Room-mate or break
“It’s really hard to be roommates with someone if your suitcases are much better than theirs.’
J D Salinger
Spoiler: my suitcases all matched, my roommate’s did not. So when I got to Paris, having made my way to the Latin quarter in the 5th, I was shown my new apartment (playing fast and loose with the word ‘apartment’). I manoeuvred my way past the young man holding out my key, mumbling pardon in a very English stammer, to be struck by some news in the form of a bed. Now I know what you’re thinking, don’t be silly Lydia, you need a bed in an apartment, what are you complaining about now? Well my friends, in front of me (and I mean literally right there, my feet touched the bottom) presented not just one but two beds in the same studio apartment. It felt like my Durham college room all over again - oh the shock. I had a choice to make: option one: feel an overwhelming joy at the prospect of a potential new BFF (I’ll be honest, that wasn’t the first emotion I experienced at Durham); option two: have a tantrum, ring mum, and rant about how misleading the course programme had been regarding the living situation, before bouncing on both beds to check which is more comfortable (neither). Take a wild guess as to which way I went! On the phone to my sympathetic yet straight-talking mother, I was told that it would be better this way, because when I inevitably felt lonely in the coming months, I had a ready made friend, and if not friend, then certainly someone with whom I could mutually share my dislike for roommates. Ironic I know, but, on the bright side, this logic now calmed my growing anxiety and turned more Kindly my sentiments towards this ‘mate.’
So, I waited, but I was yet to meet my new friend. I began to deliberate that, with the course commencing the next day, perhaps I hadn’t been allotted a roommate. After all, the programme couldn’t assure an even number of people therefore not everyone would have a roommate. By the morning I was still very much alone, and was beginning to feel the stresses and strains of venturing out to tackle something new - on my own. Perversely I now decided a roommate wouldn’t be the worst thing, and I felt somewhat disheartened when I walked into my first class the following day and saw everyone else sitting with their own own respective roommates. It was a sitcom worthy sad moment.
We began our French class, and who should come tumbling in, garrulously glowing with small beards of sweat glistening on her forehead and tripping over her elementary school French in an effort to say ‘je suis desolée je suis en retard’ but a tall skinny blonde from Missouri, who would turn out to be, you guessed it, my roommate. I didn’t know it at the time, so I continued about my day, unsuccessfully attempting to form coherent sentences in French (although my own tenuous grasp of the language should have transcended from school girl into native, according to my tutors).
Our afternoon was spent admiring relics and unicorn tapestries of the middle ages at the Musée de Cluny (Boulevard Michel, visit recommended), after which I made the short walk back to my building, trudging up the 7 flights of stairs in 27 degree heat, hands clammy as I struggled to get the key in the door. All I wanted was a nice cup of tea. The tall skinny blonde shot off her bed and wiped her hands down before holding one out to me. “Don’t worry, it’s hot outside, my hands are sweaty too” I said before shaking her hand - firmly, because it’s never too early to establish you’re not someone to be messed with. Ever heard of that thing that kids too when they prick the tip of their finger and share blood so they can be friends forever? I suppose you could say that Missouri and I felt a fraction of that, having been thrust together in a strange place a long way from home. We weren’t instant friends, but neither would we be enemies. We talked, we laughed, I introduced her to M&S (she misses the William Pear yoghurts even now, what can I say), and we had dinner together that night. From that moment on, we spent every day together: everywhere I went, Missouri came with me, and vice versa if she wanted me too. I’m quite independent, I can go home for the holidays and let my mum do my washing, and I can live I France for 4 months on my own, if needs be. What I’m saying is, I could have lived in Paris alone, it would be easy to be on my own in a capital city, but having Missouri there was nice. It felt better to come home at the end of the day and have someone else offer to make me a cup of tea, rather than knowing there would be no one there to offer at all (side note for anyone wanting to be my friend: I like it made in a. teapot, milk goes in first). We became fast friends, what can I say: I’m a cliché.
I was more than worried about making friends on my year abroad; in my entire life I’ve been to four different schools, one university, and I’ve lived in three different countries (four if you count Scotland), not to mention countless summer schools with the soul aim of meeting new people. I’m well versed to the social niceties of today’s youth, under which category I fall, but there’s always the fear that you’ll be rejected by your social group, ostracised by your peers and left friendless. In Paris I had to bite the bullet; I put on my friendliest face (which, retrospectively, in another universe may have been misconstrued as creepy), and I shook hands and got on with it. At the end of the semester, she went back to St. Louis, Missouri, and I to little ol’ Lincoln, England. We follow each other on snapchat, instagram etc, and I predict it’s unlikely we’ll ever see each other again, but for the four months that I was in Paris, it was nice to have a friend, prepared as I was at the outset to be lonely. At the risk of sounding soppy, (which I cannot abide by the way), and to misquote Winnie the Pooh, how lucky I was to have something that made saying goodbye so hard. (Editor’s note: Missouri cried when I left. I did not.)