Some Travels, Mostly Tribulations

As of tonight, I’ve officially lived in Bordeaux for two weeks, and my tribulations are piling high. But in my moments of despair, I remind myself that none of the courses I’m taking will factor into my GPA and that I live in an actual UNESCO World Heritage site (Port de la Lune, Bordeaux).  Nonetheless, I’d like to use this small anniversary to commemorate some of my most memorable epic fails from the last 14 days.

    • Bathroom Troubles. No, not the kind you think. Upon finally landing in Bordeaux, I was greeted by my incredibly lovely host family (I am sure to be singing further praises in future posts) who picked me up from the airport and drove me to their, and now my, home. All was well, except for the mild stress of suddenly needing to speak French all the time and forgetting how to say ‘door’ and ‘car’ for a brief moment. Fast forward to 2 a.m. local time when I somehow managed to lock myself in the bathroom and promptly break the lock. I am including a visual aid here to demonstrate the high level of skill required to break something as simple and self-explanatory as the lock on my host family’s bathroom door.
      The infamous verrou looks like this. Or it did until my host father used the force of his entire body to knock it off its hinges.

      My host father ultimately had to
      break down the door to liberate me after I spent about ten minutes silently struggling in the bathroom in order not to wake the family up. I was only discovered because my host mother had to use the bathroom herself; else, I would have continued to suffer for fear of imposing and destroying the family’s property on my first night. Hilariously enough, I had no idea how to say lock in French or to explain what had occurred, so Caroline and I spent several minutes communicating through the door as I explained that “the round thing has separated from the door and I cannot leave.” I am happy to report that the lock has since been replaced and the door repaired, and that I never to go to the bathroom without my phone now, just in case.
      Fun fact about French bathrooms: there is la toilette, where you find the toilet and potentially a sink and then there is la salle de bain where you shower and brush your teeth. The French word for lock is le verrou by the way. I will never forget that now.

  • Tram Troubles. There is no metro in Bordeaux, so the primary modes of public transportation are by bus and by tram. As you may know if you have ever been to Europe, European public transportation is significantly more modern and efficient than in the U.S. In Bordeaux, there are three tram lines (and a fourth one being built and causing what the French here deem ‘major’ delays…evidently, they’ve never used the D.C. metro during single tracking), the first of which opened in 2003. Using the tram is relatively inexpensive if you are a regular commuter, with a monthly pass for young adults under 28 costing 32,30€ (approx. $40) and giving you unlimited access to trams and buses. Many Bordeaux residents, including my host mom, actually bike to school/work, braving the rain and the supposedly dangerous car traffic (they really should try biking in D.C.). I stick to the tram as I live 45 minutes away from the university campus, which is not ideal considering that I officially have two 8am classes this semester. So, after a week of gushing over the beauty, cleanliness, and efficiency of the tram, I felt overly confident about my commuting skills, leaving myself only a 10-minute buffer in case of minor tram delays. Alas, the European transport superiority proved deceitful. Last week, I had two French courses (8:00-10:00 am and 10:15am-12:15pm), which foreign students were obligated to attend before classes began on January 15. I snoozed. There went the first course. The problem with a 45-minute commute is that if you’re late, you might as well miss the class. So I dragged myself to the tram by 9:15am in an effort to show up early to the 10:15 am.


Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 10.09.04 PM
My daily commute: Google lies, it takes at least 45 minutes.

Except the tram stopped halfway down the line, and I observed the majority of the commuters empty out into the street. When in France, do as the French do. Into the street I went, where I found a bus overflowing with people – evidently, it was going in the direction we all needed to go. After perusing a map and failing to load the transit app on my phone (thank you French 3G), I got into the bus and prayed it would get me to the university. It didn’t. It got me to the Peixotto tram stop, where we were told to expect another tram that would soon resume service. After soaking in the rain for a while and watching other commuters strolling away confidently, an elderly French woman took pity on me and informed me that the tram wasn’t coming (following another announcement I missed/misheard/didn’t understand). Two buses later, I was finally at the university; it was 11:35 am. After a two-hour commute, I had missed the class which was the only reason I arrived in the first place. Well, at least now I know three bus lines by heart.


  • Time Management Fail. I had my first official class this morning. Well, the class happened, without me. During the first two weeks of classes, foreign students are allowed to essentially sample some courses before submitting a final course registration form (in paper, delivered to an office that is never open – vive la bureaucratie française!). Undecided between two history courses, I decided to attend both this week. I wrote down this week’s schedule in my planner, woke up early this morning, made some eggs and toast, and left the house bright and early at 8:30 am to allow myself ample time to locate my 9:45 am lecture hall. I got to campus at around 9:20 am, got promptly lost in a building whose hallway maze was vaguely reminiscent of Georgetown’s ICC, and finally located the correct lecture hall doors. Upon approaching said doors, I realized that a lecture was already going on inside. Strange. Assuming I had the wrong classroom, I wondered the halls for another few minutes, trying to decipher room numbers on a fire escape plan. Eventually, it occurred to me to check my planner, which told me that I had in fact arrived at 9:20am to my 8:30 am class. So much for having my life together. Remembering the sage advice of French students never to interrupt a French lecturer if you are more 15 minutes late, I stalked off to the library, realized that my next class began at 5:30pm, and off to the tram for 45 minutes I went. So, in the span of two weeks, I have made two utterly useless 1.5-hour journeys to and from university. This is likely the most disorganized I’ve been since first grade when I took too long to eat my breakfast, and my dad got so irritated that he drove off to a meeting without dropping me off at school. Oh, well, c’est la vie. Perhaps this is the universe’s way of telling me not to take that history course. Or to stop being a pretentious hipster with a paper planner and back up my schedule into a phone calendar.


So, listen, if the East Coast winter, add/drop, and the amount of money you just paid for those textbooks got you feeling blue, just remember, you could be trapped in a nightmarish commuting cycle fueled by your inability to read dates correctly. Or in a bathroom.

I must say, however, that despite my struggles I love this country and its freshly baked baguettes, and I will soon be sharing marvelous photos from a weekend trip our program took to the Occitanie region and once again making you jealous of my study abroad choices.


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