10 Things I wish I’d known before moving to Aix-en-Provence

10 Things I wish I’d known before moving to Aix-en-Provence Aix Nights by Charlton Clemens

This article was written by Steph Fairbairn, published on 2nd October 2012 and has been read 55117 times.

So I’ve been living in Aix en Provence for a little over a month now, and it has certainly been an experience. For all those who’ve been telling me that I’m on a very easy holiday, you couldn’t be further from the truth! I am having a wonderful time here, but I’ve also gained a lifetime of knowledge in a very short space of time and the lessons just keep on coming! So, in the spirit of sharing, here are 10 things I wish I’d known before moving to Aix... 

1. France doesn’t function on a Sunday

For those of us who are used to living in Britain, London especially, we’re accustomed to most things being at hand 24/7. In France this isn’t really the case. It’s a struggle to find an open supermarket, never mind anything else on a Sunday (except H&M, that is). When you get into the routine of living here, this slight obstacle is easy to work around, however if you arrive here late on Saturday or on Sunday, it’s a bit of a pain. So, my advice is, make sure you come prepared with enough food and drink to get you through the day, especially if you’re planning on having a relaxing first day and don’t fancy trawling around the area.

2. French Men are Creepy

What the French call flirty, we call creepy. Men are very forward, all of the time. They honk their horns, shout things, stare very obviously and don’t back off easily. And it doesn’t seem to matter who you are. All I’ll say is, if it happens to someone dripping with sweat and trying to haul shopping bags up a steep hill, it’ll happen to anyone.

3. You really have to make an effort to speak French

It sounds pretty silly, but moving to France really does not guarantee that you will be speaking French every day. If the French find that you are of a different nationality, especially an English speaking one, they automatically see this as an opportunity to try out their language skills. It’s obvious that they think they’re being helpful, but really this is exactly what you don’t want. You often have to push to speak French, make sure you always start your conversation in French and don’t be afraid to tell someone that you’d rather speak French if they try to steer the conversation into your own language. There are further dangers with this in the university itself. More often than not, you will be taking Erasmus, or foreign student classes, where it is understandable that you will be drawn to people of your nationality, making speaking your language an inevitability. It’s very easy to fall into this trap so it’s important to remember that this really isn’t what your year abroad is about. By all means have friends from your home country, but don’t be afraid to approach the French, it’s scary at first but definitely worth it, not only will you make a friend but your language skills will grow leaps and bounds.

4. Accommodation

With regards to hotels and hostels, make sure you know what the time restrictions are where you are staying before you arrive. We arrived at our hostel to be told that we had to be out of our rooms between 10am and 4.30pm every day. Obviously, this has had a huge impact on the way we could organise our days and it would have been better to have known this information before our arrival.

With regards to permanent student accommodation, be prepared for a long and tiring journey. If you plan to find accommodation when you get out there, make sure you’re on it from the moment you arrive. Get in contact with anyone you can and go to as many viewings as possible. Also, be prepared to take a big financial hit. Some accommodation is reasonably priced, however if you don’t have a guarantor who lives in France, it is often hard to pay for accommodation on a monthly basis, meaning you may have to pay for your entire stay in one go. I’ve never heard my bank account weep so hard.

5. Be Wary of Scams

Be very careful about which ‘charities’ you choose to give to. It sounds awful to say, as I’m sure many of them are genuine, but there is always a risk that they aren’t. There are quite a few tramps on the streets, and people pretending to be canvassing money for a cause. To save yourself any risk, just keep walking when they talk to you. They more than likely know you’re not from the area and think it will be easy to exploit you.

6. Watch the Traffic!

The French seem to have no sense of spacial awareness. This is best exemplified by the state of most cars here. 4 out of 5 motors have some kind of bump, and 1 in 5 look like they are not safe to be on the roads. It’s no secret why this is, nobody knows what is going on on the roads! Cars don’t always pay attention to the highway code, and neither do pedestrians, so be careful! Be especially careful at zebra crossings, the zebra crossing rule seems to differ across the channel. In England it means ‘stop to let pedestrians across’, in France it means ‘let pedestrians across if you’re feeling friendly’. So be always be wary at crossings, never just assume that you can cross.

7. Welcome to the Ghetto

It’s been quite a shock to go from a pretty clean set of seriously historical buildings to a place where you can’t turn one corner without a wall telling you to ‘f*** off’. I don’t know what I find more bemusing, the fact that there is graffiti everywhere and no one seems to mind it (I’m pretty sure King’s would have me in Holloway by now if I’d even dared to mark my name on one of their tables), or the fact that most of the stuff is written in English. My teacher actually told us that the best way to get in with the French is to strike up a conversation about English swearwords, they are obviously eager to learn a lot more about our fruitful, refined language. Also, not only are the buildings dirty and covered in graffiti, they’re falling apart! Some buildings actually have nets wrapped around them, to catch any loose bricks before they hit innocent students or staff. Pretty ghetto.

8. Parties just aren’t what they used to be

Here in Aix, they don’t do clubs, but bars, making it easier to chat and get to know people, or so I thought. The big place here for student events is called ‘The Wohoo’ (yeah I spelt that right). Despite its encouraging name, this is in fact a space of approximately 20 metres squared which comfortably accommodates 30 people maximum. Being a British student who is used to clubs which admit at least 200 people, it’s safe to say that nights out are very different here for me. I discovered early on that I can’t really handle the high prices, the constant smoke being blown in my face, or the communal sweat. For those reasons, I prefer a night in watching a movie of friends, or a night out at a restaurant. It totally depends on your preferences for a night out, but be prepared for a big change from England.

9. You have to flash the cash

There’s no way to get around it, Aix is pricey! And I’m talking about everything; food, clothing, accommodation. The only thing I’d consider reasonable is the travel, €1 for one bus journey really isn’t pushing the boat out. However, €6 for a box of Special K and €35 for a leg of lamb is! There’s not really anyway around these prices except making sure to keep a very close eye on your money and going beyond the regular shops to find bargains and good deals. One thing which goes someway to making up for these expenses is the fact that you can basically get into any attraction free if you prove that you are under 26.

(Note from the Editor: We recommend that students should to try to live like the locals: if they're shopping in markets or having bread, jam and coffee for breakfast, why not join in? Trying to re-establish your eating habits, shopping and lifestyle from home in your new country will always be more expensive.)

10. French Administration

I think it’s safe to say that we all get stressed enough dealing with our unis back home. Between choosing modules, organising student finance and finding accommodation, we’re lucky to still be alive! So it pains me to tell you that yes, the rumours are true, things are even worse in France. Not only do the French like to make it hard for you, they also seem to like to make it hard for themselves. I turned up to a doctor’s surgery to find no reception, I took my completed module sheet to the main office to be told that it was too early to sort stuff like that out and I’m currently in the midst of the mind meld that is the CAF process, during which I’m pretty sure I’ve claimed that I’ve got 3 children and 2 dogs. In short, no matter how organized you are, or you try to be, the French won’t allow it. You just need to come here with an open mind, plenty of stress balls and remember the key mantra: take a deep breath, it’s just France.

About the Author
Steph is studying French and Spanish at King's College London, and is spending the first semester of her year abroad studying at Aix Marseille Université in Aix en Provence, and her second semester at the Universidad de Córdoba, Spain. Check out her blog: The Fairbairn Faux Pas.

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