First Moments in France

By Antika, 2017

It was a just another rainy day in the City of Joy. However, my mind was flushed with waves of mixed feelings of fear of the unknown, sadness to leave this quaint old city and bouts of exhilaration for I was finally about to fulfil my dream; my dream of finally landing into Paris. This was what I had been feeling from the day I received my acceptance letter to Sciences Po, Paris – Campus au Havre, Europe-Asia Programme for my undergraduate studies. I was alone the night I boarded the flight to Paris, but not really, as I took along with me an abyss of inexplicable emotions. What was to befall me, would the experience really be as magical and rewarding as it is always written in short stories and travel guides? I could not wait to see it with my own eyes.

However, what I did see upon landing in the early hours of the morning was a huge line ahead of me which entailed an hour’s wait, meant for the border control check. I was joined by a  friend and senior, with whom I was to spend the weekend in Paris, before heading to our Sciences Po Campus, located in the port city of Le Havre, in the Normandy region. As we got on the RER to get to our hotel in Paris, we got talking while I was taking note of how developed the state of affairs were in Paris near and around the airport, how Paris has a first-rate system of transport and it being my first time in Europe, I was delighted. We had our luggage on us, and being extremely heavy as it was, it was an arduous task carrying them up and down the way to and from different metro stations and this truly put me off. As I got off the RER at Gare du Nord, I was taken aback. What I saw was a multitude of all sorts, the fast-paced, office goers, many foreigners who made the place incredibly lively. This indeed was an overwhelming sight at first, to see such cultural diversity in a train station. Thereon, we continued our attempts at weight-lifting with our bags while I remarked, would a person like me coming from the City of Joy as the French author Dominique Lapierre called it, where things are known for its relaxedness be able to fit in this crowd of the fast-paced. After changing so many metro lines, I grew extremely tedious, but I kept encouraging myself that I am yet to see the Paris beyond its web of metro stations. At last, the ‘metro-marathon’ seemed to have ended as I walked up the stairs towards the exit. These stairs were the window to my dream and my life for the next three years. What befell me were tall, beautiful buildings, built in the Haussmann style spread evenly across the wide streets of the 18th Arrondisement, That was the first time I brushed against Parisian air and beheld its charm. I was exhausted but complacent, missing my family in Calcutta but equally thrilled to be in Paris. The story of my arrival to Paris was definitely not a fairy tale beginning at the top of the Tour Eiffel, and this is what, in my opinion makes it so special.

Our interactions with other the French, at the hotel, restaurants, metro stations were smooth, because we could converse in basic French, although my accent was maybe unintelligible to them.  However, the common myth that the french are extremely cold if you don’t speak French needs to be busted. Firstly if not all, most people in Paris do know basic English, and because only 30% of the french speak English, this should give travellers an incentive to make the effort to learn basics of their language, like a Bonjour or a Merci at least. In fact it’s just that everyone hesitates to speak a language they don’t know and I really considered myself blessed to have learnt french for a year at Alliance française du Bengale for a year. During the weekend, we went on a tour, and it was an absolute pleasure walking down the streets, covered with greenish-brown leaves, the best harbingers of autumn. What I particularly enjoyed was the sunset by the Seine, one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. As we walked under the clear blue Parisian sky, I couldn’t help but admire its beauty and admit that it was really close to my spirit.

As we boarded the train from Saint Lazare to Le Havre, I eagerly awaited the new chapter of my life that was to begin. Le Havre, is a small town, in the heart of the Normandy region. It was bombarded to ruins during the Second World War, and architect Auguste Perret shaped the city to what it is today. I was particularly interested in Le Havre because of the grey and rainy climate, which sparks strong disapproval among many others. You would see a Communist style of architecture, which in itself is very impressive and a departure from the conventional French architecture. It is a UNESCO site owing to these factors. Le Havre boasts of a beautiful pebbled beach, where I spent my first evening watching the breathtaking sunset. I did not face much of a problem with the bureaucratic procedures and geared myself for the Le Havre life. This was where I was to spend the two most crucial years of my life, have my first independent experience with the outer world without the physical protection of my family and friends or my comfort zone. My mind was swirling with emotions manifold, as I was trying to get accustomed to living, feeding and providing for myself on my own, with the responsibility of managing my academics and having a social life. As I slowly started talking to the people of my campus, I felt more comfortable and made Le Havre my home. There were moments of homesickness, but I tried to shrug it off, by diverting my mind to more pressing matters like groceries running out or worse, due assignments. What I do miss, is the taste of Indian food back home, but I have taken a liking to the French gastronomy, which is delicious to say the least though in particular, the Normand cuisine doesn’t appeal to me much.

Le Havre has given me every reason to feel more confident and proud of myself, if not for anything but  to make me live on my own, almost independently. The city isn’t too big, one can go around it in a day, but like every place, it has a charm of its own. I cannot even express in words the support rendered by my family and near ones, especially at Alliance française. This has been a rewarding experience so far, and I look forward to making more memories in this small rainy town in Normandy, which has always shown me the way ahead, is not too loud on the exterior but has a lot to say from within, called Le Havre.