Postcards from Abroad: Lyon


In the first of our columns from students abroad, Matt Gregg discovers that from cuisine to accommodation, he has a lot more to learn in Lyon than just French.

Typical French. On the day I arrive, the country’s on strike.

Although technically within walking distance, it’s still necessary to get a taxi up the steep ascent to the Andre Allix residence. This is only the start of getting a room. What follows is an hour-long ordeal of paperwork, payment and passport photos.

Pedantic precision and a fastidious attention to minute details give the French a well-earned reputation for bureaucracy. Apparently, this doesn’t leave much time for efficiency because no one behind the desk knows when the internet or the gym will be available.

Like much of Lyon, Andre Allix is a wondrous mishmash of old and new. The aquaduct built in Roman times still runs through parts of the grounds while the residence is encircled by the skeleton of the old fort at Saint Irénée, with the old gatehouse serving as the new reception. In stark contrast, the dormitories are high rise blocks of concrete that make UCD’s communist-esque concourse look vibrant.

The room appears bigger than expected and, barring the wafer-thin mattress, it actually appears comfortable enough. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the communal facilities.

The toilets are only sporadically equipped with seats and quite simply, there are no sinks. There is one kitchen shared between twenty-eight rooms. Said kitchen consists of two hot plates and one microwave. It’s not hard to see why French student accommodation has such a poor reputation.  Honestly, a sleeping bag and the fresh air of a park bench are beginning to look attractive.

A quick wander down the street shows that, despite a strike being called, some public transport seems to be running. After a prolonged abuse of a cafe’s free Wi-Fi, there is still no word from my co-ordinator, Mr Villemont. Maybe he’s striking too? No matter, it’s time for lunch. It’ll be my first experience of CROUS (a group that provides meals for students) and I’m kind of nervous. If the food is bearable, I may not need to move out after all.

It’s not quite what I’d expected when I’d heard Lyon was the ‘Gourmet Capital of France’ but the student food was excellent. I slap down three euro and get a veritable feast. With a choice of meats and vegetables, I opt for the (mainly beef) burger and comically oversized carrots. My gut tells me it’s too soon to take a risk on the fish and reddish purée that the woman assures me is “celery based”. With chips, salad and a yogurt thrown in, three euro goes a long way. If only I could say the same of UCD.

With nothing open until the next morning, it’s a night of wandering the corridors banging on rooms until a session is found. Four bottles of wine and (bizarrely) a loaf of homemade bread, provide the backdrop to a pleasant evening. On said evening, I learn that in Canada, chatting up a girl is apparently called “wheeling”. Surprisingly, dusty doesn’t mean dry. Dusty means messy.  But messy still means out-of-control drunk. Silly Canadians.

Amongst my new friends I can count nearly every nationality under the sun, bar the French. I’ve learnt that in the Czech Republic, jaywalking is illegal. In Holland, it’s considered rude to do the host’s washing up. An American with a pint in him is incredibly obnoxious. Although all very interesting, I can’t quite escape the feeling I’m missing the point of a year in Lyon. If I am here to learn French, finding a Frenchman might be a good start.