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really honest postcards from lyon: part three

Be sure to check Lip weekly for new instalments of Really Honest Postcards from Lyon, April Smallwood’s new six part series on life as a young Australian expatriate in France.

Image credit: April Smallwood

Image credit: April Smallwood


Dear Shelley,

Lyon is a pretty lady. She’s got two great big rivers, the Rhône and Saône, which rhyme, and an old city boasting that classic cobblestone look we all froth over whenever Europe comes to mind. We live in between these rivers, on what they call the Presqu’île (it’s French for peninsula).

I’m right now seated at the dining table of our rented apartment. The owner has really good taste. There’s a 60s style white lacquer coffee table, a not-functioning 8-track player that’s painfully hip, and subtle splashes of red in the form of a chair, an IKEA storage box, a placemat. You’d like it. The ceilings are high and its two living room windows open out onto the narrow street like giant, enthusiastic eyes.

I can see how leaning out of the window in France could very well be a pastime. The pleasure of being so high up and with full view into strangers’ homes is a delight. Sometimes, when I perch on the sill for a gawk, I notice someone in the building opposite doing the same. Respectfully, seeing as they got there first, I slip back inside and try again later.

A few nights ago, I woke from a nap to a man playing Elton John’s Your Song on guitar, unintentionally serenading the entire street. I cried. It wasn’t remarkable in the least but felt special for the mere fact I am emotional and living in a foreign city.

My notes on the French thus far are that they are impressed by anyone who would spend 24 hours in transit to get here. Some are a little embarrassed about their English levels, while the rest continue to stream light-speed French at me, long after I’ve announced, ‘Je suis australienne’.

This one is well-known, but the French love a shouty, juicy debate. To contradict or disagree with a Frenchman is most welcome. This fact becomes incredible once you’ve experienced the frankness of a local. To quote an expat I met last week, ‘That’s the thing about the French – they don’t care for being politically correct’. They really don’t. In just a few months, I’ve heard nuggets of casual racism towards the Chinese, sexist lines directed at women, and other things that have caused my half-Asian female self to choke on my brie.

Strangely, this is mostly forgiven because these same French folk have been incredibly kind to us. We’ve received offers to visit a retiree’s country abode for lunch, been welcomed into the house party of another, and at a language exchange, a French school teacher offered to help us should we ever find ourselves in a pickle. Merci, Madame.

I had a really beautiful moment on Wednesday; something I’m sure you’ll appreciate given your impending move to NYC. Tipsy on sour beers and not quite ready to go home, three weary Alliance Francaise classmates and I sat on the steps of the Opéra de Lyon. Self-consciousness long gone by that hour, I sang them a few songs. With two nonplussed security guards behind us, I sang to my new friends like I’d known them all my life. Strange how a little thing like that can make you feel like maybe this is my city now too. Maybe, for the rest of my life, I will think back to that time I moseyed around Lyon and belted Lauryn Hill numbers on marble steps.

I chopped my hair off. It was truly comedic trying to convey the style I wanted to the hairdresser when the only French I’d prepared was ‘dry’, ‘short’ and ‘long’. That said, I look okay. My cousin Ica remarked, ‘They say when you cut your hair it’s like you want to remove something from your life’. Do you agree? I like the lightness and how bouncy I’ve become since. It might be reaching, but I am trying to rid that feeling that I should be succeeding here by eating all the things, and shaking all the hands, and not wasting a second of this experience because how dare I. That kind of pressure will help me none.

Miss your guts.



Missed out on Postcards from April? Check out:

Postcard One,

Or Postcard Two.

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