Stuck in Lille, lost in translation and Australia to the rescue


The French connection, not connecting
The coffee is good. But that's the only thing that's good. For the first time since my departure the thought that I might not make it crosses my mind. I had problems finding places to stay in Belgium, but that was nothing compared to France.

I arrived in Lille three days ago. Already on the first day things were falling apart. My sleepover for that night didn't come through so I had to book a bed at a youth hostel. Those are fine if your spirits are up, but if you are tuned to minor they can be really depressing. I had planned to use these hostels every now and then to update my website, but only voluntarily, not because I really needed them. I might as well make use of the time I have though, so I head for a lunchroom with free Wifi. I choose to write yesterdays story instead of catching up. It will take me more than one day to update everything that has happened up till now and I want to share more recent experiences.

Before I came to France I had no idea how much French I had in me. I never really visited France on holidays and I took my last French lesson 18 years ago. After learning some words and sentences from my French phrase book I decide to put myself to the test in a mobile phone shop. I need a French prepaid card and internet connection. The French have their Wifi locked with a password so I can't tap into that as I could in Belgium. To my surprise I manage to explain what I want, understand the answer of the employee and converse about a solution, all without using English or the French phrase book. I leave the store reassured that I can make it through France language wise, but the prepaid card is not the answer to my internet problem. With a French prepaid card I would still have to pay for incoming calls and I need another device for using the internet. This will cost me 69 Euro and then 3 Euro for every 20 minutes I use it. I decide to check the costs for usage with my Dutch subscription first. When the bill comes in next month I'll know...

The barman of Oz
I have done enough French learning and practicing during the day so I decide to head for The Oz, an Australian bar I passed in the morning. I hope to find some people I can talk to in a language that takes less effort.

It is 7 PM and there aren't many people inside the bar. Everyone is sitting outside, looking very French and sounding like it too. I go for the easy solution and head for the bar.

Colm is Irish and has been living in Lille for a year and a half. The reason was a girl, but the relationship ended some time ago. He stayed on and is now one of the managers of The Oz. He has no plans of returning to Ireland any time soon.

In the Netherlands it is pretty rare to find English speaking foreigners who have learned to speak Dutch. The Dutch like speaking English too much to give them any chance. At The Oz though, whoever I speak to, whether it is Irish Colm or Darek, a friendly guy from Poland who also came over for a girl and has been here for 8 months, or Kika, a German girl who also works there, they all speak French and couldn't before they came to France.

Colm offers me to spend the night at his place the next evening. He lives above the Oz and I am happy to accept.

Midnight session
I use Thursday to try and make contact with people between Lille and Paris.Without contacts on Twitter and Facebook it is no use really to try and use them so I try couchsurfing. is a social network specially set up for travelers to meet new people. It has helped me in Belgium 2 times and I hope it will help me now in France.

In the afternoon I take a walk through Lille to get to know the town better and take some pictures. Lille is 20 kilometres from the Belgium border, but it is completely French. No matter how stubbornly the Belgians keep calling this city by it's Dutch name 'Rijssel', it is definitely 'Lille', 100 percent.

In the evening, while Colm is working downstairs I am watching 'Watchmen' on his giant television. It sucks. When the bar closes Colm comes up with some friends and colleagues. Apparently one of the managers is leaving and they want to give him a proper goodbye. Another chance for me to practise my French, but it also means not sleeping before 6 AM.

Sleep is everything
I am wasted when I wake up on Friday "with that sweet brown taste" (check out 'I want to be evil' by Eartha Kitt). This isn't as I planned. I can't stay another night at Colm's because he is having a lady friend from Brazil over. I am invited to stay with Aaron and Louise that evening. Aaron is Australian and met Louise when she was studying in Australia. He is the only one I have spoken to at the Oz who actually still lives with his French girlfriend. Ironically, her English is so good though that he is also the only one who can't really speak French.

Since both Aaron and Louise are busy in the afternoon I offer to cook them dinner: Risotto with peas, broad beans, mascarpone and bacon. After dinner the hangover and sleep deprivation take it's toll. Together with the fact that no one has replied my requests from the day before they make me feel anxious. I go to bed early and fall asleep at 11. I wake up 12 hours later. I needed it.

It is Saturday and I am watching umbrella's walk by on the Place du Général De Gaulle. Still no one has replied and I don't know where to sleep tonight yet. I need to go out and meet new people. On y va tous, Unité Deux...


Wijnand Boon