I found it very interesting and surprising that one of my first instincts as I walked around Charles de Gaulle airport was that France reminded me of Africa. Once in Clermont-Ferrand, as I was being driven to my hostel, I had the same feeling. I have come to the conclusion that it is due to some of the architecture, the advertisements and possibly the mountains. As I think back to my time in Ghana and brief travels to Benin and Togo, I knew that Europe and Africa were closely tied at least in terms of some of the goods you could buy. For example, if you bought pop or snacks, it seemed to me that they were brands more readily found in Europe and almost no American brands. As such, many of the advertisements on walls or billboards are similar. With regard to the architecture, it must resemble the architecture in Togo and Benin.
So far, I love it. Everything I need is in walking distance. I can easily walk to a grocery store. There is a beautiful city center (10 minutes walk) that has both a modern mall and Roman fountains. This city effortlessly preserves history without inhibiting progress. I haven’t used the public transit, but there are buses, trains and trams, so I am sure getting around without a car will be no problem (although a little disappointing that I won’t need a moped). I may end up getting a bicycle and as they have true bike lanes, I think that will be a very enjoyable way to get around.
As much as I love walking around, I cannot get the hang of the city layout. Everything is at a diagonal and some streets are only a block long. So, if you are at a 7-way intersection and you need to turn left onto Rue Ramond and it happens to be only one block long, you might just miss it and end up going completely the wrong direction. Also, doing Google Maps with kilometers is a complete guessing game. The other day, in making my way to the city center, I had my instructions in meters. I’m embarrassed to say that I have no concept of meters. My first instruction said to walk 200 meters. That seemed like a lot to me. As I blew through the first four instructions in one block, I laughed to myself about how much fun it was going to be to try to operate in meters, liters and celcius this year.
One more thing. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do when I walk by someone. You know how in the US there is that awkward dance where you look down and then they look down and then you look down and then they look down until you are at the distance where you say a soft hi and smile a half awkward smile. (Unless that is just me and if so, please someone tell me!) It seems like it isn’t customary to acknowledge anyone when you walk by. On the first day, I made eye contact and smiled and they gave me a weird look. I’ve noticed that no one makes eye contact. I’m trying to do that (when in France, right?), but it’s weird. Less awkward perhaps than the American “dance”, but a hard habit to get into.