Katie Smith on the escapades of an Erasmus student in Paris…

Going from St Andrews to Paris was a bit weird, to say the least. When you’re a country girl who’s grown accustomed to a glossy little university town where wearing expensive wellies is frightfully de rigueur, dahling, and where everybody is far too well-brought-up to even consider yelling “BonJOUR mademoiselle!” somewhat salaciously as you sashay innocently down one of the very few streets, it can be quite daunting to arrive in a massive city where you’re at constant risk of being run over, where silence doesn’t exist – oh, and where everybody speaks French. Luckily, Mum had had the presence of mind to cram my suitcase full of proper English teabags, so I could drown my sorrows in a mug of Twinings when the going got tough (that was before I cottoned on to the extraordinarily low price of French wine).

Napoleon's Library at Fontainebleau (my bad)

But once the stress of the first week was over, I discovered that the Erasmus lifestyle is actually rather nice. The free money from the British Council definitely doesn’t go amiss, for one thing; and living with a quirky French Countess who likes to defrost the freezer whilst wearing nothing but a T-shirt and a string of pearls is always a laugh. And never before has simply being British been so glamorous – so much so, in fact, that the line “Je ne sais pas, je suis anglaise” has proven remarkably effective as a get-out-of-jail-free card (do bear this in mind if you ever find yourself having to deal with angry French security guards after accidentally breaking into Napoleon’s library at Fontainebleau palace. I definitely wasn’t expecting the intruder alarms to be quite that deafening…)

I’m bound to be biased, I suppose, but Paris really is the perfect place for a year abroad – especially since, when you know you only have a year there, you are determined to bloody well make the most of it. So I’ve done all the classic things: clubbing on the Champs-Elysées, picnicking by the Eiffel Tower, mojitos in the Moulin Rouge, having my purse stolen in Montmartre… yep, definitely throwing myself into the Parisian lifestyle. Staying out ’til 6 a.m. because you were too drunk to remember to catch the last métro home is a far cry from the classy soirées at the Westport – but I felt right at home when I stumbled upon an Empire-esque place on the Rue de Rivoli for the obligatory post-night-out stop-off for something deliciously unhealthy (some things never change).

View of Louvre from the big wheel in Jardin des Tuileries

There is, of course, the small matter of studying which has to be squeezed in between all these jolly japes… ah yes. So far I have learnt that French people love Molière (I’m going to start dreaming in Alexandrian verse if I have to read one more play) and that the Sorbonne’s idea of a seminar is in fact a three-hour lecture (yes, three hours. I mean, tch, you’d think I was a science student or something).

La Sorbonne

I’m very proud to say that I have survived my first semester as an Erasmus student in Paris – and what’s more, it’s been an absolute blast. If you’d like to live vicariously through my second semester Parisian escapades then keep your eye out for the deuxième partie in The Tribe – mais c’est tout pour aujourd’hui!


Katie Smith

Images – Katie Smith