From Buckfast to Bordeaux Column 1

Although redundant, I’m going to start my column by saying that everything is different here. The milk tastes gash, the grapes have seeds, I’ve not seen one teabag since I got here and the bread is… well, the bread’s pretty good actually.

Claire in BordeauxI’m in France for my year abroad and although this seemed like a great idea two years ago when I agreed to it a lot has changed since then. Mostly, I’m over the ex I was running away from, but I also have a great flat, two beautiful dogs and a guy I’m pretty fond of too.

The only thing that doesn’t seem to have changed over the last two years is my grasp of French. So, here I am, fresh off the plane with a 42 in French Language. (This should not be taken as a reflection on the languages department, God knows they tried!)

Just so you know, I don’t plan to bore you with my day-to-day quarrels with the French in every article nor spill my heart out to you (as I feel I’ve already said too much) instead I will take you with me on my adventures. For a sneak preview of what I assume will be a happy future here, I intend to revisit a Bordeaux wine tasting trip – the last one was messy to say the least so I’m sure you’ll love it. In October I’ll also be meeting some Scottish friends in Amsterdam to trial run the ultimate stag do.

But today I must address the problem at hand, because today I’m pretty close to being homeless and I think it would be worthwhile for all those who just chose a language and those studying a language at the moment that I address some of the early obstacles you will encounter.

You may not realise it yet, but the year abroad is not a holiday, oh no! You need to find somewhere to live, open a bank account, get a French phone, find the school that you’ll either work or study in (I’ll be working in a primary school) and actively try to make friends. Unfortunately, as if my French wasn’t bad enough, I’m also not a great fan of people so I’ll also be pushing my limited social skills to the absolute brink while trying not to let on that I’m a total creep and that everything I say is actually sarcastic.

Next up, you’re alone. I didn’t know what I’d miss most when I left, my dad or his credit card, but at the moment I would take the three carefully conjured words he says a day just to hear a familiar voice.

So, almost homeless eh?! How’d you get yourself in this nik? I bet your asking. Well, here is my definitive guide to NOT finding a flat in a foreign country, a sort of “how-not-to” if you will, which will guide you to my current situation:

  1. Keep telling yourself, “you’ll land on your feet – you always do!” Rather than actually trying to find somewhere to live.
  2. Book a hotel for the start of your stay – about three days should do the trick.
  3. Ignore mass e-mails from the British Council about your visit as this may include vital information.
  4. Never arrange viewings before you arrive.
  5. Use emails to prospective landlords as a chance to practice your dodgy French rather than using google translate. Baffling them with franglaise is sure to get the offers rolling in.

Once this has failed, and it undoubtedly will, sit back and relax in the nearest British bar and hope the answer to your problems lies at the bottom of a 6 Euro pint of Carlsberg.

A bientôt, dear reader

By Claire Alexander (columnist 11/12)

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