Katie O’Donnell: Things I learnt during my semester in France

Katie shares her new-found knowledge of riots, wine, and the French James Bond.

1) How to predict a riot

Like any significant 21st century occasion, a Toulousain riot starts off as a Facebook event. Date? Always a Saturday, guarantees maximum turnout. Start time? Always 2pm. Allows for an unnecessarily long French lunch break and minimises risk of indigestion. End time? Let’s say 7pm to let participants get home in time for a civilised dinner. If around 2,000 people have clicked “attending”, loosely united by their varying degrees of support for a vague cause, you can safely predict a typical French manifestation.

Correctly anticipating a riot involves further investigation. Look for a few key signs: directions to the gun shop in Carmes, advice on what to do if you get arrested (shout out your name at the top of your lungs so the crowd can continue to fight for you), and groups of guys in Hannibal Lecter masks riding dirt bikes towards centre ville are generally a giveaway.


2) How to drink a bottle of wine with (practically) no consequences

In spite of my Scottish/Irish heritage, acquiring this skill still took a great deal of perseverance. With the help of my Erasmus grant and good old-fashioned trial and error, I was able to gather the necessary know-how to enjoy the world’s holiest booze free of pain or shame.

You see, it’s all about the type of wine. (Wine snobs please stop reading now). Resist the temptation of the €2.20 litre-bottle of “Chardonnay”; I can assure you that it is worth splashing out on a bottle of the €5 variety. Yes, £5 bottles of wine from Tesco can be hit-or-miss, but that’s because the French or the Spanish or any other wine-producing nation have kept the best cheap bevvy for themselves. With fewer sulphites, less acidity, and less god-knows-what added to bulk it out, you can trust €5 to get you merry but not mortal and to leave you feeling fresh (enough) the next day.

3) That French James Bond takes his Martinis with lemon

Or that subtitling is simultaneously incredible and awful. I went to the cinema more times in one semester in Toulouse than I have for the last five years in Scotland because I could pretend that going to see an English film with French subtitles is educational, and I’m so grateful for the odd time I actually read the subtitles. Dodgy French subtitling has provided me with a great piece of useless trivia. Rather than “shaken, not stirred”, French James Bond orders his Martini with lemon, as the words “shaken” and “stirred” are usually translated by the same verb, mélanger, the use of which would render his request meaningless. Also, I love subtitling because when Ben Affleck says “I’m awesome,” in Gone Girl, the French translation was the fantastic:  “Je pète le feu” (literally, I’m farting fire).

4) Finally, I learnt how to walk a dog like a legend.

This man is actually one of the safest road-users I encountered in Toulo

Katie - column 2