Paris, la vie en rose

Article published on Aug. 26, 2005
Article published on Aug. 26, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

I remember it as if it were yesterday. On the Madrid University notice board I saw my name, followed by: Paris IV, Sorbonne. My fate was sealed. There was no turning back.

9am: Charles de Gaulle airport. My few belongings have somehow transformed into 60 kilos of luggage. At check-in I had to pay excess baggage (already starting the month 100 euros down!) and now I am crawling to the RER train station.

New beginnings are always difficult

I ask a passer-by the way, and I take note: my French is worse than I thought and the less said about his English the better. I decide to simply leave it to feminine intuition. I haul my bags onto the RER and get my first experience of Paris – a guy somewhere between a tramp and a preacher tells us his sad story during the journey of an hour or so. Then finally I reach my new room, breathe deeply and light a cigarette.

I begin the next day with a mountain of tasks and forms that will need my very best sense of humour and all my patience. I organise my list of things to do: travel pass, bank account, accommodation, a visit to my University co-ordinator and then to the CROUS (the University canteen) to eat before 2pm. At the end of the day the only thing I’ve achieved is the travel pass and, ironically, I’ve got nowhere to go for which to use it. When I get to the CROUS for dinner they tell me very rudely that it is closed, but from the smells emerging from the canteen I sense that I haven’t missed much. So I set to calling the contacts I know from Madrid and organise a couple of blind dates to see if I can entertain myself until classes begin.

Selective memories…

March: after days of intense cold come afternoons that I will remember for ever through the rose-tinted spectacles of a Parisian evening. From the terrace at my house I cast my eyes over the view of the Sacre-Coeur, Les Invalides and the imperturbable Tower that always reminds me where I am. Behind me I hear my friends already planning the night that we will be spending on the University campus; I hear there’s a party in the Brazilian house.

And so, like the notes in a piece of music, the memories come together: playing the violin in the Place de la Sorbonne, long strolls on the banks of the Seine like a scene in our own private film, the colours of the Parisian sunset viewed from the Pont des Arts. Memories that will stay with me forever.



It’s not as hard as it seems, although they will always make you feel as though your French could be better: you’ll always hear “your French isn’t bad”.


To learn French, without doubt the best courses are those by the French Alliance, but of course there are many universities, including the famous Sorbonne and 'Sciences-Po'.

An original place

Les Etages, a fantastic bar in the heart of the Marais district: a wonderful afternoon when spent in good company.

To do

The Music Festival, held 21 June each year – the only day on which you are guaranteed to see every resident of Paris with a smile on their face.

Not to do

Eat popcorn in independent cinemas; you run the risk that some tired Parisian will take the anger provoked by the morning traffic jams out on you!


Get up early to view the flats advertised in the papers, such as Particulier à Particulier. Most importantly, be very, very lucky.