I think having gotten used to living through a global pandemic made it a bit easier to get through the extra steps that are involved in travelling now. I had to present proof of vaccination before boarding both of my flights, although not when I landed. On one flight I had a whole row to myself but only by chance, on most rows there were people in all the seats. When I finally arrived in Basel, my destination airport, I thought it would take me a while to get to Mulhouse but it was actually very quick! Even though the airport is known as Basel, it also serves Mulhouse and Freiburg in addition to the Swiss city but is actually in France. A bus from right outside the exit of the airport took me to the nearest town, Saint Louis, and from there I got a short train to Mulhouse where my lovely landlord and his wife picked me up.
I was lucky enough to have arranged my accommodation before I arrived. I had been looking for a colocation which is a shared flat. Because so much of my job will be in English, I wanted to live with French people, or at least people I could speak French with. I wasn’t planning on committing to anywhere before I arrived because I didn’t want to get scammed but I did reach out to some apartments I found in order to arrange a visit for my first week. In doing so I had a video call with one appartment and got a really good feeling from the landlord, Cédric. The flat looked great, freshly renovated, and best of all Cédric told me that if I wanted the room I wouldn’t have to pay anything until I arrived. I thought about it and decided to take it. There were no red flags and in the end, I was right!
The flat looked exactly like it had when I saw it on the video call. It is so light and spacious with a lovely open plan kitchen, living room and dining room. My room is great as well with lots of space. So far it is just me and one other flatmate, a French girl called Emma who is finishing up a masters in communications. There are two more flatmates to come, a French-Canadian guy later this week and a German girl next week. Emma and I are getting on well but I’m looking forward to meeting the others too!
Even though I was exhausted after the day of travelling, I had a busy first day! I met up with Jen, the head of the English department, in Place de la Réunion which is the main square in the centre of the city. We had a coffee and talked about what I would face in the coming year. When we were finished we headed down to the university campus and Jen gave me a tour around the FLSH building, where the English department is. I met some of the administrative staff and saw the classrooms I’ll be teaching in. We also dropped by one of the other teacher’s houses on the way home to say hello and have a glass of wine.
I didn’t have any work obligations during my first week so most of it was spent setting myself up. I opened a bank account, got myself a French mobile number, bought some things for my room, picked up my university card and just generally settled in. It took me a while to organise a tram pass for myself so I walked around a lot. This was great because I got to see more of the city, especially the area around Place de la Réunion which has the main shopping street nearby.
In my second week I still didn’t start teaching but I did have a few welcome meetings with the students. As I’ve said I will only be teaching the licence students but I also met a lot of the English masters students over the week. One of the other English teachers invited me over to her house for lunch which was really nice. I’ve also linked up with a few girls from Heriot Watt who are here on their Erasmus year, it’s been nice hanging out with others who know Edinburgh!
Having been here three weeks, I’ve had a few weekends to get to know some of the nightlife of Mulhouse. With the state of the world, I can’t imagine anything worse than going to a club right now, as much as I would love a boogie, but I have visited a few bars. My first outing was actually to an Irish pub! Annabelle, the lectrice who was in my position for the last two years, was back for a visit so I joined her and some of her friends, including another English lectrice at the university, Àine, and a Scottish girl called Lynzie who is from Alva! I love serendipitous moments like that when you meet someone who grew up 20 minutes from you while both living in a totally different country. Shamrock was great, I didn’t see any Guinness behind the bar (not that I would be ordering any…) but on the first Tuesday of the month, which this happened to be, there is live Scottish or Irish music. I felt very at home!
I also went to a bar called Gambrinus in the city centre. Gambrinus is the name of a European cultural hero who is an icon of beer and joie de vivre so it is only fitting that the bar specialises in beer, with 26 different types on draught. Gambrinus (the bar) is also known for serving a traditional Alsatian dish called flammekueche, or tarte flambée. Its a thin layer of dough covered in crème fraîche or fromage blanc and traditionally topped with thinly sliced onions and bacon lardons. Some popular additional toppings include various types of cheese or mushrooms and it can also be made into a sweet dish.
I’ve been able to try a couple of Alsatian dishes at this point. When I went to my colleague’s house for lunch, she made pâté Lorrain, meat pâté in puff pastry with some chestnut and red onion, carrot and salad. It was all really nice and we had a little bit of Muscat and some German beer with it and apple tart for dessert, made with apples from their garden. When out for lunch at little cafe one day, I also tried fleischschnackas. These are made from cooked meat stuffing, eggs, onions and parsley, rolled up in fresh egg pasta. I had no idea what I was ordering but I was presently surprised! In a less traditional turn of events, or maybe more depending on your viewpoint, I also had toad in the hole for lunch at a friend’s this weekend! It did have a bit of an Alsatian twist though as we used some local poultry sausages.
I’ve already spoken about my first week of classes and introduced you to my job so that about covers everything else I’ve been up to since I arrived here! I really feel like I’ve hit the ground running which is a nice feeling. I’ve been trying not to put too much pressure on myself and approach everything with the mindset that I plan to be here for a while so there’s no rush! (Although the last time I thought like this, I ended up leaving China in a rush four months early… fingers crossed there’s no repeat of that.) I’m also pretty proud that this is my first super long blog post since I started writing again! I’m sorry or you’re welcome depending on whether you’ve enjoyed the first long post in a while!