I can feel the fear”; the annoyingly apt lyrics of Charli XCX pulsate through my ears during the descent into Lyon airport. I’m sitting next to an effortlessly chic French couple when I think to myself for the umpteenth time, “I look like such a bum”. This is a thought that had plagued me all morning, and now I realise that I didn’t exactly give myself a great chance at first impressions.
Embarking on Erasmus is supposed to be the year of incessant partying, welcome freedom coupled with forced maturing and making international friends with your polished foreign language skills. Thinking back, I should’ve made an effort to radiate confidence on my arrival. Instead, I opted to wear oversized men’s sweatpants and stunningly pink Asics, while the top half of my outfit was completely stolen from my boyfriend. To the Lyonnais observer, I looked like a sweaty hobo with a penchant for clichéd romantic gestures.
My awkward demeanour didn’t quite echo the bravado of the little girl seated in front of me. She greets Lyon, chest puffed out and proudly declaring: “I’m sexy and I know it!”. Though I envied her at the time, I’ve come to learn that, despite being incredibly good looking and effortlessly stylish, the locals won’t rebuff you, even if your sweatpants really are that awful. Thankfully, anyone that I’ve encountered has been welcoming, debunking the aged stereotype of French people as rude snobs.
While sitting outside a small café, quietly nibbling on baguettes with my roommate and her parents, an old lady hobbles past and smiles. “Bon appetit!” she beams. The company around the table nods and offers her a resounding ‘merci’. I, of course, have a mouthful of food and look at this weirdly nice stranger with wide eyes. I care little if people I don’t know enjoy their food because I’m usually face deep in my own. The sentiment was odd but pleasant.
Another charming aspect of life here is the entirely classy al fresco drinking that students engage in on the weekend. Sitting by the Rhône drinking cheap bottles of wine and watching the sky grow dark is a few notches up from occupying the alley by a club or a nearby field back home.
The nightlife in Lyon is unrelenting. The Pleine Lune service (the French sister to our beloved Nitelink) doesn’t start running until October, so anyone itching to boogie on a Friday night is forced to either shell out for a taxi, walk or stay up until the metro resumes service.
Traversing the lengthy bridge to reach crowded bars in the charming Vieux Lyon district seems like a small task with a drop of Dutch courage. By the time kebabs have been devoured and the walk home commences, it’s 5:00 am and traipsing back to my apartment on the outskirts of town feels impossible.
Conveniently, along the quays, two slides lead down to a small play area on the bank. This provides a well needed break from the long stretch back to the tramway at Guillotière. A weird thing to stumble upon in the early hours after a night out, but standing atop the little wooden ship and looking out onto the Rhône, it’s easy to feel like you own the city.
Of course, during the day the playground is probably festering with children, and you’d look more like a creep than a king scrambling to the lookout point surrounded by five year olds.
After two weeks here, my sweatpants remain sullen and unused in the back of my closet. I still feel like a tourist wandering around Lyon, but that’s an improvement on scared and awkward hobo.