Travel writer, Sam, talks to UoB students about their year abroad experiencesWritten by Sam Nightingale Bartlett on 17th October 2016
Birmingham to Bordeaux: ´Freshers´ in France
Beautifully cooked steaming haricots verts, generous garlic accompanied with…nothing
Faced with a year in France I felt nothing but excitement. My studies here, won’t count towards my degree; “my French fresher year” is the rhetoric I repeat when asked about the Erasmus experience. The formulaic nights out in Birmingham of pre-drinks, followed by Gatecrasher, that terminate at rooster house are difficult to recreate in a French city but luckily ,we don’t need to. After a few weeks of battling with bouncers who always found reasons to prevent our entry, we discovered a club nearby in the company of some Bordelaise. Right in the middle of a silent street in one of the nicer areas of town is not where we were expecting to find a place to go out and to enter you ring a doorbell. Imagine if Snobs had a doorbell. Unfortunately unlike Snob’s £1 beers, drinks here are around the 10 euro mark. However, we are privileged with an abundance of Bordelaise wine to be drunk beforehand at pré soirée. You can take the English student out of Birmingham…
The best way to travel in Bordeaux is by tram. First battle the half mile queue for your tram card, once you’ve obtained, that the city is your oyster! As long as you don’t mind being crammed against other travellers, having elbows in your face, standing shoulder to shoulder with other passengers or crying babies; not to mention the customary French dog on each tram. Then there is the tram chat; whilst attempting to tell my friend that my stop was next I accidentally told him I was planning to dismantle the tram, completely lost in translation. He laughed in my face… quelle Erasmus.
France is full of little contradictions. It has the best cuisine in the world, yet I was presented a plate of beans as a main course. Then there´s the inconsistent authority. Whilst visiting Birmingham last year my French friend Marlène explained to me that she thought England had too many restrictions, that in France there is a saying, “Trop de règle, tue la règle”- too many rules, kill the rules. Forgot your library card? Not a problem you don’t need it. Library fines?! Don’t seem to exist. Forgot your ID? France doesn’t care; go ahead and buy your drinks, and walk straight into clubs (as long as the bouncer likes the look of you, you’ll be fine). Forgot your tram pass? Just hop right on; take the risk alongside the French youths because you don’t need it to get on, but if you see the inspectors at the other end of the tram don’t forget to hop back off.
It all seems nice and relaxed until you are confronted with French administration. France loves administration. So much so that they have even created Administrative law, which I have the pleasure of studying for a year, and don´t forget where the word bureaucracy comes from. But when it comes down to it things appear disorganised. Nothing’s simple; Birmingham hands us nice little timetables with our modules, while in Bordeaux it feels like we have to scrabble around in attempt to work out what we are even allowed to study. Two e-mails, a letter from my employer, a phone call and about eight trips to the “scolarité” office later, I was finally allowed to attend my chosen lectures.
Overall Bordeaux is a beautiful city. It’s no surprise that certain areas are on the UNESCO world heritage list. It is often described as a mini Paris without the harshness of being capital city, as the 9th biggest city in France. It also boasts the title of wine capital of the world. As an Erasmus student, I was immediately presented with an international circle of friends and became closer with a lot of my German friends before I even met any French students. We are privileged to live in a vibrant, international and historical city which is only 45 minutes from the stunning Atlantic coast, where I have spent many enjoyable Thursdays attempting to surf. Small hiccups such as a plate of beans are easy to overcome. After mentioning the incident to a Birmingham friend, a book entitled French vegetarian cuisine arrived in the post for my