I’ve been living in France for a whole week now! While I’ve got used to some things already, this has been a week of firsts and new experiences. Although this process is exciting, not knowing what’s going on has definitely been a little bit terrifying at the same time.
Driving on the right
Driving on the right is definitely still wrong to me. Every time I get in my car I have to remind myself what I’m doing with my own little mantra, ‘You drive on the right now and that’s okay. On the right.’ It is even more confusing that my car is designed for driving in the UK, so the steering wheel is on the wrong side. This makes everything a bit more difficult- there is a pretty dodgy blind spot I have to remember to check over my left shoulder, paying tolls without a passenger involves some serious stretching, and checking whether the road is clear to overtake is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Luckily, my first experience of driving on the right was with my dad. We were able to share the actual driving and stay overnight on the way down here. Given that we were on autoroutes (motorways) all the way down, the driving wasn’t too difficult to get used to, because all the traffic was moving in the same direction.
Exploring my new home
While Charlieu is quite remote, it makes up for its isolation by being absolutely beautiful and charmant, a typical French town straight out of classic movies. Everyone is so nice and friendly, and they all know each other too. The centre-ville is mostly pedestrian, with individually owned boutiques, bakeries, and café’s lining the streets. After driving here, we picked up my mum from the train station in Roanne, and the three of us became tourists for a few days. We had a look around l’abbaye bénédictine de Charlieu- a beautiful and very old example of medieval architecture, and the principal tourist attraction of the town. The weather was perfect: 25 degrees most of the week! On Wednesday we made the most of it by going for a walk and picnic along the Loire River (see featured image), in the morning before my parents left.
I’ve never lived alone before, but here in Charlieu I have my own little studio flat. In a way it’s nice because I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and the space is exclusively my own. Living alone can be so boring though! It’s nice to have the distraction of my family or housemates, even if they’re not saying anything particularly important. This was particularly noticeable at the end of my first week, when I had yet to meet any other assistants, and had said goodbye to my parents. Thankfully, I became friends with a cat my neighbours call ‘Max’, a friendly but independent wanderer who may or may not have fleas. I’ve never seen any fleas though, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Joining the library/ swimming pool
These were certainly experiences. To join the library I had to find out when it was open (only certain days), pay the librarian about 5 euros, give him a proof of address, and spell out my very English name. He then gave me a tour of the library, pointing proudly at the DVD bookcase and the different sections of ‘media’ while I nodded politely. That said it has definitely been worthwhile, as I am now reading a great French book of sci-fi short stories, and it’s handy to have access to French DVDs to fill up my evenings.
The French swimming pool is culturally very different to its English counterpart. My nearest is in Roanne, so it’s half an hour’s drive from Charlieu: doable but a bit of a way away. First off, wearing a swimming cap is compulsory, which is annoying as I have a lot of very thick hair and it doesn’t fit in the hat very well. All the men wear compulsory speedos too, because you’re not allowed to wear anything that you could possibly wear outside the pool and trunks look too much like shorts. My locker was opened and closed with a pin-code system, which I had to have explained to me. However, most of the swimmers didn’t seem to use the lockers, instead they had enormous sports bags that they left on benches at the side of the pool, so that they could grab their towels as soon as they were done.
By the time it got to this weekend, I had had some more firsts: going to the lycée I’ll be teaching at for the first time, going to the local cinéma, and even going to a dinner party hosted by my lovely mentor teacher. These were all a mixture of terrifying and exciting, but since they all went relatively well (even if I didn’t say much at the dinner table) I’d say that my first week was a success! I’ve been dealing with a certain dramatic event this week, which I’ll detail more in my next post. However, that’s why this post has only gone up today, even though I started writing it on Sunday.