Useful French Phrases You Won’t Learn in School

Even though I came to France to practice my French, I felt pretty confident that I was starting from a good level. I have been studying it since I was 11 and have a degree in it so that had to count for something right?! I will say that I actually did manage pretty well when I arrived but there were still some phrases or ways of saying things that I just could not make out or understand. In cafes and restaurants, in reply to thank you or even just sounds littered into speech, there were lots of bits and pieces of language that took me by surprise. A year on, these are all phrases that I use daily and have helped my French feel so much more natural!

Pas de soucis

Meaning ‘no worries’, I have found this to be used much more often than ‘de rien‘. I like it because I feel like it rolls off the tongue easier than having to wrangle the French ‘r’, plus there’s a level of familiarity with ‘pas de soucis‘.

Je t’en prie / je vous en prie

This is the same phrase, just in second person singular and then second person plural or formal. It is another alternative for ‘de rien’ or ‘your welcome’. I had genuinely never heard this before moving to France and it took me a bewildered few weeks to figure out what it meant. It can be translated as ‘don’t mention it’ or ‘that’s alright’.

T’inquiète (pas)

‘Don’t worry!’ This simple and useful phrase confused me for a while because even though it is used to tell you not to worry, it is often shortened so much that both parts of normal French negation are removed, not just the ‘ne’ which I spoke about above. You can include the ‘pas’ if you wish but it’s not necessary and if someone says ‘t’inquiète’, they’re not ominously telling you that you have something to be worried about.

Ne … pas

Let me get a bit grammatical for a moment. The normal way of negating a verb in French means sandwiching the conjugated version of that verb with ‘ne’ before and ‘pas’ after, for example ‘je ne sais pas’ (‘I don’t know’). However in common French it is very common to skip the ‘ne’ entirely so ‘je ne sais pas’ becomes ‘je sais pas’. It goes a step further with this particular phrase where it gets all squished together to become ‘j’sais pas’.

J’arrive

One of the famous ‘false friends’ you’ll have heard your French teacher warn you about in high school. If you want to let someone know that you’re on your way, your first thought might be to reach for the verb ‘venir‘ (to come). But you would be wrong! You will still be understood but it’s very clunky and a native French speaker would never say it like that. Instead the right phrase to use would be ‘j’arrive‘.

Service!

You will hear this said in restaurants after you say thank you, if they have taken your order or delivered your food for example. It’s an abbreviation of the phrase ‘à votre service’ meaning ‘at your service’.

Ça a été?

Something else that you might hear in a restaurant, ‘Ça a été?’ is a rather informal way of asking ‘How was everything?’. You can respond with ‘oui’, ‘non’, ‘très bien’, depending on how your meal was. You won’t only hear it in a restaurant though, it can be used to ask about anything! For example, ‘ça été, ton examen?’ – ‘How was your exam?’

Ça sera tout?

Another common phrase, more likely to be heard in a boulangerie or a cafe, used to ask if you want anything else. It means ‘Is that everything?’ or ‘Is that all?’. If you don’t want anything else, the way to respond is ‘Oui, ça sera tout, merci‘ (‘Yes, that’s everything thank you.’).

Du coup

‘Du coup’ means ‘so’ or ‘as a result’ but it is used for much more than this, particularly in spoken French. Much like ‘so’ in English, you will often find it at the start of a sentence, just as a kind of soft introduction to what is being said. It’s used similarly to ‘alors’ in that way.

En fait

Similar to ‘du coup‘, ‘en fait‘ is often found at the beginning of a sentence. The meaning, however, is slightly different. ‘En fait‘ is used to indicate that what you are about to say is contradictory to what has just been fed, similar to saying ‘(well) actually’ or ‘in fact’.

Quand même

Quand même‘ is a miraculously versatile word that I did learn in school, despite the title of this blog post, but I did not appreciate all of its many, many uses. It ranges from ‘anyway’, ‘even so’ and ‘all the same’ to ‘nevertheless’, ‘really’ and ‘finally’ and even ‘how about that’! Honestly, my general attitude is if in doubt, sticking a ‘quand même‘ onto the end can’t hurt!

Interjections

You will quickly get used to the little sounds that French speakers make which aren’t exactly words, but still convey meaning. For example:

  • ‘Bah…‘ – ‘Uh…’ (when you are unsure about something, when something is obvious or when you don’t understand something)
  • Bof‘ – ‘Meh…’ (when something is average or just ok)
  • Bon‘ – ‘Right, well’ (to express satisfaction, impatience or, when combined with ‘ah‘ to become ‘ah bon‘, surprise)
  • Euh‘ – ‘Er, um, uh’ (for hesitation, uncertainty, doubt)
  • Hein?‘ – ‘Huh?’ (used when you don’t understand something or when you want to check that you or someone else has understood something)

Being Back in Mulhouse 

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve now been back in Mulhouse for more than a month. In that blog I was looking back, reflecting on an incredible summer but also looking to the future, but today I’m back to the present. It felt like the summer flew by, despite how much I managed to pack into it, but coming back to Mulhouse made me realise actually how long I had been away. In the end, I hadn’t been in Mulhouse for four months! That’s half as long as I was here last year! I had missed it and I was definitely looking forward to getting back into a routine and back into my own space. All the time away also gave me a fresh perspective on Mulhouse. It’s been a long time since I gathered my initial first impressions of Mulhouse, not knowing much about it at all. It’s been interesting coming back and noticing some new things this time or seeing things differently.

With my new flatmates!

First of all, and this one will sound obvious but I appreciated it a lot when I arrived back, everything is so much easier when you know how it works! There are obviously a lot of admin things I didn’t have to do on arriving back to Mulhouse – I already had an apartment, a bank account and a French phone number – but just going about day to day life here still requires some background knowledge. This is the case when you move to any new country, you just don’t have the built in knowledge that comes with having grown up somewhere. Even something like knowing where to buy a mouse trap (don’t ask!) becomes a mission. Another example I encountered was that I when had to go and sign the physical copy of my contract this year, I knew not to go to the office between 12pm and 2pm because everybody would be away for lunch. Just knowing stuff like that makes life a lot easier.

There are some other little things that I’ve noticed since coming back to France after some time away. Everytime you walk into a shop, pass someone on a walk by the canal, enter the gym, you say hello. It really is just a little thing but it’s something that makes me smile. Obviously there’s no way for someone just looking at me to know that I’m not French, but being included in this ritual makes me feel like I’m incognito and that I’ve assimilated well. I have also noticed (or been reminded because this is something I noticed way back when I first arrived) that the Alsatian people are very kind and welcoming. I can probably count on one hand the amount of bad experiences I’ve had with someone being rude to me, impatient with my French or just generally being unkind. Looking back, I think this is one of the main reasons I have become so comfortable here. Knowing that, more likely than not, I’m going to be met with kindness and warmth has made setting myself up and building my life here that much easier. It has no doubt contributed to the progression of my French as well. Confidence can be a massive benefit or a massive barrier when it comes to learning and improving a foreign language. Feeling that people are on your side and will support you, with patience, with understanding but most of all by giving you the space and time to try, fail and learn from it is crucial.

Temple Saint-Étienne

Sticking with language for a bit, I have been feeling really at ease in my French since I came back. I don’t quite know how or why that is the case seeing as I spent the summer 1. attempting to speak German (not succeeding), 2. immersing myself in as much Spanish as possible while working in a very multicultural hostel and 3. back at home able to understand everything going on around me for the first time in many months. I did get a little bit of French practice with some of the guests and other volunteers in La Tortuga but not that much. I think that either without realising it, or at least without giving myself credit for it, my French has gotten to the level that I want it to be at. I’m not and have never really been interested in speaking my languages like a native speaker. That is a close to impossible task and requires dedicating an inordinate amount of time and effort to it, and is even more difficult to do with more than one. Because there are multiple languages that I’m already passionate about and even more that I still want to learn, it’s not particularly realistic or feasible for me to do this. My goal has always been communication and ease. I don’t want to feel like I have to translate everything someone says to me into English to understand it and then do the reverse with my response. I want to be able to dedicate time to one language, leave it for a while to focus on another, and be at a good enough level that when I come back to it, it’s there waiting for me. This is what I feel like I achieved with my Spanish after spending a year in Honduras. I didn’t quite get there with my five months in China (I think a bit more than a year would be necessary as well) but I felt like I made some inroads. French has always been the more neglected and that’s what this time in France was supposed to fix.

The change this year compared to last is that I really have more confidence in myself. I don’t have to think about what I’m listening to or trying to say anywhere near as much as I had to last year. Everything just feels easier. However, one of my main struggles with speaking French, or any language for that matter, is getting my personality through. For so long after you start learning a foreign language, the focus is solely on communication. It’s difficult enough to make yourself understood that how you say it doesn’t really matter. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point now where I can express not just my meaning but my humour in French. Another aspect that shows my progress, to me anyway, is that I can swear more comfortably in French! In my professional opinion as a language teacher, swearing is actually an important sign of fluency. I’m not saying it’s something that I teach in class but it does make me smile when I hear my students dropping in a few curse words and it sounds natural!

A mural on campus

Speaking of being back in the classroom, coming back not just to Mulhouse but to my job as a lectrice with a year of experience already under my belt has been refreshing. I won’t pretend that I understand all the intricacies of the French higher education system (there are far too many acronyms for that) but I at least feel more comfortable in what I’m doing. The fact that I already know (and like) two-thirds of my students is also a comfort. Despite having this reassurance behind me though, since arriving back I have felt like I’m cycling through confidence in my abilities and that dreaded imposter syndrome. I don’t want to be an English teacher but I still think I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes though, my lack of formal training gets to me. For example when a student asks me a question and I can’t answer it or has an issue that I don’t know how to fix. There’s not too much I can do to fix it but I do what I can, whether it’s extra research in my free time, sharing resources with other lecteurs or asking my more qualified friends for advice and help.

Saying all that, I don’t feel like I have as much to prove this year, whether it be personally or professionally. In terms of work, last year I wanted to make a good enough impression that I would get asked or accepted to stay for a second year. I also wanted to get off on the right foot with my students as I knew that would help my confidence in the class. Personally, it wasn’t about anyone but myself. Last year I had this feeling of wanting to make the most out of my time here. When I arrived I wasn’t entirely set on staying for two years but even once I had decided that I was going to stay, there was still a feeling of pressure to do and see everything possible. This year I feel more like I’m just living my life. Of course there are still places I want to go and things I want to do, but I think the intention has changed. I’m just doing them because I want to, I want to take that trip or do that thing with my friends or try this restaurant. There are also days where I want to go to bed early or spend all of Sunday in my pyjamas without leaving the house. That’s ok too!

A blurry picture of Canadian Thanksgiving!

I do still have an idea of what I want to achieve in the next wee while though. I’ve got a few goals for this upcoming year and as a way of holding myself accountable for them, I’m going to share some with you.

  • Write a blog post in French – I have always wanted to write a blog post entirely in another language. I almost did it in Spanish right after getting back from Honduras, when my Spanish would have been at its best, but I never got round to it. I never quite got to the level with my Chinese where I felt like I could do it, at least not an entire blog and not to my usual standard. With French, I definitely think I’m at the level where I could, I’m just waiting for the right blog.
  • Integrate different kinds of blog posts – I have a lot of different things that I want to write about in the coming months. There’s still so much that I want to talk about when it comes to Mulhouse, Alsace and living in France but there’s also lots from the summer that I haven’t written about yet. There are other ideas that have been in the back of my mind for a while as well that I would love to finally get out. Have a look below to see some of my upcoming ideas!
  • 3-4 posts a month – This has been a goal of mine since the start of the year. Preferably I wanted to be writing a blog a week but some months that’s not quite possible. I haven’t always hit 4 posts a month, sometimes not even 3 but I still like having that aim in the back of my mind. I’m going to keep it going forward, at least until the end of the year.
  • Keep my classes fresh and interesting – When it comes to work, my only real goal is to keep my classes varied and exciting. I might be feeling a little less enthusiastic about teaching English this year but that’s my problem, not my students’, so I don’t want them to feel any of it. So far this semester we’ve had some really interesting discussions about the monarchy, reality TV and cancel culture to name a few. If I can keep them engaged and improving for the rest of the year, I’ll be happy.

As well as goals for this year, I also have a little bucket list of destinations that I would like to make it to before I finish my time in France. I already have some of these scheduled into the holidays that I know I will have and some are achievable in a day trip or for the weekend. There’s definitely too much here to fit everything in before April or May, my likely endpoint in Mulhouse, but I’d rather aim high and see how much I can fit in.

  • Morocco – All booked and happening in under three weeks!
  • Liechtenstein – After visiting Andorra last year, I want to visit more of these microstates, including Liechtenstein on the eastern border of Switzerland.
  • Madrid – I have the start of my February break earmarked to tick this one off. I’ve been wanting to go for a while and I have some friends there that I want to visit. I think I’ll also visit another city or two, maybe somewhere new, maybe back to Barcelona which is somewhere that I really like.
  • Dijon and Lyon – Two cities not far from Mulhouse so definitely doable over the course of a weekend.
  • Villages in Alsace – I still haven’t seen that many of the smaller villages in Alsace. They are supposed to be beautiful and have held onto a lot more of the traditional Alsatian culture than Mulhouse. They’re a little more challenging to get to without a car but not impossible with some planning.
  • South of France road trip – I think this will be something to keep for springtime, to avoid both the height of the heat and tourist season. I’ve never been down to the south of France so there’s lots of places I want to see!
  • More of Germany – I’ve ventured to Freiburg and Munich so far but while I’m right next door I would love to see more of Germany. This is a little bonus though, not top priority but if I have enough time and the stars align then we’ll see.
  • Skiing in Andorra – This would be another little Brucey bonus. Ever since I was in Andorra last year and I saw how much the country is clearly set up for skiing, I’ve wanted to go back. I’ve since talked to people that have been skiing there and they said it was great!

And finally a little sneak peek at some of the blogs that I would like to write soon (in no particular order)!

  • An intro to Mulhouse
  • My favourite cafes
  • The museums of Mulhouse
  • Alsatian food
  • The Alsatian language
  • Why I’m learning Gaelic
  • A week on the isle of Lewis
  • More Tenerife blogs
  • Travel tips
  • Useful French phrases
  • Lesson plans 

If there’s anything else you want to see me write about, let me know! As for this more reflective kind of blog, I used to write them to mark an anniversary, like one month, three months or six months. I feel like I’m a little beyond tracking these monthly milestones now but I will still be writing these, just based more on when I feel the want or need to get something off my chest and onto the page.


Reflections on Summer 2022

I’ve been back in Mulhouse for a couple of weeks now and it feels like life is back to normal. I’m back in the same apartment as last year, I’ve started teaching again and I’m back into a routine. There are some changes this year and some exciting things coming which I will fill you in on in due course but now I want to take some time to look back on the last few months. I had such an incredible time over the summer, with my travels, my time in Tenerife and being at home. I want to take a moment to reflect on that, the things I’ve learned and the things I’ve gained from it.

First of all I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend my summer in the way that I did. Not everybody has the chance to potter about Europe in the way that I have, whether it is because of time, money or a whole host of other reasons. The perks of working at a university means that I benefit from the long holidays at Christmas and over summer. The benefit of being a lowly lectrice means that I don’t have to spend those holidays doing research or planning entire courses so I am free to use them exactly how I want to.

In terms of the cost of my travels here, there and everywhere, I have shared some spending breakdowns on various blogs (here for two weeks in Germany and Austria and here for seven weeks doing Workaway in Tenerife). I try to keep things pretty cheap, saving money wherever I can and having a bit of a budget. I didn’t always stick to the budget but things like staying in hostels, choosing free activities and cooking for myself instead of eating out all the time are some of the ways that I kept my costs down. All this was how I managed to afford this summer while I was on the go but how did I afford it in the first place? I’m not going to lie and pretend that I earn a ton of money as a lectrice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enough to live comfortably on and is fair for the number of hours that I work but doesn’t leave a lot left over at the end of the month. With that in mind, I would say that I am a saver rather than a spender and always have been. I try to put aside a chunk of each of my paychecks and don’t spend a lot of money on myself. I would much rather save it and put it towards a future trip. Over time, this builds up!

Goofy outtakes with my sisters and cousins

I had a great time across the whole summer, chilling at home as well as spending a couple of weeks travelling in Germany and Austria but my favourite part was by far my time in Tenerife. I’ve spoken at length about how incredible it was working in La Tortuga through Workaway and after being on the road for almost three weeks before I got there, it was nice to slow down once I arrived. Overall I found it much more fulfilling being somewhere for longer and getting to know it better. It also felt like a more sustainable way to travel for me. Moving around places and cities every few days can be exciting but also exhausting!

Tenerife also added to my collection of friends around the world. I feel incredibly lucky to have made the connections that I have over the years with the people I meet along the way. Whether it’s my second family in Honduras, the friends I made while studying in China that I’m visiting in Morocco next month or my fellow volunteers and the guests from La Tortuga, I have met some very special people. The more people I meet, the more places I want to go so I can visit them!

Tortugeñ@s

Spending almost two months on a Spanish island was great not just because of the amazing things I got to do or the people that I met, but because I got to speak my favourite language. I’m really pleased with how much my French has improved since moving to France and Chinese is special to me because of how much effort I have put into it but I’ve always had a soft spot for Spanish as it was when I started learning it that my passion for languages really took off. It was also the first language I learnt fluently and is attached to so many memories that I hold close to my heart. It was great to be able to stretch those muscles again after five years without using them for more than a random conversation here and a long weekend away there. I also got to add to my very eclectic collection of vocabulary and phrasing that has its roots in Honduras and has influences now from mainland Spain, Chile, Argentina and a mish mash of other places. I love that my Spanish doesn’t conform to one regional accent or dictionary but instead is a patchwork of the people and places that have taught me.

I also feel more intrigued by Spain than I ever have before. Most of my interest in Spanish has been related to my time in Honduras and Central America and other than a week here and there I haven’t spent a lot of time in Spain. I will say here that although Tenerife is a Spanish island, the local culture is much more Canarian than Spanish. Saying that, it’s still the first time that I have felt drawn to Spain in this way. I will always feel pulled back to Tenerife now but I am also more intrigued by mainland Spain now. Who knows when it might happen but maybe I’ll end up living in Spain for longer than a couple of months at some point?

Ten weeks after leaving my home in Mulhouse, I finally made it back home-home. That is to say that I made it back to Scotland and back to Dunblane. I have previously written about my complicated feelings about coming home to Dunblane in general and specifically after a period of travels or living elsewhere. The concept of home and the feelings attached to it are often complex, and not just for me. I’m always happy to be back and able to see the people that I’ve missed more than anything but without those people in Dunblane I wouldn’t be going back to visit. There are other places in Scotland that I feel much more attached to, in particular Edinburgh.

For the first time, however, I had a real desire to be at home in Dunblane. Not just to visit my family and friends but to actually be at home, in that environment that I know so well, that feels familiar, that I grew up in. I hadn’t felt this before, even after a whole year in Honduras, even after being the furthest I’ve been from home while in China, even when I was last at home in February after missing Christmas because I got covid. It was an intense feeling and a new one for me. I still don’t know exactly what caused me to feel like that. I’ve always come away from an extended period living somewhere else wanting to stay longer but something felt a little different. As much as I loved my time in Tenerife, I was ready to come home at the end of it. As much as I enjoyed my first year in France, I was longing to go back to Scotland.

At this point I knew that I was coming back to France for a second year as a lectrice. I’m still not entirely sure why but lecteurs and lectrices can only stay in their position for a maximum of two years. I had decided not long after arriving in France and getting started that I wanted to stay a second year. I enjoyed the work, I like Mulhouse and I’d set up a nice life for myself there. I also wasn’t sure what it would look like if I didn’t stay for a second year. I graduated university with this idea that I wanted to move to France and get my French to the level that I wanted it. There was also an element of taking back what the pandemic had denied me because I didn’t get to spend any time in France during my year abroad. When I arrived, I had a vague idea that I might want to go to China after I finished my time in France for similar reasons. While I would still like to go back to China one day, I don’t think now is the time. There are still a lot of covid restrictions in place that make it hard to get a visa and that restrict life and travel once you are there. I also don’t want to continue being an English teacher (which I’ll expand on later) but I think that would be the easiest way to get back to China in the near future.

The combination of this desire to be back home in Scotland and the uncertainty of where I’m going after my second year in France is done had and still has me considering whether I want to move back to Scotland. I have always felt like a restless soul and have never seen settling down in one place as something I would do until much further in the future. Saying that, I’ve always had the feeling that if and when I do choose somewhere more permanently, it would most likely be in Scotland because that is my home. I’m not saying I’m ready to take that plunge and be in Scotland for the rest of my life. Even just in this blog post I’ve talked about potentially wanting to live in Spain at some point. But maybe the way I was feeling was a sign that moving home, even temporarily, should be in my future?

What made this more complicated was that when I first arrived back in Scotland just after the start of July, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going back to France. Like I’ve already said, I don’t know where I’ll be after this second year in Mulhouse but it most likely won’t be France. I like the life that I’ve built here but it was never supposed to be long term in the first place. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back at all, I knew what I had signed up to when I agreed to stay on for a second year. I knew that all I needed was some time at home. I just needed to fill myself up again from being around my friends and family and also having some time to do nothing. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks I was already starting to look upon my return to France with more excitement.

HebCelt 2022

Another thing playing on my mind was my choice of job. I don’t and have never wanted to be an English teacher. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy what I do and I actually think I’m quite good at it but it’s not my passion. I have been involved in teaching for years, ever since I became a swimming instructor at the age of 16, through my year teaching English in a primary school in Honduras, back into the pool through university and now finally in Mulhouse. At the same time, an unavoidable question when you choose to study languages as a degree is ‘So are you going to be a translator or a teacher?’. I have known since I first embarked on that path that I didn’t want to do either. I’m still not exactly sure what it is that I do want to do but I know it’s not English teaching. Knowing all this, and with all these other questions swirling around my head about what the future might hold, had me questioning what I was even doing going back for another year. I felt like it would be a waste of time.

I’ve since knocked myself out of that spiral. I think a lot of these thoughts came at a point where I was just feeling a little bit lost. I still don’t know where I’m headed but I’m secure in the knowledge of where I am. Yes, I don’t want to be an English teacher for the rest of my life but I am grateful for what this job has given me, allowed me to do and taught me. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy interacting with my students and I share their passion for languages, just for different languages. It’s not a waste of time at all because there are things to be learnt from any experience and it is what you make of it. For now, I’m focusing on giving my all while I’m still here and making the most of it. I’m sure there will be more updates down the line as I (hopefully) get closer to figuring out what I’m doing with my life!

À Bientôt Mulhouse

I’m long gone from Mulhouse at this point, having finished two weeks of travelling in the south of Germany and through Austria and am about to embark on two months working in a hostel in Spain, with a quick weekend with family in Dublin in between. With all of that still to come on the blog, I wanted to do one final update from my time in Mulhouse. Recently it’s been all about the various visitors I had in April but there are a few things from before, in between and after that I want to catch you up on.

First of all, rewinding all the way to the start of March, I celebrated Pancake Day with my flatmates and neighbours. Pancake Day obviously happens on Shrove Tuesday but there is actually a French version of Pancake Day not linked to any current religious holidays. On 2nd February there is La Chandeleur (also known as Fête de la Lumière or just jour des crêpes). We missed this but our Pancake Day was full of mini crepes with a range of fillings, British favourites like lemon and sugar and more French choices like emmental, mushrooms and crème fraîche. It just so happened that Pancake Day (or our one anyway, celebrated a day late) was the same evening as the live music night at Shamrock so it was two for one that evening!

There have also been a few birthdays in the last few months. My upstairs neighbours Aaron and Matt both had their birthdays so of course we had to celebrate. For Aaron’s birthday we went out to a Korean BBQ restaurant on the actual day and then had a party at the end of the week. For anyone that hasn’t had Korean BBQ before, it’s super fun! It’s a very interactive experience where you use a grill plate built into your table to cook a range of things, often slices of meat but also vegetables or tofu. There was also a homemade red velvet cake made by Ellie, their lovely flatmate! For Matt’s birthday we went out to an Italian restaurant called Volfoni (good cocktails, average food) on his actual birthday and again had a party at the end of the week!

In the middle of March I took a great day trip to one of Alsace’s popular attractions. Le Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is a medieval castle located near Sélestat which is in turn located about two thirds of the way from Mulhouse to Strasbourg. The castle sits atop the Vosges and looks out over the Upper Rhine Plain and on a clear day you can see all the way into Germany. I went with my flatmate Becca as it was one of the last things she wanted to do before she left Mulhouse at the end of March to go back to university in Germany. It was very easy to get to, the train from Mulhouse to Sélestat, which takes about 40 minutes, and then there is a bus that leaves from right outside the station, helpfully marked Château, that will take you the 25 minute drive into the mountains and right to the front door of the castle. The path through the castle directs you through it in a way that I thought worked very well. It was informative and clear where you were going which made the visit very easy and enjoyable! We finished with a slice of cake (tarte aux myrtilles for me and tarte tatin for Becca) and an Elssas cola from the cafe, enjoying the view outside while waiting for the bus back down. Overall if you are anywhere in the area and looking for a day trip to do, Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is very accessible, with or without a car, very interesting and beautiful! Big recommendation from me!

Something a bit random that I want to include was the day in the middle of March when the sands of the Sahara blew in. I woke up and there was this strange light coming through the window but I didn’t think much of it. Throughout the morning, while I was teaching, I noticed that it got a bit stronger, a real orange tint to the sky. It was as if there was a filter on the world and eventually I asked my students about it. They explained that it happens once a year pretty much, that the wind brings sand from the Sahara over. It can travel as far as Scandinavia and apparently was particularly strong this year, especially in Spain. In Spanish it is known as la calima but I’m not sure what they call it in French. It was bizarre to experience but quite interesting!

At the end of March I unfortunately had to say goodbye to the first of my friends that was leaving Mulhouse. There are several that won’t be there next year, including the language assistants who have been here for their year abroad as part of their university studies, others who have been in France for a few years and are going back to Scotland or some who are moving to other places in France. Becca, my flatmate, was the first to go, heading back to Germany for the last semester of the German academic year. It was sad to see her go and eventually when it was my turn to leave it was sad to say goodbye to everyone but as with most goodbyes, it just makes me more thankful to have met those people in the first place. I don’t get that emotional with goodbyes anymore because if it’s with someone that I care about enough to get emotional, I know that it won’t be the last time I see them. It doesn’t matter where they live, close to me or the other side of the world, if I care about someone I know that I’ll make the effort to see them when I can.

Matching friendship bracelets

And that pretty much brings us up to date with the goings on in Mulhouse in the last few months. If you follow my new Instagram for this blog, @sara_somewhere_ (shameless plug, I know), you’ll have been able to keep up with my travels since I left at the end of April. I spent about five days each in Munich, Innsbruck and Vienna followed by a quick pit stop in Dublin before heading to Tenerife where I’m writing this from and where I’ll be for the next two months. I hope you’ll join me on Instagram to get more timely updates but otherwise I’ll be working to get the next few blog posts out ASAP to hopefully catch up and be able to write a bit more about where I am now and also some general travelling posts. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about!

What to Do When You Visit Mulhouse

As you know, I had a very busy April, first with my dad and Kirsty visiting Mulhouse and then going away for a few days to go skiing with them in Switzerland. This was all followed closely after by a visit from my friend Anna who is a lectrice in Rouen and also my twin sister Amy! I had picked out some of my favourite places to show them both and also had some new experiences too which was a nice balance. The two visits together give a good overview of what makes a good visit to Mulhouse! There’s a few things that aren’t included here that I think are worth a visit, like the Musée Historique and the Musée de l’Automobile, that you can read about in the post about my dad and Kirsty’s visit. There’s also things that I haven’t done yet, like visit the Cité du Train or go to some of the villages around Mulhouse, that I imagine are also great. It’s lucky I’ve got another year here!

Food and Drink

I’m not ashamed to say that many of my holidays and plans revolve around food and having Anna and Amy visit was no different! I took both of them to some of my favourite places and also got to try somewhere new that I’ve had my eye on for ages!

Gambrinus

Definitely one of my favourite spots in Mulhouse, Gambrinus was the first stop on both Anna and Amy’s trips. I think it’s a great introduction to Mulhouse, not just because it’s popular but it shows that Mulhouse does have a bit of life to it, something that it is sometimes accused of lacking. It’s the ‘trendy’ bar that the young people of Mulhouse frequent, known for its large range of draught beers and its tartes flambées. Both my visitors were big fans of the Alsatian delicacy. Anna sampled the Savoyarde, which was the standard onions and lardons plus reblochon cheese because it reminded her of her year abroad in Sallanches in Haute-Savoie. Amy is vegetarian so she had hers without the lardons obviously but it was still a big hit!

Astronome

Astronome is another place that I took both of them. It’s a fairly new rooftop bar that opened in October but I have only really been taking advantage of it since spring arrived, for obvious reasons. I have to be honest, while the view is incredible and I would kill for their pineapple mojitos, the service is not great. It can take a while to order and get your drinks but if the weather is nice, that’s not the worst thing in the world. When Anna was visiting, we met up with some of my friends there and me and Amy had a wee apéro one afternoon.

NoMad

A hidden gem tucked away in an old industrial complex whose buildings have been renovated, NoMad is a restaurant and bar that has a warm ambience and Instagram worthy decor. Every Sunday they have decadent brunches that I’m yet to try but have heard good things about. Amy and I went to NoMad with a few of my friends post-Gambrinus for another drink. The mojitos aren’t as good as Astronome but I had a Hot Tub (a vodka cocktail with raspberry and pineapple) that was delicious and they have a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Their menu looks great too so I need to go back for food soon!

Are we twins or are we twins?

Panettone

I have been desperate to try Panettone since I moved to Mulhouse, after the recommendation of my friend and food blogger Àine from Une Bouchée a Day. During drinks at NoMad, I finally got around to arranging a visit with Àine herself, our friend Lynzie (another Scot!) and of course Amy tagging along as well. It was such a shout because the pizza was fantastic. It was genuinely one of the best pizzas I think I’ve ever had. Everyone but Amy went for the Pomodoro, a delicious concotion of cherry tomatoes, pesto, ricotta salata and your choice of Buffalo mozzarella or burrata to top it off (we all went for burrata). Amy had the Parmigiana with aubergines, cherry tomatoes, rocket and parmesan. It was also great but she admitted to having a bit of food envy!

Homemade English breakfast

With all the delicious food to be found in France, we still decided to go all out and make a full English breakfast on Amy’s last morning. We went up to our neighbours’ flat where some other British language assistants live and toiled away in the kitchen for almost two hours to put together an impressive spread. We had sausages, meat and veggie, bacon, a huge bowl of scrambled eggs, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and even homemade baked beans! There was also a French touch as we added croissants on the side.

A beautiful sight!

Activities

I had a range of activities in mind for when Amy and Anna came to visit, some the same and some different. The same as with the food and drink choices, I had been to some of these places before but there were others that were new to me too! Having visitors is a great reason or excuse to finally get around to doing or seeing the things you haven’t made time for yet.

Strasbourg

An obvious must for both Anna and Amy was to take them to Strasbourg. If you think Mulhouse looks nice, which they both did, wait until you see Strasbourg! I have yet to do a lot of the attractions there because every time I go I just get caught up in wandering around the beautiful streets. Particularly with Anna, the same thing happened. We started wandering through Petite France, the especially picturesque part of the city, and then headed towards the university. Anna is currently considering where to do a masters in France after her doing another year as a lectrice and so wanted to check out the campus. We had the vague idea that we would carry on walking until we got to the European Parliament but luckily we checked before we got too far and found out that it was closed for Easter weekend. Instead we got a baguette and some other bits and pieces and had a picnic next to the river in the glorious sunshine.

With Amy, we at least managed one activity! Just like with Anna, the weather was stunning so we decided to take advantage of that and climb the cathedral tower to enjoy the views over the city in the sunshine. Previously I’ve seen the queue to climb the tower, separate from the one just to get inside, snake all the way across the courtyard next to the cathedral but because this was a random Thursday afternoon we didn’t have to wait that long. It cost €5 as a student (I can get in as a student using my staff campus card) and €8 for Amy at regular price. There are more than 200 steps that wind up a series of narrow spiral staircases. You don’t actually go all the way to the top of the tower but instead to the roof of the main body of the cathedral with the tower continuing above you. The rooftop has viewfinders attached to the fence that point out some of the things that you can see, including the Vosges mountains to the west and the Black Forest in Germany to the east. Going up wasn’t necessarily easy but I have to admit, I found going down harder! Winding down the spiral staircases made me so dizzy I started to feel a little sick! Still very worthwhile though!

Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes

Back in Mulhouse I took Amy to another one of its museums, but not the more famous car or train ones. I know my audience and I took her to the Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes or the fabric printing museum. It was actually pretty interesting with lots of beautiful fabrics. Some of the signs were in French and English but some were only in French so Amy had to engage my translation services (I gave her the friends and family discount!).

Basel

As well as a day trip to Strasbourg, Amy got a surprise bonus, the morning she arrived when I somehow got us on the wrong train back from the airport and ended up in Basel instead of Mulhouse! I only noticed when I got a text saying ‘Welcome to Switzerland’! Neither of us were that bothered about it seeing as the trains between Basel and Mulhouse are so regular, plus it makes for a funny story (at my expense). We actually didn’t get the next train back but instead went to a food hall near the train station and had an iced coffee in the sun.

Zurich

Another of the days Amy was here we visited Switzerland again, this time on purpose! Amy has a friend that lives there who she met while volunteering in Mexico 4 years ago. She hasn’t seen her since and she figured that while she was over in this part of the world, she might as well make the short two hour train ride and have a reunion! Lea met us at the train station and there were some very happy hugs when they saw each other again!

Lea works part time at the observatory in the city so our first stop was a private trip up to the observation platform for a usually inaccessible view across the city. From there she was able to point out the main attractions, some that we would go on to see and some that we wouldn’t have time to, considering we were only there for a few hours. We basically walked a loop from the observatory, which is on the main shopping street, through the old town to Lake Zurich and back round. We visited the Großmunster, the large cathedral, which had some beautiful and more alternative stained glass windows inside. We walked down to the Opera, a very grand building, past the lake and then to Lea’s favourite vegetarian restaurant for lunch. It’s the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world! Lea had to leave shortly after lunch so Amy and I found a park to read in for the last little while before our train. And thus concluded our whirlwind trip to Zurich!

The view from the observatory

Water polo match

Last up on Amy’s visit was a very specific Sara-related activity. I’ve been playing water polo since I was 13 and found a club to play with in Mulhouse as well. It just so happened that the elite men’s team had a match the weekend Amy was here. Some of my friends in Mulhouse have come along to a few matches throughout the year so there were five or six of us that went together. There was a synchro demonstration before the match including one of my friends which was very cool and then the match itself was great! It was very close, coming down to the last few minutes but in the end we won!

Sights

Sometimes just wandering around a place is enough to get a feel for it and see some great things. Mulhouse isn’t big, especially centre ville, so it’s easy to get your bearings quickly but there’s still lots of beautiful buildings to see if you know where to look.

Place de la Réunion

You absolutely cannot come to Mulhouse without seeing Place de la Réunion. It is the main square with the Temple Saint-Étienne on one side, the bright pink Hôtel de Ville on another and a number of beautiful buildings as well. The weekend that Anna was here the cafes and bars around the square had put out their terraces, marking the real entrance into spring and the warmer weather. We were there two days in a row to enjoy a coffee in the sun, with a croissant to accompany us one day. A perfect setting, particularly on a Sunday morning.

Université de Haute-Alsace

While not really of interest for the general visitor to Mulhouse, Amy did request that we take a walk down to the university so that she could see where I work. There is a lovely path running along the river that comes out right at the bottom of campus. It’s not a massive area so we just walked up to look at my building and then turned around.

Parks

One of my only complaints since I moved to Mulhouse is that it’s missing some nice big green spaces. I’m picturing something like the Meadows in Edinburgh, nice to walk through even on a cold, wet or windy day but absolutely glorious on a sunny one. Mulhouse has lots of trees, flowerbeds and even the tramways are carpeted in grass which brightens up the city a lot but I haven’t been that impressed with the parks. However, recently I have found a new appreciation for them. The sunny weather definitely hasn’t hurt. When Anna was here we spent an hour or two reading in the park at Nouveau Bassin, one of the canals cutting through Mulhouse. One of the bigger parks in the centre of town is Square Steinbach, just behind the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Art) and Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin. After our lunch at Panettone, Amy, Àine, Lynzie and I went to find a new bubble tea place that has just opened in Mulhouse, right next to the square, and then drank them in the sunshine on the grass. All in all, I think I need to be a bit more appreciative of the parks in Mulhouse!

So, there you go. If for someone reason you end up in Mulhouse and I’m not there to give you a guided tour, you can use this as a starting point for your visit!

Official Tour Guide Duties Begin

I am winding down my last week in Mulhouse, at least for this year – it feels crazy to write that! – but I have a lot to catch you up on from the last few weeks. April has been very busy, filled with lots of lovely visits from lots of lovely people. I started with my dad and younger sister Kirsty who spent a few days in Mulhouse before we all went skiing in Switzerland together. Next up was Anna, my fellow Edinburgh University lectrice who works in Rouen who came for a long weekend over Easter. Last but not least was my twin sister Amy who was here last week. I loved having them visit me and being able to show them around not just the city of Mulhouse and the region of Alsace but also the life that I’ve built here. I’m going to split all of these visits into a couple of different, more bitesize posts so there are multiple to enjoy!

Starting with my dad and Kirsty, I went to pick them up from the airport and took them to their AirBnB. They had booked a place right next to le mairie (the city council) which was perfect as it’s right next to centre ville and a tram stop, making it easy for them to get around. The AirBnB itself was lovely, as was the owner. I joked that it was even nicer than my apartment! Our first stop was lunch, which was going to be at an Alsatian restaurant but the AirBnB owner told us that the restaurant I had in mind just reheats their dishes and gave us a better recommendation, Le Cellier. It wasn’t open for lunch but we noted it down for later in the visit.

A lot of places in France that open for lunch will close at 2pm when most people’s lunch hour ends and we were cutting it close to that. We ended up at Le Crêperie Crampous Mad which has non-stop service through the day so no worries about it closing on us. I’ve been here a couple of times before and it is great. Kirsty and my dad went for the classic option of a crêpe complèt with ham, cheese and egg while I had one with goats cheese and parma ham.

Kirsty had arrived pretty exhausted after having just finished a week of performances of her college musical, Carrie. Her energy levels were pretty low so we left her in the apartment for the afternoon to have a nap while my dad and I went to the car museum. The hope was that she could have a few chill days in Mulhouse and catch up on her rest before we went skiing. The Musée National de l’Automobile is the private collection of the Sclumpf brothers and I didn’t really know what to expect from that. It is one of the things that Mulhouse is known for and attracts a lot of people to the city. We got there just over an hour before it closed, which was actually the perfect amount of time to wander around the collection. The museum itself is housed in an old woolen mill that the brothers bought in 1957 to hold their collection.

The museum covers 20,000 m2 with 400 cars on display from 98 manufacturers. Apparently it has the largest displayed collection of automobiles and is the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugattis in the world. There are three sections, the Automobile Adventure area, the Car Racing area and the Masterpieces area. The main room houses the Automobile Adventure which is absolutely packed full of cars that can walk you through time from 1878 to almost the present day. Interestingly, the lamp posts that are spread through the room are exact replicas of those on the Alexandre III Bridge in Paris! There were a lot of Ferraris, Mercedes Benzs and Peugots, some Renaults, Rolls Royces, and so many more. The racing car section had some rally cars, cars from Le Mans and even F1 cars including ones driven by Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso and others. It was hidden away through in a side room so we almost missed it but it was a great surprise! Finally the Masterpieces room has 80 of the most prestigious cars from the 1930s. I actually enjoyed the whole thing a lot more than I thought I would!

To top off their first day in Mulhouse, I took my dad and Kirsty to Gambrinus, one of the most popular bars in the city. It’s a vibrant and lively spot, particularly energetic at the weekend but still has a good buzz any day of the week. It’s a good place to sample one particular local delicacy – tarte flambée or flammekueche. These are like Alsatian pizzas, a very thin and crispy pastry base, creme fraiche as the sauce and with the traditional toppings of bacon lardons and thinly sliced onions. Me and my dad both got the Munster, topped with local munster cheese, and Kirsty had the Champignon, so with mushrooms. Gambrinus has a wide selection of draught beers as well which we sampled as well. We were going to stay for a few but Kirsty’s energy levels were dipping so we headed back to their AirBnB for some more chilled drinks there.

The plan for Sunday was to have a chilled day, as befits a Sunday in general but especially in France where most things are closed. We didn’t even make it out of the AirBnB until mid-afternoon, having given Kirsty a long lie-in and then waited until the very important, absolutely cannot be missed football match finished. When we did finally get out, we wandered around centre ville in search of a caffeine kick. We ended up at a cafe that I’ve been meaning to try out for a while, Le Temps D’une Pause. It was a really nice vibe inside and there were several people with their laptops out so I’ve filed it away as somewhere I can go and work in the future.

After our coffee we walked down to Place de la Réunion, the main square in Mulhouse where you can find the cathedral and hôtel de ville (the old town hall), and decided to go to the historic museum that is in the Hôtel de Ville and is actually open on Sundays. Free entrance was a bonus! I thought it was going to be really small but it actually had a lot inside, telling the history of Mulhouse. The museum was founded in 1864 and covers three different topics – local archaeology, the history of the city and Sundgauvian folk art. The original interiors of the town hall have been preserved in some rooms and in others, traditional Sundgauvian living conditions have been replicated (Sundgau is an area in the south of Alsace). There was also a whole room dedicated to Alfred Dreyfus and the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus was a military officer of Jewish descent born in Mulhouse in 1859. In 1894 he was convicted of treason for revealing military secrets to the Germans. New evidence came to light in 1896 but the military justice system refused to admit its mistake and it took until 1906 for Dreyfus to be completely exonerated. The Dreyfus Affair divided French society at the time and is still a well known symbol of miscarraige of justice and antisemitism. It was something I had heard of before but didn’t know much about and I definitely didn’t know that Alfred Dreyfus was from Mulhouse!

Outside the Hôtel de Ville where the historic museum is

After visiting the museum, we walked towards my apartment so they could see where I live and then back to the AirBnB for some dinner.

Unfortunately I still had work this week so I wasn’t able to spend the day with my dad and sister on Monday or Tuesday but I set them up with some plans in my absence. On Monday they headed out to Strasbourg and enjoyed the beauty of the city while I was running assessments with my classes. I finished work at 4pm and headed back to my apartment quickly before meeting up with them just after they got back from Strasbourg. We decided to go out for a wee apéro, basically the French version of an after work happy hour. We went to Gambrinus again so that Kirsty could experience without her exhaustion induced haze!

After a drink there we headed back to the AirBnB to have raclette for dinner. For anyone that isn’t aware of what raclette is, it features my favourite food group – melted cheese. When you have raclette at a restaurant, they bring out half a wheel of cheese and clamp it over a flame so that it starts to melt and you can scrape the cheese off to eat with your chosen accompaniments. At home raclette involves using a portable grill with little trays to melt slices of raclette cheese under. You give it a few minutes until its molten and bubbly before dripping it over the usual sides of boiled potatoes and saucisson plus whatever extras you want. Cornichons, or gherkins, and mustard are must haves with raclette.

Ready for raclette!

I was working again the next day, my busiest day of the week as after I finish my classes at the university I have to race over to Epitech, an IT school where I do a weekly conversation workshop. I finished there at half 5, raced home to change and freshen up before meeting my dad and Kirsty at Le Cellier for dinner, on the recommendation of the AirBnB owner. The two of them filled me in on their day, a rather chilled one after their big day trip to Strasbourg the day before and before a whole day of travelling to our ski destination in Switzerland the next day.

Le Cellier is an Alsatian restaurant so it was only fitting that we started with a bottle of Alsatian crémant, a sparkling wine. Kirsty had started with snails (when in France, right?) and I shared a charcuterie board with a mix of Alsatian meats and cheese. For mains, Kirsty had steak-frites, choucroute for my dad (basically sauerkraut topped with various meat and potatoes) and I had a new Alsatian dish, for me at least, bibeleskæs. It’s a kind of cottage cheese-creme fraiche concoction with garlic, shallots and chives. Mine was served with a little lettuce, a large block of munster and a little pot of cumin seeds. It was nice and surprisingly filling but not my favourite. It was still good to try a new Alsatian dish though. We were all pretty full but we decided to share a café liégeois, coffee ice cream topped with chantilly cream and with a shot of espresso to pour over.

Lucky we ordered the café liégeois to share!

It being the first Tuesday of April, we had arranged to meet some of my friends at Shamrock, an Irish pub where they sometimes have live music. The band was already in full swing by the time we got there and the place was more packed than I’ve seen it but we still managed to get the last table in the place. It was a good evening, everybody chatting. Kirsty had a bit more energy than any other day so it was nice to see her socialising and getting on with everyone.

And that concludes my first visitors in Mulhouse! They left the next morning to head to Grindelwald in Switzerland for a few days of skiing and I followed in the early afternoon after I had finished my classes for the week. It was lovely having them in Mulhouse and being able to show them all my favourite spots, everything I’ve discovered since living here. There might not seem to be that much to do as a visitor in Mulhouse but I think we managed to fill the days pretty well and there’s more than you might expect if you dig beneath the surface a little.

Squeezing Paris into 36 Hours!

April has been a busy month for me. Not only did I have several sets of assessments to mark for my students, I had my last few weeks of class for the semester, I’m still trying to figure out my summer plans PLUS I finally have some people coming to visit me in Mulhouse. First up were my dad and younger sister, followed by my friend Anna who I visited in Rouen and finally my twin sister! However, before sharing the little home that I’ve built in Mulhouse with some special people, let me take you back to a weekend at the end of March when it was time for a little weekend away with another special person.

Nina and I first met in Costa Rica when we were 17. We were there on a language and culture exchange and volunteering trip with an organisation called GVI. We immediately hit it off, along with an American girl (shoutout Amanda, we miss you!), and almost seven years later she is still one of my best friends. She has visited me in Dunblane and I’ve visited her at home in Grantham and many times in London where she is currently studying medicine. Because of her studies, she doesn’t have a lot of time for holidays or trips but we figured out that it’s actually quicker for her to get the Eurostar to Paris than for me to get the train there from Mulhouse! Honestly, it would be rude not to take advantage of that and meet in the middle. We still had to make it a quick trip, arriving around 10am on Saturday morning and leaving at 8pm on Sunday evening, bringing us to just shy of 36 hours in Paris.

It seems to be becoming a habit that I go to Paris and try to fit as much in as possible in as short an amount of time as possible. It’s hardly fair for a city that has so much to show for itself. Last time I was there was for 12 hours which really wasn’t enough. I got caught up in the bustling energy and overwhelming size – and not in a good way. This time I was back for 36 hours on a weekend with glorious weather and it couldn’t have been more different – I got caught up in the magic and romance of Paris, of the city itself, falling in love with it again in the way only Paris can make you. I remember on my first visit to Paris when I was a teenager, being convinced that I would live there one day. However, the more I became interested in languages and French, the less I was actually drawn to Paris, it being such an international metropolis where they are famed for sniffing out foreigners and refusing to speak French to them. Since I moved to France this feeling only seems to have increased. French people outside of Paris don’t seem to be nearly as enamoured by the city as the rest of the world and this rubbed off on me a little. 

However, this weekend was Nina’s first time in Paris and we packed in as many of the must see sights as we could. There are certain things that you just have to do the first time you experience the City of Lights. Between doing more than 26km over two days, getting possibly the first glimpse of summer and translating my way through Paris with ease, I think I found a little bit of the magic again. 

I made my way from Mulhouse to Paris without any major problems, other than dragging myself out of bed at 6.30am. It’s three hours from Mulhouse to Paris and I got in a little before Nina so I made my way from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord to meet her off the Eurostar. The last time we saw each other was when I made a trip to London with my sisters over my birthday in 2020, just weeks after leaving China because of covid and just weeks before things went into lockdown in the UK as well.

Our first stop was Sacre Cœur in Montmartre, after dropping our bags at our hotel. We were staying in Hôtel Victoria in the 9th arrondissement, le Quartier de l’Opéra, which was only a half an hour walk from Montmartre. It was a nice hotel, not a massive room but clean and not too expensive. There was also luggage storage where we could leave our bags seeing as we arrived before check-in and that we were able to use after checking out the next day so we didn’t have to drag our bags around Paris for the whole day.

Walking through streets towards Sacre Cœur, gradually working our way uphill we got just a glimpse through the buildings of the church high on its perch. Nina was seeing it all with fresh eyes and couldn’t believe the view! We were pretty hungry so we actually didn’t go to the church or the viewpoint at first but straight to the main square to get some food. We sat down at one of the restaurants in the square and decided to split a few dishes. We went for the classic moules-frites (mussels in a white wine sauce with a side of chips) and grenouilles (frog’s legs)! It was between frog’s legs and escargot (snails!), Nina had never had either but I hadn’t had frog’s legs so we went for that. The frog’s legs were actually kind of bland, they genuinely just tasted like chicken and unseasoned chicken at that, and I didn’t really like the mussels plus their service was very slow so not a great culinary start to the weekend. When we had finished eating we took a tour around the artists so that Nina could pick out a small painting as a souvenir and then headed back to see Sacre Cœur.

Sacre Cœur

From Sacre Cœur we wandered down through Montmartre towards Moulin Rouge, ice cream in hand. We found our way down there just to have a quick look and then hopped on the tram to the Arc de Triomphe. I’ve not seen it before and it’s actually pretty impressive. We had a quick photoshoot with the help of some fellow tourists before turning towards the Eiffel Tower. We decided to walk because in this case it was quicker than getting the metro. Walking is also such a great way to see a city and get a feel for it as well. We sat on a grassy bank below the Trocadéro for a while, just taking it all in and giving our poor feet a little break. We walked towards the Eiffel Tower and then along the Seine for a bit before getting the metro back towards the hotel. 

Moulin Rouge
Arc de Triomphe

Originally the plan had been to go back to the hotel for a bit of chill time, go out for dinner at one of the restaurants around our hotel and then go back out to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up by night. However, we HIGHLY underestimated just how wiped out we were by all the walking we had done. As soon as we hit the room there was no way we were going out again other than very briefly to find dinner. We wandered around a bit until we settled on a dumpling place just across the road. It was called 东北饺子王 (Dongbei Dumpling King), Dongbei being the northeastern region of China where I lived. We got a set of steamed pork, onion and shrimp dumplings and grilled chicken and cabbage dumplings with a side of mapo tofu and aubergine fritters. We both made a right meal of it by dropping our dumplings into the dipping sauce and splashing it everywhere but they were delicious and reminded me of Dalian!

Back at the hotel it wasn’t long before we were out for the count!

Our plan for day 2 centred around our booking at the Musée d’Orsay at 10.30am followed by wandering down and around the Seine. We walked down towards the river, enjoying the sunshine that we were lucky enough to have for both days there. Sunshine makes everything better and Paris is no different. We passed by the Opéra on the way which was very impressive and then down a very fancy street full of shops that I will never be able to afford to Place Vendôme. Just beyond are the Jardin des Tuileries which we walked through and where we eventually found a kiosk to get some breakfast. The city seemed really empty as we were walking over which I figured was just because it’s a Sunday, and even Paris has a sleepy Sunday morning. We got a coffee each and a croissant for me and a Nutella crepe for Nina and had them next to a fountain in the park. It was another beautiful day and a really idyllic moment where I just appreciated the life that I get to lead. There were people reading, out enjoying the sun, drinking coffee and eating breakfast like us. We sat there for a little bit and then headed just over the river to the Musée d’Orsay. 

Opéra de Paris
Place Vendôme

The Musée d’Orsay is in an old train station and even the building itself is absolutely beautiful. I got in for free because I’m an EU citizen under 25 (thank you Irish passport!) and we had paid for audio guides as well, seeing as they were only €6. The reason we chose the Musée d’Orsay was because it has a large collection of Van Gogh paintings and Nina loves Van Gogh. The central avenue of the museum is filled with sculptures and then there are rooms off to the side with paintings. I liked the sculptures more than the paintings in this section but it was interesting to see some paintings by names known even to an art amateur like myself. There was an interesting scale model of the area around the Opéra that we had walked through that morning and a cross section of the entire building. It took us about an hour and a half to get through the main avenue and I was getting a little bit of museum fatigue. I was reaching my limit but Nina was having a great time. I suggested we move up to the area that has the impressionists and post-impressionists and I liked the paintings in this area a lot more with its Monets, Renoirs, Pisarros and Manets.

There was so much more we could have seen but at this point lunch was calling! We left the museum and walked along the river a little until we found a riverside brasserie. It was almost definitely a tourist trap but a well placed one with decent food as well! We decided to split two dishes, a buffalo mozzarella and parma ham pizza and a crêpe complète (ham, cheese and fried egg) with some chips.

After lunch we wound our way back and forth across the Seine, starting with the Louvre. Having filled our museum quota for the day we just went to have a look at the pyramid, the building and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the edge of the Tuileries. We walked further down the river to Île de la Cité and Sainte-Chapelle. This wasn’t on our original plan but my mum had suggested, or rather demanded, that we go for her. It was somewhere that I hadn’t been before and it’s only a couple of hundred metres away from Notre Dame so we figured we might as well squeeze it in. We were a bit disappointed with the room we first entered and thought that was all there was until we spotted the staircase that leads up to the main chapel. We had seen a picture when looking it up the night before but were still taken aback when we entered the main room. It was absolutely stunning. The walls are almost entirely made from intricate, multi-coloured stained glass and with all the sun today it was glorious, such a hidden treasure. It’s a very popular tourist spot but still doesn’t have the popularity of it’s neighbour Notre Dame, maybe given that it is literally hidden in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Inside Sainte-Chapelle

From there we headed back across the river to visit Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop. Nina and I are both big readers, it being one of the things we bonded over when we first met. Nina and I both managed to limit ourselves to three books each which we were very proud of. We really were zig zagging back and forth as we went back on to Île de la Cité to look at Notre Dame straight on (obviously you can’t go right up to it or inside while it is getting repaired after the fire a few years ago). We walked over a bridge to Île Saint-Louis to finish our day with some ice cream from Berthillon, a very famous brand. I tried a couple of new flavours, la 60 which was a mix of vanilla, passion fruit and some kind of seed I think, and also a lemon and basil sorbet. La 60 was delicious but the pineapple basil absolutely blew my mind. It was so refreshing, which was exactly what I wanted. I still think about it every few days even now.

With that, we were almost out of time. We headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and then went our separate ways. It was a packed and fantastic weekend. It was one of those experiences that are thankfully becoming more regular where it feels like we are getting back to normal. Being able to run away to Paris for the weekend is still a big privilege though and I recognise that. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to spend time with a dear friend, especially one I haven’t seen since before the pandemic, and to get back to travelling a little, something I love.

Day Trips from Mulhouse

For anyone fond of a day trip to explore new places, Mulhouse is the perfect place. While the city itself might seem lacking in it’s own tourist attractions (although it has more to see than it first lets on), it’s position in Alsace, and particularly near the border with Germany and Switzerland, makes it perfect for hopping over to a nearby town or city, whether in France or not. A few weeks ago I visited Freiburg, the last of what I would consider the main day trips possible from Mulhouse, alongside Basel and Colmar. Strasbourg is, of course, the most likely go-to but I already have a blog about my first visit there. There are of course many more places to be explored, particularly some of the smaller villages or even some places a bit further afield like Dijon or Lyon but I’m sure I will get there at some point.

Basel

The easiest and quickest day trip from Mulhouse will actually take you into Switzerland! Basel is in Switzerland’s north-eastern corner and is the counrty’s third most populous city after Zurich and Geneva. It is known for its museums and is a cultural centre in Europe.

Transport

There are four trains an hour from Mulhouse to Basel, costing as little as €3 for a 30 minute journey or €8.40 for the slightly faster 20 minute journey. And that’s without any discount cards. The national young person’s discount card, la carte avantage jeune, will take the 20 minute journey down to €6.30 and the Grand Est regional young person’s card, la carte primo, makes that ticket just €4.20. Basel SBB train station is located on the edge of the centre of the city, just a 15 minute walk to the old town, the main square and the river. If you want to travel out of the city centre, there is a tram hub right outside the station. A ticket for a single trip will cost you CHF 2.30. A reminder that Switzerland doesn’t use the euro but its own currency, the Swiss franc, although the exchange rate is almost 1:1.

Top Sights

Basel is really known for its abundance of museums. The Kunstmusem was the first collection of art in the world that was publicly accessible in 1666 and is also the largest art museum in Switzerland. The Museum of Contemporary Art was the first public museum of contemporary art in Europe. Overall there are forty museums spread across the city! So far I have only been to one but I plan on visiting more when I can. The best time to take advantage of the abundance of museums is the first Sunday of the month when entrance to many is free! I’ve barely even scratched the surface of Basel’s museums but I’m excited to go back and see more.

The one museum I have visited already is the Fondation Beyeler which is technically just outside Basel in Riehen (fun fact, this is where tennis player Roger Federer grew up!) and is easily accessible by tram from the city centre. I went with my flatmate Andy to see a Georgia O’Keefe exhibition. You may remember that I saw her exhibition when I spent the day in Paris and really enjoyed it. It was great to see more of her pieces and while there were a few that were the same or similar, there were a lot of works that I hadn’t seen before. There were some pieces by other artists in the museum that I loved as well, including ‘Naissance d’une galaxie’ by Max Ernst and ‘Fuga’ by Wassily Kandinsky.

Another fun thing to do in Basel is take one of the reaction ferries across the river. Reaction ferries are boats that use cables and the current of the river to pull itself from one side to the other. It costs a couple of euros, only takes about five minutes and is wholly unnecessary but still fun! It is super peaceful because of the lack of motor sounds in the background. It’s honestly much quicker to just use one of the nearby bridges to cross the river but the novelty factor makes it worth it, at least once.

Food and Drink

You might have heard the rumours that Switzerland is very expensive and I’m here to tell you, they’re true. Because of this, I’ve always tried to limit my eating and drinking while in Basel but there are still ways to enjoy some food and drink in the city without breaking the bank. For example, on exiting the Foundation Beyeler with Andy, we were both starving and in need of some sustenance. We came across a kebab shop where I got a big chicken kebab sandwich and a beer for CHF 12 – a bargain!

Another option is a selection of food trucks that can be found in the main square, called the Marktplatz. You can sample some currywurst or a Swiss hot dog topped with raclette cheese, onions and mustard amongst other things. Marktplatz is also worth a visit to see the Rathaus, the 16th Century city hall.

The Rathaus

I have also visited a great little hot chocolate cafe called Xocolatl when I went to Basel to meet Anya who was on my Chinese course in first year. There is a whole menu with different types of hot chocolate, different percentages, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, so many choices! I had one called ‘the Marie Antoinette’ which included a shot of espresso.

Finally, I’ve saved the best for last. My number one go-to spot that I have visited every time I’ve gone to Basel. Mystifry is a specialty vegan doughnut shop, the first of its kind in Switzerland. For any Edinburgh folk reading, imagine Considerit Doughnuts and you’ll get the idea. The flavours change every month as well as having seasonal specials. So far I have sampled the plum pie, cinnamon icing with plum compote and a little swirl of cream, the orange blossom and toasted almond and the blueberry. It has never disappointed and I hope to continue my tradition of visiting every time I’m in the city!

Mouthwateringly delicious!

Colmar

Next up in potential day trips is the smaller town of Colmar, just over half the size of Mulhouse. Colmar is known for its beautiful old town and considers itself the capital of Alsatian wine. It literally looks like a postcard and reminded me immediately of the village in Beauty and the Beast! It also happens to be the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, better known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty, and Pierre Hermé, celebrated pâtissier known for his macarons.

Transport

To get to Colmar from Mulhouse, it takes between 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the train that you get. There are three or four every hour, costing €9.70 with no discount card. With the carte avantage jeune it is around €7 and with the regional carte primo around €5. Once you arrive in Colmar, everything is pretty walkable. From the station, it takes around 15 minutes to walk to the Petite Venise area.

Top Sights

The number one top sight in Colmar is La Petite Venise, an area of the town around the river Lauch, lined with the iconic half-timbered houses. It is an absolutely gorgeous place. I remember being more and more in awe with every cobblestone street I walked down the first time I visited. A particularly picture perfect spot is the bridge next to the Place des Six Montaignes Noires and a bit further in at the Quai de la Poissonnerie. Next to the Quai de la Poissonerie you will find the marché couvert (the covered market) which is worth a little dander around to see the many stalls filled with Alsatian delights.

Petite Venise
Le Quai de la Poissonerie

Just walking through the streets of Colmar, there is plenty to see. The main cathedral, l’Église Saint-Martin, is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and the nearby Maison Pfister is considered one of the symbols of Colmar. The Kofïshus (or l’Ancienne Douane), the old custom house, is also a favourite of mine as it has a beautiful and vibrant tiled roof.

L’Église Saint-Martin
Kofïhaus (Ancienne Douane)

Another great spot in Colmar is the Musée Unterlinden. The most visited museum in Alsace is housed in a 13th century convent and an early 20th century public baths building. It hosts an impressive collection of medieval and early renaissance art from the Upper Rhine. The Unterlinden Museum is home to the Isenheim Altarpiece, a set of panels depicting the life of Jesus Christ that were commissioned for l’Église Saint-Martin. The seven surviving panels are on display at the museum. I found the layout a little confusing and personally there’s only so much religious art that I can take. However, I enjoyed the modern part much more although the tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica that I really wanted to see was on loan to Paris. I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Food and Drink

Most of my experiences of eating and drinking in Colmar come from when I visited during the Christmas markets. I’ve said it before but I really liked the markets there, more so than the much bigger and more famous one in Strasbourg. To this day I still think about the Nutella and praline crepe that I ate there.

Freiburg

Last but not least, the German city of Freiburg! My visit here a few weeks ago was my first time in Germany and it made a very strong first impression. Full name Freiburg im Breisgau, the city is apparently the warmest and sunniest city in Germany (I can definitely believe that from what I experienced!) and is the gateway to the Black Forest. It is also known for being an incredibly eco-friendly and sustainable city.

Transport

Getting to Freiburg from Mulhouse is a little trickier than Basel or Colmar. There are two main options, via a small town called Müllheim or via Basel. The Basel option takes between 1 hour 10 minutes and 1 hour 50 minutes and costs €35-40. The Müllheim option takes about 55 minutes and costs just under €15. They run at fairly irregular intervals throughout the day, although the Müllheim option runs much less frequently than the Basel option. With the route via Basel taking longer and being more expensive, there doesn’t seem to be much advantage to taking it other than the fact that they are much more frequent. This is important when you know that you only have 10 minutes to change platforms in Müllheim. A bit of a dash ensues because the Mulhouse train gets in at one end of the platform and the only tunnel to traverse the platforms is all the way at the other end, miles away (at least it felt like that). This was fine on the way there but on the way home our train was delayed by ten minutes. We pulled into Müllheim with a minute to spare and raced down the platform just in case there was any chance we could make it. There was not. And that was how we came to be stranded in Müllheim for two hours. Beware!

Only slightly losing our minds while walking through the MacDonald’s drive thru in Müllheim

Top Sights

I had such glorious weather the day I visited that everything looked beautiful. The city looks very similar to a lot of Alsatian towns and cities. While wandering around, we passed some of the main points of attraction, including the Martinstor, an old city gate dating back to the 13th century where women accused of being witches were burnt, and the altes rathaus (the old city hall). We made it the Münsterplatz, the main square where you’ll find the Freiburg Cathedral and the Historic Merchant’s Hall.

A great spot for panoramic views of the city is the Schlossberg, a hill overlooking the old town. It is topped with Schlossberg Tower but there are several lower viewpoints that give equally good views across the city, such as the Kanonenplatz. There is a funicular that makes the top of the hill accessible to all. There was originally a castle on the hill but only the ruins remain now.

The view from the Kanonenplatz
This way to Mulhouse!

Another point of interest in Freiburg are the shallow gutters that run through all the streets, called the Freiburg Bächle. Originally they were used to fight fires and feed livestock but now they keep the city cool on hot days and provide entertainment for children who race small boats down them. Legend says that if you accidentally step in one you will marry a Freiburger!

Caught trying to take an ‘artsy’ photo of the Freiburg Bächle

Food and Drink

My main food and drink recommendation for Freiburg comes from the farmers market that happens in the Münsterplatz everyday except Sunday. There is a great selection of food trucks including a vegan’s dream tofu truck, a more traditional German sausage truck and the one that eventually pulled me in, enticingly loaded fries. There were also all kinds of stalls, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, toys, crafts, cheese, meats, liquorice, sweets and more. I even found some caramelised onion chutney, something I’ve been missing from home and haven’t been able to find anywhere in France!

Another excellent spot is the beer garden on Schlossberg hill. Just a couple of hundred metres up the hill but perfectly placed for a light refreshment, you can enjoy a pint of pilsner while taking in the view!

And there we have three easily accessible day trips from Mulhouse! I’ve been to both Basel and Colmar a few times now but would definitely like to go back to Colmar to wander around some more and to Basel to visit some more of the museums. I really loved Freiburg and feel like there’s a lot more to discover there, plus I was able to practice my beginner German and learn a lot more while I was there. Hopefully some of this information will be useful if you ever visit these cities and you can enjoy some of the recommendations as well!

6 Months in Mulhouse

Welcome back to another anniversary post! Blink and you might have missed the past six months, or at least that’s what it feels like to me. Due to the fact that I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks, this post is actually a little overdue. However, it’s that time again when I look back on the past few months of living and working in Mulhouse and take the chance to reflect on some aspects of that experience. First of all, it feels a little special to even be writing this post. I started doing this type of blog when I was in China. I wrote one for my one month and three month anniversaries but I never got to write a six month anniversary one. Unfortunately I had to leave about a month before reaching that milestone so being able to write one about being in France is a good feeling.

So starting off with my achievements over the last three months, I’m feeling happier and more settled than ever in the life that I’ve been building here. That’s a general feeling that accompanies some of the more specific achievements of late, one of contentment with how things are going. It’s been less big, stand out events and more just a slow and steady ticking along in the right direction.

I’m really pleased with where I’ve landed with my social life. I have a lovely circle of friends, a few different groups who sometimes cross over. This is something that has always been important to me, especially during uni. I’m a pretty social person so I like building a network of people that I enjoy spending time with, that can support me and that I in turn can support. I also think there’s nothing better than introducing one group of friends to another and having them immediately hit it off!

I’ve also been feeling very inspired in several areas recently. I’m just coming off a run of lessons that I have really enjoyed and that I feel went very well. You can read about a lesson plan on movies from earlier in the semester here and there is a brief insight into a recent class on minority languages in English speaking countries in my day in the life of a lectrice blog. This semester has also included classes on social media, fast fashion, gender identity and immigration and refugees. I can’t speak for my students but I’ve really enjoyed hearing their thoughts on all these subjects and I hope they’ve enjoyed sharing them as well!

My creative exploits have been bringing me a lot of joy recently as well. One of these is obviously this blog. Personally I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a roll. I’m very proud of my recent posts and am pleased with how they turned out. They just seemed to flow out very easily. I have also recently started bullet journaling, inspired by my friend Àine. It appeals to me in a lot of ways, the most obvious being the organisation aspect. I always have a running to do list in a note in my phone or a notebook where I write down things I have to remember. My bullet journal has combined all of these while also giving me somewhere to be a bit creative, in a different way than through my writing on my blog. In picking a theme for everyone month, there is a bit of drawing involved, designing, using different fonts. If you want to read a little more about bullet journalling, check out Àine’s post on what she’s learnt a year in. It’s probably safe to expect a post from me about bullet journaling at some point but I’ll wait until I’ve got a few more months under my belt.

In terms of adjustments, there have been a few things to get used to. One thing that I found difficult, maybe surprisingly, was grading. At the start of this year, I had to spend some time putting together the grades for all of my students from last semester. Some of it was fairly easy, like their participation grade. Every week when I take the register, I also note down how much each student has participated by giving them a mark out of three. When calculating their overall grade, I was able to use these marks to work out an average participation grade for the semester. This accounted for 50% of the overall semester grade. However, the other grades were much more subjective. 40% came from a presentation that they had given, either individually or in groups depending on the year group, and 10% from some homework tasks. These parts were all down to my own judgement and so I really had to trust my instincts. I found that having this pressure on me to decide how well someone had done over the semester, especially the students that were a borderline pass or fail, really kicked my imposter syndrome into gear. I have no official training when it comes to teaching English. My qualifications come from the fact that I am a native English speaker and that I have some experience in teaching English from when I was in Honduras. When it comes down to deciding something as official as a grade, I really started to question myself. Àine actually wrote a really interesting blog recently where she interviewed me and a few fellow English teachers about imposter syndrome. Despite all this, I’ve been trying to remind myself that I do know what I’m doing. I’m confident in my abilities and I’ve gotten to know my students really well. I know their abilities, their interests and their effort. That in itself qualifies me to give them a grade for a class where the sole aim is to get them talking.

Thankfully there have been a lot of highlights over the last three months. Rouen was obviously great and I’ve just enjoyed all the things I’ve been doing with friends, like going on hikes, celebrating Burn’s Night and Chinese New Year, day trips to Basel, going for drinks and eating good food. Hopefully there’s lots more of that to come.

Burn’s Night celebrations

Another massive highlight was going home! And by home I of course mean Scotland. My original plan was to go back for Christmas but that was foiled by getting covid. Instead the trip was pushed back to mid-February to coincide with a week off work, provided I was able to test negative on lateral flow tests. As the time approached, covid related travel regulations started to loosen after tightening a lot around Christmas. You no longer needed a test before leaving France to go to Scotland and the day after I was due to arrive, the rules changed so that you no longer had to take a Day 2 arrival test. While I was home, things changed again so that I didn’t need any tests before or after going back to France either. (Don’t assume these are still the regulations at whatever time you are reading this, make sure to check!). And so mission accomplished, I made it there and back in one piece!

I won’t go into too much detail about my time at home (for now…!) but it was 10 days spent among family and friends, enjoying my time off, lots of cuddles (from people and pets), trips to London, Edinburgh and Glasgow as well being at home in Dunblane, a delayed Christmas dinner (almost a tradition now) and celebrating turning 24! You’ll just have to wait to find out more. Once was clearly not enough and I actually ended up going back to Scotland ten days after the first trip! To be fair, this long weekend had been planned for a while in order to attend the Edinburgh University Swimming and Water Polo Club alumni weekend. If things had gone to plan it would have been a couple of months since I was last back instead of less than two weeks but that’s just the way things worked out. It was a hectic but very enjoyable weekend that I’m still trying to recover from!

Beautiful views in Edinburgh

The past three months have been a bit of a doozy for low points to be honest. Along with the amazing times I’ve had, the last three months have also contained the most difficult moments since I arrived in France. First of all, getting covid was obviously a bit of a kick in the teeth. Fortunately my symptoms weren’t all that bad (thank you vaccines!) – I had a few days of aches and pains, a bit of a cough and just generally feeling rough and then a whole week of the worst boredom OF MY LIFE! The worst bit was really the timing. I had already started to limit my social interactions, anything non-essential, before heading home for the holidays, only to be hit with a positive test result. There were a lot of tears at first and some difficult decisions but in the end it was decided that even though my isolation ended on the 24th December, it would be best for me to stay in France, lest I somehow get stuck in the UK and not be able to get back to my job.

To be honest though, getting covid was not my lowest point. That award goes to the week I got home from Scotland the first time, just a few weeks ago. I got back on Sunday evening and went to work on Monday. Monday is my busiest day of the week and I was exhausted by the end of it. I thought it was just from having travelled the day before and general tiredness that I have after six hours of classes almost entirely back to back. However, by the evening I was running between shivering and sweating, aching all over and just generally feeling awful. I went to bed and pretty much didn’t get out for three days. I missed two days of work and genuinely felt worse than when I had covid. At least I didn’t feel homesick as I usually do when I’m ill. It’s really the only time I can guarantee that I will miss home because when you’re ill, all you want is a hug from your mum! Thankfully, having just been home for 10 days, I was feeling pretty stocked up on hugs! As if being ill wasn’t enough, the day I started feeling better I got hit with crippling period pains so I was still curled up in bed. Sod’s law, eh?

Now on to some much cheerier things! There’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months. I have about two months left before I’m finished with teaching at the end of April. My current plans for the summer are to try and spend a few months in Spain, to give a little TLC to my Spanish, and then a bit of time at home before heading back to Mulhouse. I’m really feeling very lucky to have a European passport at the moment (thank you Irish heritage!). Living in continental Europe has really opened my eyes to all the opportunities that are available to European citizens, ones that it feels like most Brits weren’t taking full advantage of before Brexit and definitely aren’t able to now.

Hopefully more fun in Spain to come!

I also have a few visits lined up in the coming weeks as well. I’m meeting my friend Nina in Paris at the end of the month where we are going to spend a jam-packed 36 hours trying to fit in all the sights in honour of her first time visiting the city of lights. The week after, my dad and sister will arrive in Mulhouse. The plan is to spend a few days here, with me as tour guide over the weekend after which I’ll send them out to fend for themselves in Alsace while I’m working. Once I’m finished with classes for the week we are going into Switzerland for some skiing! It’s been 8 years since I last threw myself down a ski slope and I can’t wait to probably be horrible at it! After that, towards the end of April the other sister is coming to see me for a few days. It will be nice to show some people around Mulhouse. I wouldn’t say there’s masses to do here as a tourist but that’s not really what my family is coming to see. They want to see all my favourite spots, my local bakery, the coffee shop where I like to work sometimes, the bar where I’ve spent many a Saturday night and all my regular haunts. They want to be able to picture how I spend my days.

Being six months into living in Mulhouse, I’m feeling very settled. Looking back, I feel like I’ve made good use of my time so far. After having my time in China cut short, It was really important to me to take advantage of all the time and opportunities I had here and not take anything for granted. I’m happy with where I’m at with work, in my social life and personally. I only have a few months left here before the summer but I’m excited about what’s still to come!

A Day in the Life of a Lectrice

Hello and welcome! Thank you for joining me for a day in my life as a lectrice, specifically Tuesday 8th February 2022. I thought this would be the perfect day to show you the behind the scenes of my life. It’s a nice mix of classes, prep and admin time, my second job and some chill time in the evening. I have been working as a lectrice d’anglais at the Université de Haute-Alsace since September 2021 so I’m well into the swing of things by now. If you’re sitting there wondering what a lectrice actually is, you can check out this post from when I arrived that explains that a little bit more before reading this one. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at being a lectrice!

My day starts like many other people’s, with snoozing my alarm at least 3 times. The first one goes off around 7am and I usually actually get out of bed half an hour later. In the words of the great Dolly Parton I ‘tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition’ and make my lunch while I wait for the coffee to cool to an acceptable drinking temperature. I usually make a salad for lunch when I’m at work all day and take it with me. I pretty much always make the same thing because I don’t like to have to think too much in the morning. Breakfast is a similar situation where every morning is fairly similar. It’s usually a couple of little waffles and a banana, sometimes with some Nutella as well. Sometimes I replace the waffles for toast or crepes but most work days it’s the same.

Next, I get dressed. My university doesn’t really have a strict dress code so I can dress quite casually. I know that this can differ depending on the department or university that you work in, some places require more formal attire. However, not for me. I would say that the outfits I wear to work don’t really differ from my normal, everyday outfits. Today I chose some black corduroy dungarees with a long sleeved white top and my Doc Marten boots. Often I just wear jeans paired with a t-shirt, a collared shirt or a sweater and in the warmer weather I wore mid-length skirts or lighter trousers. One day as I was entering my classroom with one of my L2 classes and we were all getting settled, one student asked me if I ever get mistaken for a student! I replied that I haven’t, at least as far as I know, but I do always wonder if today is going to be the day that a staff member is going to tell me off for coming out of the staff toilets or using the staff printers. One of the other students in that class followed up by saying that at the start of our first class, she was looking around the classroom for the teacher and it took her a few minutes to realise it was me! It probably doesn’t help that I’m only a couple of years olders than a lot of them and even younger than a few others!

Nothing like a toilet oufit selfie!

With my first class at 9am, I leave my apartment at around 8.30am and walk a couple of minutes to the nearest tram stop. It’s barely a 20 minute walk from where I live to the university campus but in the mornings I like to get the tram just to take away any extra stress about getting there on time and avoiding any sweatiness! Two stops takes me to the bottom of campus and one more gets me to the top of the hill and closer to where the FLSH building is.

I start my day with an L2 group, one of my favourite classes (not that I have favourites!). The topic this week was minority languages in English speaking countries. I have freedom over the subjects I teach so what I usually do is choose an overall topic for the week and then differentiate some or all of the activities depending on the year group. I started this week’s lesson with a short workshop on how to say dates properly. I’ve started doing a few of these to work on some issues that I noticed popping up last semester. The week before we looked at how to say large numbers and I have also used tongue twisters to practice certain aspects of pronunciation that they find tricky.

For the main body of the lesson we started by looking at the small homework task I had set at the end of last week. Each student had to pick an English speaking country and then find an indigenous, minority or other widely spoken language in that country that wasn’t English. In small groups, they shared some of their research about the languages and also attempted a few phrases. There were a great variety of choices, from Celtic languages like Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Manx, to several variations of Creole, different Native American and indigenous Canadian languages and others like Maori, Afrikaans and more. It was fascinating to hear everyone share what they had learned and especially when some students were sharing about a language that they actually speak and is important to them.

After sharing the homework, we moved on to some general discussion questions in the same small groups as before. For example, do you think it’s important to keep minority languages alive? Do you think the world of technology is helping or hurting minority languages? Do you think the growth of English as a global language is helping to kill minority languages? This last question in particular led us on nicely to the next activity which was a mini debate with the resolution ‘English should be used as a lingua franca.’ A lingua franca is any language that is adopted as a means of communication between people who do not speak each other’s native languages. I split the class into two groups and assigned one side to argue the affirmative and one to argue the negative. They had 10 minutes to come up with arguments for their sides while also trying to anticipate what the other side would say and come up with rebuttals. The debate itself was very simple, a back and forth between each side until they ran out of arguments or we ran out of time.

This was a class that I really enjoyed teaching throughout the week. There weren’t really any differences between the L2 plan, detailed above, and the L1 plan but L3 had actually done a debate on English as a lingua franca last semester. For them I had a few alternative debate topics that I let them choose from, such as ‘students of foreign origin living in France have the right to study their mother tongue in school’ or ‘economically and politically, it would be better for all minority languages to fall out of use.’ Even though the classes were quite similar across all the year groups, it didn’t get boring (which it sometimes can). The variety of languages in the homework task were so interesting and the debates got a lot of people really fired up which was great to see!

After this first class I had an hour free from teaching so I headed up to the office that I share with a few other members of the English department. I spent the hour answering some emails from students as well as preparing some information on one of my assessments for this semester that I was going to be sharing with my students soon. This particular assessment will have my L2 students choose a Ted Talk from a list I provide them and then make a video summarising the content and sharing their own thoughts and opinions on the subject. I was putting together the list of Ted Talks which was really just an excellent excuse to watch some very interesting videos! I also spent some time trying to figure out Moodle, the online platform that we use at UHA, so that my students would be able to upload this assessment there rather than email it to me.

At 11am I had my second class of the day, another L2 class, and then a longer two hour break. I sent some more emails and watched some more Ted Talks as well as doing some research for a conversation workshop I run on Tuesday evenings. In the second half of this break I went to the little staff kitchen to meet my friend and fellow lectrice Àine for lunch. (Àine actually has a post on her own blog, Une Bouchée A Day about a day in her life as a lectrice and masters student at the university that you can read here!) We swapped lesson plans for the week, discussed a few classes that we both teach, talked about our plans for the upcoming holidays and shared bullet journal ideas. Àine has been bullet journaling for about a year now and she convinced me to give it a try towards the end of last year. I started in January and so far it’s going well! I’m sure there will be a blog post about it at some point!

My salad I made in the morning plus an orange Kitkat for lunch

I had two more classes after lunch, one more L2 and an L1 group to finish, back to back. I finished at 4pm and always try to leave as quickly as possible to make it to my other job. I mentioned earlier that I spent a little time preparing for a conversation workshop. This is something that I do at a technology school called Epitech. It’s just for an hour a week as they have their own English teacher, I just come in once a week for this extra conversation time. I let them know in advance what our topic is going to be and then the students can sign up for the limited spaces depending on whether they like the sound of that topic or not. I usually take a topic that I have done with my classes at UHA and adapt it for the constraints of the Epitech session. Instead of having a one hour class with 10-20 students, I do two 30 minute slots with max 6 students. It’s a very different dynamic with it being much smaller groups. The groups are also mostly boys as well, in comparison with the UHA classes which tend to be about 60-70% girls.

It usually takes about 20 minutes to get there which is perfect because I start at 4.30pm, half an hour after finishing my last class at UHA. This week’s plan was to play a game of Twenty Questions. I’ve done this with my other classes before and it worked well. It’s a chance for the students to practise formulating questions. The students that chose to come to the workshop had been asked to choose an English speaking celebrity in advance so that they would be able to answer questions about them. However my first group hadn’t got the memo! Fortunately they were able to think of someone on the spot and we muddled through when there were questions that they weren’t sure about. It worked better with the second group because they had chosen people in advance. We got through their choices pretty quickly so did another round on the spot and I challenged them to choose a woman this time after all of their initial choices were men. Both groups were really nice, mostly people that I’d seen before and have been coming regularly since I started this a few weeks ago but also some new faces.

Walking home with a lovely sunset

That was me finished for the day and I headed home via the supermarket. After such a busy day, the evening was very chilled. I hung out with one of my flatmates for a little bit, did my daily Wordles and Duolingo and wrote in my journal a little. With a week of holiday fast approaching and me heading home to Scotland, I also started packing. I spoke to my sister on the phone to arrange some things for her visit in April and then to another friend while I made some dinner. When I say made dinner, I mean I put a frozen tarte flambée into the oven. Usually I enjoy cooking but seeing as I was heading home in two days, my fridge was running a little low. After dinner I had a few chores to do around my room, putting some washing away and sweeping the floor. One of the last things I do in the evening is fill in some parts of my bullet journal and I ended the day by reading in bed for a bit before going to sleep.

And there you have a look inside my day to day life as a lectrice in France! This is a pretty representative example of one of my working days. Let me know if there’s anything else you want to know about being a lectrice!