Not a long time ago, I was preparing for my coop placement. By preparing I mean daydreaming about where I’d go. I had chosen to do an international placement which was very unlike me. I was scared, anxious and regretful of my decision. Everyone was asking me where I’d go, what I’d be doing, where I’d be staying. I couldn’t give them any solid answers, just that I’d know when I was told.
On October 16th 2015, I was interviewed for a position with a high-end lifestyle magazine called Riviera Insider. The location? Nice in the south of France. That was at about 10:00am. Later that evening I received a call from my coop officer informing me that I had gotten the job. I was shocked as it was only my second interview. But I was also overjoyed as I had been concerned that I would not get anything. So that was that. Next I had to get my contract sorted with the magazine, book flights and organise accommodation (NOT easy).
I was due to embark on this grand French adventure on January 4th 2016. As the date drew nearer and nearer my nerves began to shred themselves. The biggest question on my mind was: “Why was I doing this?” As in “what the Hell was I thinking?!” I had never been anywhere abroad by myself, I had little French and I knew nothing about Nice. I’d signed up for International Coop without really thinking about it. I just liked the idea of living and working abroad for a few months but I didn’t consider any of the possible dangers of travelling alone. They only really dawned on me when it was too late to back out. I decided then and there that I was going to hate it. I’m like that about a lot of things but I was nearly determined to hate my time there. My head filled with visions of the sophisticated French men and women shunning me for butchering their elegant language and the beautiful, model-like French girls mocking me, the tubby little Irish one. However I could not have been more wrong.
First of all, the stereotype about French people being stuck up or arrogant is crap. Now maybe its because I was in the south which is more relaxed than say Paris or Lyon but the locals were very polite. I tried my best with the language which amused some of them and then they happily obliged me by speaking English. Turns out they don’t mind if your French sucks so long as you try. Plus the French don’t acknowledge you in the street the way Irish people often do but that’s not because they’re snobs, it’s because it’s just not within their culture. But ask them for directions and they will help you. Another stereotype is that the French love designer labels which is quite far from the truth. In Nice there are plenty of fancy clothes shops but the local folk are quite happy to buy Penney’s or H&M gear too. That assumption that the French are lovers of love is true though. The men are quite fearless when it comes to approaching someone for a date. They’d see you from a mile away and come running just to ask you for your number. And you can’t say you’re not interested because they see this as playing hard to get which just encourages them. I was a little embarrassed by this as it is something that Irish men just don’t do. To get them to leave me alone I told them I was married which did the trick. I have to admit I was flattered as I don’t receive that kind of attention from people over here. Also the French people really, really love dogs. Like dogs were allowed in supermarkets and restaurants. Funny as I always had them pegged as cat people.
So all in all I enjoyed my time there. In fact I more than enjoyed it I loved it! France had never been a place I had been very keen to visit but after spending 3 whole months there my feelings have changed completely. Nice with its vibrancy, its relaxed and friendly natives, it’s many beautiful buildings and most importantly, the atmosphere. In Nice there was just a general feeling that everything was good and easy-going. That this was an untouchable place of peace and happiness. That even if things weren’t so great right at that moment then they would be sooner or later, that everything would be okay in the end.
That was until the tragic event on July 14th, Bastille Day.
On that day of celebration, a man took to Promenade des Anglais in a truck and drove through the crowds at high-speed killing 84 people and injuring many others, a lot of them children. This vicious act of terrorism took place on the night when the people of France celebrated what they believed in. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. This hit me so hard. Even though I had left the country a long time by then I was still shook by the fact that the street where I had taken many a long and peaceful walk was now the site of a horrific and devastating attack. The people I had gotten to know over there were marked safe, thank God. However the image of Nice being a happy,easy-going city had been shattered. I don’t want the people of Nice to lose their vitality and their warmth of character . I know that the city will be forever altered by this heartbreaking event but I also know that French are not the type to be held down. It is my hope for the people of France especially the ones of Nice that they will take this tragedy and use it to make them stronger and better than ever. Will the city ever regain that sense of happiness and calm? One can only hope.