Under the horse’s butt

You know when you write something out, and spend all this time writing and writing, and then finally get up to get a glass of water, but then trip on your power cable, pulling it out of the computer, and shutting it down, losing all of what you’d just worked on? No? You keep your laptop battery in all the time in case of events like that? Maybe you should tell me to do that. Because I just lost the post I’d gotten halfway through. It’s annoying, but I guess I can tell it again. I’ll pretend you guys are new people I’m telling this to (like I’d already told some people. Hah, I’m delusional).


So as I was telling the others, I wanted to apologize, first and foremost, for my rant-like post last time. It was a mix of having too many things to take care of, not enough hours in the French workday, jetlag, and frustration at feeling like a noob that made me write all that. I am happy to report that things have gotten better.

I have my student card, with which I’ll be able to use the university WiFi (obviously the whole point of going through the ordeal). I have a French bank account, with LCL, goodforme. I am on the verge of finalizing an apartment for the semester, started orientation, and finally went out for a nice dinner and some good Lyonnaise food.


I’ll get to dinner in a bit. I’d like to say a few words about things I’ve learned about the French system first.


All the logistical things in France are related. And demand your personal attention. How anyone can get things done without devoting a few days to the task, is beyond me. Let me tell you about this. In order to get an apartment without a guarantor, you must first pay the management 6 months’ worth of rent, even if you aren’t staying that long (the rest will be refunded when you leave). To pay that rent, you need a French bank account (which is a pain all of its own. Also ironic, but I’ll get to that in a second). After paying rent and signing the contract, you take a form saying “yes, I will be living at this apartment” to the bank, so that you can pay renter’s insurance. After you buy insurance from the bank, you take another sheet of paper that says, “Yes, I have paid for insurance” BACK to the apartment. And then you can get your keys. But, to open your bank account, you have to show them proof of residence, i.e. the paper that you get from your apartment after you pay your rent in advance. If I weren’t going to live in a hostel, how in the world would I get this stuff done??


The French are very attached to their “horaires,” or schedules. And their lunch breaks. A very typical schedule is something like from 9h00 to 12h00 and 14h00 to 19h00. Which is, 9 am to noon, then from 2pm to 7. You won’t find anyone to help you with business during lunch break. No such thing as a 30-minute break here. People go home to eat lunch. Holy moly.


At least they have the means to arrive right on time. Unlike our bus system in Seattle, their transportation system is so very nice. One pass gets you onto the buses, trams, and subways. Trams are like above-ground subway/cable cars. They run right in between the lanes, sometimes on rails set on strips of grass. And unlike our perpetually late buses, the Lyon buses have electric timetables at major stops telling you when the next bus arrives. The trams are also punctual, and the subways come frequently. It’s so nice to actually be able to get somewhere. Like IKEA. (don’t judge. IKEA is great and powerful. I’m pretty sure it could take over the world someday. And I need a trash pail, duvet, and knives/cutting board for my future apt.)


About orientation. It basically consists of 20 hours of French culture and civilization presented in 3-hr blocks, and then a week of intensive French before classes officially start. If it weren’t for the other kids in the FCC class, I think I might die in the class. The teacher talks very slowly. You know earlier when I said I had just a few words to say before getting to the dinner I had? “Saying just a few words about __ before getting to ____” is something the professor says a lot. She actually does only say a few words. But it takes her the time it took you to read this far (and actually read it, not skim) to get through those words. I don’t blame her; she’s letting the Non-English-speakers keep up. But it is a bit frustrating.


I also don’t know if it applies to all professors in France, but this one doesn’t tolerate tardiness. On the first day, she made a point to call out the people who walked in late, telling them she wouldn’t accept them in her lecture if they came 10 minutes late again. Ironically, the next day she got stuck in traffic and was late 20 minutes (although if she’d taken public transportation, I’m not sure it would’ve been a problem).


Alright. So. I had dinner. It was great. I’m just starting to get more comfortable with the city. The first few days I was way too buried in paperwork and waiting in lines to understand what was going on in the city. But now I can start looking around. I started with Bellecour, in the center of Lyon, where the statue of Louis XIV astride his horse sits.

A few acquaintances and I met under the horse’s tail (apparently a popular meeting spot, since the statue is basically in the middle of an empty square, and people around it are easy to spot from afar). We wandered around to find dinner, and came upon a narrow street filled with restaurants. These aren’t your fancy-shmancy US restaurants of modern décor and date-night nooks. These are “bouchon,” long-standing restaurants serving traditional plates. They have seating indoors and out not because they like the atmosphere, but because the people eating spill out onto the street. Indoors you sit elbow-to-elbow with the table next to you. You can see and hear everything. To get into a seat against the wall, you need to pull the table out, then to the side, against the table next to you. To call it cozy is an understatement. But it feels like that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s hardly an issue; the food is more than enough to compensate for any squashed toes.

this is the rue that we found, full of bouchons! Yay for Yums!

The bread they gave us was nice and soft but dense, and the condiments for it…!! A quad of pate, lentils, mustard mashed potatoes, and cooked-soft beans. And the most amazing butter. A beautiful light sunshine yellow, with the richest flavor I’ve tasted yet. So intensely buttery without the feeling of grease or almost plastic that can happen with American butters.

Our restaurant. Apparently they’ve been open since 1894! With that kind of food, I believe it.

I ordered a quenelle, supposedly a traditional Lyon fish dish. But honestly, I can’t totally remember it. It tasted good, I know. But I was already feeling full from the bread, and didn’t get to finish it.

We sat there for two hours, but afterward still went to get coffee at a small café down the street. We talked about travel plans around Europe and sipped at our drinks. That’s the first time I’ve had a latte, I believe. It was nice. Not too bitter, but warm and inviting. In my opinion, it trumps the white wine we’d had with dinner. The bottle we got was pricey and everyone else said it was great, but I still don’t think I liked it too much. We still have time to make me a drinker, though.


Anyways, I’m starting to open my eyes and look up at Lyon. So far so good, except for the occasional 10-minute downpours of rain. No really. Ten minutes of pouring rain, then just a few sprinkles.

I’ll keep you updated. I’m sorry for the lack of photos. I’m bad at taking pictures. I feel like a tourist when I do. I know, I AM a tourist. But still. I’ll try, though.

In the meantime, I’ll bid you bonsoir. It’s late, and I have to sleep if I want to get a look at the front of that horse tomorrow.


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