Every morning in Lyon, we wake up later and later. In Croatia, I was merrily out of bed before 8 am pretty much every day; one morning I even trod down to the market a mile away at 6:30 am. All of that has slowly crumbled with the advent of late evenings in Lyon with wine and TV. Usually around 10 am or so, I stumble out of our bedroom alcove to find Steve already cheerfully programming away. For my part, I put on the kettle and make myself a cup of thé agrume (citrus tea), which helps me wake up a little. Sometime after communing with the Internet for an hour or two, I shower and make brunch.
For our first week or two, we were regularly downstairs in the morning, going for a ramble in the Parc de la Tête d’Or or down to Gare Part-Dieu to buy a newspaper. We perused the local shops and patisseries for a pain chocolat (my usual) or a croissant aux amandes (croissant with almonds), which is (and goes well with) Steve’s cup of tea. Now, that’s proven a little harder, but we still make our routine trips to the patisserie while shopping for dinner. Mealtimes are pretty simple. I usually whip up something like grilled zucchini sandwiches, or a thick soup with lentil and sausages, or a pasta dish, and we watch the Colbert Report before Steve does the washing up. The afternoons drift by while I practice watercolors, read and take notes on microeconomics, and write blog posts. Steve programs, always. And yes, we buy fresh baguettes every day.
In the evenings, we usually manage another ramble around the neighborhood. It was on one of those walks when we discovered a local shop called Little Britain four blocks away which sells British and American food. What counts as British and American food, you ask? Heinz ketchup, treacle pudding, actual small jars of clotted Devonshire cream, Kettle Chips, Kraft Mac’n’Cheese, Snapple, Arm & Hammer baking soda, Jelly Bellys, even bottles of Dr. Pepper and Cherry Coke. There was a small but comprehensive selection of beers, including Budweiser, Sierra Nevada, and Fuller’s English Porters. Steve wisely noted that this was where local youth must buy supplies for their American-themed parties [Buzzfeed]. Yes, it’s a thing, and yes, there are Red Solo Cups for sale here. Everything was also abhorrently expensive, with each bottled beer ranging between 3-5 euros. When we visited, there was an excitable group of five girls who could not stop pointing out all the different flavors of Pop Rocks to each other. Then again, I could hardly stop myself from telling Steve that there was Cocovita coconut water on the shelf because it’s been almost a year since I’ve seen that brand!
How are we fitting into our neighborhood? Steve categorically believes people in Lyon are much nicer than they are in Paris, which has got to be a good thing, right? Our interactions with shopkeepers everyday have certainly been friendly, and helped us build a little confidence in our French skills. With our small but working vocabulary, I can order a half-kilo of sausages (“un demi-kilo des saucissons aux herbes, s’il vous plait”) or tell them I need the dessert boxed up because we’re having it after dinner (“on ne le mange pas directement”). I think they speak just a hair slower with us since they can tell we’re not French. Our relatively slow French is a dead giveaway, but I can’t help but feel like our fashion is decidedly more practical than fashionable (in other words, American). On the other hand, we certainly don’t stick out like a sore thumb like in other places we’ve been (Thailand, India)! In Lyon, I’ve seen quite a few other Asians, and it is undeniably more diverse, with many individuals of African and Middle-Eastern descent all speaking rapid French. The nice thing about being in this very diverse environment as opposed to relative homogeneous Asian countries is that there’s no special treatment for us as tourists, and people aren’t falling over themselves to speak English to us. This is like the exact opposite of India!
Which is one of the huge things about Lyon and France in general. This is one of the few places we’ve been around the world, where practically nobody is speaking English! It doesn’t make as a huge a difference for us because both of us can get around and make ourselves understood in the local language, so I didn’t pay much attention to it in the beginning. But that’s the status quo, and it changes a few things. For example, after dinner and working on the computer, I usually spend an hour or two before bed watching some TV to absorb French in the laziest way possible. What seems to predominate French TV are American programs, which is the weirdest. There’s a lot of documentaries dubbed over in French, James Bond movies dubbed in French, The X Factor with Simon Cowell dubbed in French, Who’s The Boss in French (which is translated as Madame est servie), Everybody Loves Raymond in French… you name it. I even watched several episodes of Charmed last week, and this week, found The Simpsons dubbed in French. (For the record, they did an excellent job of finding an actress who has Marge’s raspy voice, but in French, it’s much harder to understand.) To balance it out, I have seen some French programming, including French versions of America’s Funniest Home Videos or even Scrubs. But it’s hard enough to understand the dialogue without also having to decipher the cultural references. So I kind of usually jump around from channel to channel — I don’t usually watch these kinds of TV shows in the US, and the fact that they’re in French doesn’t make them fascinating enough.
Last week, when we had a Couchsurfer from Canada staying with us, we went together to the Couchsurfing meetup in Lyon. It was a pretty sizable one, of forty to fifty people enjoying beer in an outdoor courtyard despite the relatively chilly temperatures. And everyone was speaking French! Any Couchsurfing event we had gone to in Asia was of course English-dominated, so this came as a mild surprise. I was so nervous I drank most of my beer in the first five minutes because I was at a total loss for non-asinine things to say. Eventually, I got into a good conversation about traveling in India with one guy, even if I could only understand about 40% of what he was saying. One of his friends came over, and brought with him a woman from New Zealand, and from there on out, the conversation was half-French, half-English, a mélange I was much more comfortable with. It was pretty nervewracking, but now I know that in a pinch, I can make myself understood in French, verb endings and adjective agreements not withstanding!
Overall, we’re having a lot of fun learning more about French culture and living in Lyon. At the same time, we’re planning our travels around greater France later this month and in June. Tomorrow, I hope to have another post about our adventures in Lyon, our first visitors here, and our first trip to a genuine Lyonnais bouchon!