Despite spending many of my weekends back home galloping round the Yorkshire countryside like something from Wuthering Heights, I am most definitely a city girl. As much as I love the beauty and tranquility of the country; there’s just something wonderful about the noise, mayhem and diversity which comes with city life.
I’ve always lived in big cities and I love travelling to explore new ones. Over the past couple of years I’ve chosen to visit Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna, Lyon and Rome. I much prefer getting lost in the bustling, colourful (in every sense of the word) streets of a metropolis and discovering what its people and culture have to offer than lying on an indistinguishable beach, trying to catch the perfect tan that I know will never, ever be caught…
So it goes without saying that the idea of moving to a small, Provençal town without easy access to a big city was slightly unnerving for me. And it was difficult at first. And it still is some days. Without trying to be dramatic, you almost have to adapt to a different way of living.
I’ve categorised my experience of living in a small town into things to expect and things which may pleasantly surprise you. If you are placed in a small town for your year abroad then hopefully this might help you, or prepare you for what’s to come. But my main advice would be- as clichéd as it sounds- go into it with an open mind. Yes, it’s not Manchester or London or wherever, so try not to constantly compare the town to them. You will find yourself adopting a negative outlook and plus the locals will get pissed off if all you’re ever going on about is how “oh it’s not like this in Manchester” or “we do it differently in London.” So be positive and judge the town on its own merits and nothing else.
Some things to expect from small-town-living
You’ll get recognised most places you go
Whenever you leave your flat/house etc. you WILL see someone you know. You just have to accept it and deal with it. In the town centre you’ll probably get recognised. For me, it’s not just probable, it’s pretty definite. Since the town where I’m living has a high population of people with North African or Spanish heritage, being tall, pale and fair-haired is quite a rarity. So much so, that people actually have referred to me as “La grande blonde.” (And no, I am not proud of this.) Being able to blend my 6 foot frame into a crowd of city dwellers without anyone gawking is a thing of the past…
You’re pretty snookered if you don’t have a car
People can’t quite comprehend how I survive without a car here. It’s true it is difficult. Public transport is not great to say the least. Buses are once an hour or 30 minutes. And on a Sunday? Are you mad? Crazier still if you think about travelling after 8pm. And taxis for after that? Only if you book about 5 days in advance and go into your overdraft. If you have a car, my advice is, if possible, bring it-simply because it will give you more freedom. If not, like most of you I’d imagine, get a bike. If you’re in France, there’s bound to be someone selling one for cheap on www.leboncoin.fr. Think of your thigh game when you get back to the UK… If that doesn’t convince you. Get yourself on Blablacar, it’s a car-sharing website which is such a convenient and cheap way of travelling and you get to meet interesting people on the way. I would definitely recommend.
They probably have some weird traditions
Embrace them. In the town where I’m living. They have a sheep festival. Yes really. 10 days of sheep-related events culminating in the grand finale, where they parade more than 3000 sheep through the town centre. It’s a story to tell when you get back I guess…
Some things which may pleasantly surprise you
People won’t respond in English when you try and speak to them
When I’ve visited larger cities in France, my personal hate is when I speak to someone in French and they reply straight back in English. I continue in French. They continue in English… It’s like some weird standoff, who’s going to back down first? It’s usually me to be honest because I can’t take the awkwardness. Luckily I never have this problem in my town because no one speaks English except the very basics and “Brian is in the kitchen.” (Trust me, you’ll get it…) You’ll get to perfect your chosen language with almost everyone you meet.
Traffic, what traffic?
The never ending queue of sweaty, oxygen-deprived 142 and 143 magic buses crawling along Oxford Road can be left to the murky depths of your internalised memory for a year. You don’t need to worry about setting off an hour in advance for what is a 3 mile journey. Make the most of the lack of traffic in small towns.
Every bar is your local
At first, entering a bar here was quite intimidating. I got the impression that outsiders wouldn’t be welcome. Plus, women aren’t really big drinkers here so the bars are quite male dominated. However, I quickly realised there was no reason to feel daunted. Because a lot of people are regulars and know each other, there is a warm and friendly atmosphere in most bars here. People want to chat to you, they want to hear your story. They find it amusing however, to remind you of the reputation of the English being big drinkers. A reputation in this town I seem to have reinforced by once downing a double gin & tonic (I was in a rush OK.) The barman was so impressed and surprised to see someone, let alone a girl, do that, that he immediately offered me and my friends a round on the house. (This, however, didn’t help my situation in being pressed for time.) In my head, I was thinking bloody hell, these people need to get out more if they’re impressed by that. But I wasn’t complaining about the free drinks…
So all in all, like anything in life. There are pros and cons to living in a small town. But go into it with a positive mindset. And if you’re really craving the anonymity and freedom that comes with city life, or just a kebab at 4am, then the nearest city won’t be far away. Hop on a train, book an Airbnb and soak up that polluted air.