Country Counter: 4 Cities Visited: Lyon, Paris Timeframe: From Aug 2015
My love for France started to develop when I was around 10 years old. I had just finished listening to my first French song on a CD player (yes those old things). I honestly don’t remember how I got hold of the CD, but I do remember it was at my aunt’s place and the song was called Inch ‘Allah by M. C. Solaar, the Senegalese rap artist. Most of you reading this might not have heard about it or him, unless you grew up in France in that period. I know this because no one is able to recognise the song when I mention it here. To this day, when I listen to it, it brings back fond memories of my first tryst with the French language. And it has a catchy tune to it.
View of Eiffel Tower from Tour Montparnasse
By the time I reached the sixth grade, foreign languages were starting to be introduced in the curriculum. Most schools introduced French, including mine, and some of them went with German. However, our teachers told us that since everyone wants to be enrolled in foreign language classes, the seats were kept limited. They wanted to do a trial run first before inducting entire cohorts. The condition to be enrolled in French class was to get above ninety percent in your final exams. I don’t think I’ve ever studied so much for my exams as I did back then. Starting from sixth grade, we were instructed to use books by G. Mauger (cours de langue et de civilisation francaises, le francais et la vie etc.) While others lost interest as time went by, I was really fascinated by the language and motivated to learn it. I think the main reason was that these books did not just teach the language, but also gave a glimpse on the French way of living. In tenth grade, only 15 of us remained from the original 40 something and I was part of the first batch of my school to have passed out with French as a foreign language.
Notre Dame cathedral
School paved way for college and although I didn’t have any more French classes, I was determined to be in touch with what I had learnt. So I started giving private lessons to sixth-and-above graders from different schools. The demand for French home tutors was really high at that time as more and more schools had started introducing foreign languages and not every kid was motivated to put an effort in learning a new language they might never use again. After two years of tutoring, I next came in contact with the language when I was in enrolled for my Masters program.
When the movie Ratatouille was released in 2007, I was in love again. The portrayal of the typical Parisian life and their obsession with their cuisine just made me long for the country more. I started searching for more French movies I could watch just to keep up with the language and I stumbled upon L’Auberge Espagnole (released in 2002), starring Kelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou. It was about a French student who moves into an apartment in Barcelona with six other students who all speak different languages and it was apparently very popular with teenagers. Although I loved the movie, I had to use subtitles for most parts.
In 2014, when I had finally decided to move abroad for my MBA, I was torn between the only two good offers of acceptance I had received. One was in the U.S. (D.C.) and one was in Lyon. This kept me awake for a few nights. In the end, even though I have always wanted to move to the U.S., I decided to choose France. I told myself that the U.S. might be relatively easier to survive, given the Indian diaspora and usage of English as the main language. If I really wanted to pick up a new language from where I had left it years ago, sort of a challenge, I should go with the French school. I can now happily reflect back to that time and say I made the right choice.
The Louvre museum
From the day I entered France, everything was new. Hardly anyone spoke English – every road sign, every food label, every person at the local market, every transport official, and even the caretaker of the residence where I stay – literally everything needed French. Thank God I paid attention all those years back in school. It’s been seven months now and I am having conversations with the girls at the checkout counter at Carrefour. I constantly keep practicing, with anyone and everyone, and I think I might be losing my English in the process. Apparently, and my French friends insist on this, women here really like people who can speak English and find them attractive (lies, I tell you!)
View of Champs-Élysées from l’Arc de Triomphe
When I finally travelled to Paris for the first time, I was amazed and a bit disappointed at the same time. The disappointment was only due to the weather, as I was there in December. There was no sunlight for days in a row and the clouds and the incessant rain made all the touristy places look dull. Nevertheless, I found Paris to be a beautiful, beautiful city. You can step out of any metro station and there will be something that catches your eye. On the public transport, even though I had a map and everything, I started practising my French with the locals, and surprise surprise, they replied back to me in English (I refuse to be treated like a tourist).
Les Invalides, with the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte
I think I covered almost all the must-see places in 2-3 days and kept one full day for the Louvre museum (huge!) People told me it cannot be covered entirely in one day, but I am pretty sure my friend and I covered its entirety in around 5 hours (take that, you regular tourists). Although I was enjoying every minute in the city, all the happiness was kind of draining out by night. First, the guy who made my Subway sandwich went on to ask me whether the franchise was even present in India, with a tone that suggested that maybe it was the first time I had entered a fast food joint. Outrageous! What kind of impression do people have about India? The only reason I didn’t pick up an argument with this guy was because he was handling my food. I was also supposed to meet someone, which was something I was looking forward to for a month, and even ditched a live David Guetta concert for. She bailed out on me at the last moment and I’ve never been angrier. Mental note to self: David Guetta first, always!
Lyon has been an entirely different chapter. Small and quiet when compared to Paris, the city is as beautiful and exciting as any of the other famous European ones. I have still not explored it in its entirety but every time I step out, I find something really interesting. From the famous central Bellecour square, to the old, pebbled streets of Vieux Lyon and Fourvière, to Place des Terreaux, Croix-Rousse, Confluence, Parc de la tête d’Or – every locale is so charming and full of energy. I feel Lyon has a more French feeling to it than Paris. We even have our own ‘Eiffel Tower’ next to the Fourvière basilica (in picture).
Lyon is also considered to be the gastronomical capital and boasts of famous and numerous eateries, bouchons, places for apéros and cuisines from all around the world. The famous chef, Paul Bocuse, has his own restaurant-cum-training school here and high-end French dining establishments all around the city.
View of Lyon from Fourvière church
I recently had a few interviews in French, over the phone and in person. I think I did quite well, and whether I get the part or not, I still count being conversational in a new language as an achievement. My MBA is almost over and I would hate to have to move out of this beautiful city, or country, where I’ve met amazing people and learnt something at every step of the way. No matter what happens tomorrow, looking back, this year would always be fondly remembered.
One of the many sites in Parc de la Tête d’Or
I guess I should’ve written about France first, and then went on the other countries. France is the first country I have lived in outside India, and hopefully won’t be the last.