A year in Wales

Calon Lan – Fron Male Voici Choral & Cerys Matthews

Hey, coucou

Today is a special day and because of that there’s a special blog post. At the beginning of July 2016, I learned that I got a job as an French language assistant with the CIEP, I was really happy when I discovered that the school where I’ll be working is where I wanted to go, Wales. After a talk with my family, le Barbu and my cat (don’t judge), we all agreed that it was a great opportunity and I said yes. We spent our summer enjoying the sun (cliché ;)), our families and friends who nicely agreed to eat a raclette in the garden under 35 degrees!

We left Bordeaux to London on September 26th and on the 27th we crossed the Severn Bridge for the first time, the famous bridge which links England to Wales since 1966. Of course we had our problems, it couldn’t happen in any other way: we rented a car in St Pancras and it took us an hour to find the agency, our phones were dead, out of batteries when we crossed the Severn Bridge and it was completely dark so it wasn’t really easy to find our way to the agency in Cardiff. We got lost and luckily two women who were walking by the bay took us to the agency, but of course it was closed so they gave us the way to our hotel. Finding our way in a new city by night wasn’t easy but at least we found nice people.

In this blog post, I want to talk about this place we discovered and its inhabitants, about prejudices we had and those we now fight or approve of at least 80%, and about life here.

Wales, the country

During my schooling, I did an arts baccalaureate with English as an option and an English language, literature and civilisation licence so I know one or two things about English and Anglophone culture but unfortunately, I think I’ve never heard of Wales as a country before and that is exactly the reason why it was my first choice when I had to make wishes to be a French assistant. I wanted to know things about this country, as a country not as a region. It has its Assembly for 20 years now so it really should be considered as a specific country by everyone. It has its own cities and countrysides, mountains and beaches, its own language and traditions. Never say to a Welsh that he is English, I did it with my students to see their reaction and they hated it!

Let’s talk about Welsh people then. I could say that they are the nicest people I’ve ever met but one should never generalise. If they see you lost, they guide you. They smile and say hello when walking in the parks, the streets. They are sociable, of course they might talk about weather (you’ll learn it!) but they talk to you, in the bus, in the queue, in the pub… They always apologise, even if you push them but I think it’s all over the UK. Queuing is very important, one should never overtake! They always ask if you are okay, taxis are really talkative; they might not care about your life but they’ll talk. Welsh people are open-minded, at least the ones we know, we only met welcoming, interested and interesting people. They all love Tom Jones (I’m joking… Am I?).

Let’s talk about clichés and little things to know:

  • Yes, there’s a lot of sheep
  • Yes, there are a lot of castles
  • Yes, it is very green
  • Yes, they have an accent. Actually no, they have accents! Cardiff accent is not the same than in Newport or in the Valleys, the West, the North… You can learn them, even speak them but never as much as they do.
  • Anyway, if you go North, they’ll only speak 50% of a word. Actually, they all do that.
  • I don’t do politics but, thanks Cardiff for the European sign.
  • The food is good; welsh cakes, cawl, welsh breakfast, leeks. Yes leeks are particularly good here.
  • They are drunks. Do you know that Irish cliché? They are the same. I’m slightly exaggerating. They do drink a lot though!
  • There are no cafés with terraces, why should it be with this weather? But, there are a lot of pubs and they really are charming… Nothing is cosier than a pub!
  • Welsh is not really spoken, not that much and few of them know how to pronounce the name of this city Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwy rndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch but when they do, they show off!
  • Signs are in English and in Welsh, sometimes in Welsh and in English.
  • They say “cheers drive” when leaving a bus.
  • They might call you love.
  • They have a Welsh culture festival, the Eisteddfod and I’m really proud because I can finally pronounce it! This festival is all about Welsh arts and they elect and decorate their national poet, I could show you a picture but I’m quite afraid of him (bisous!)
  • There is the famous “everyone can cuddle but only the Welsh can cwtch”. A cwtch is a cuddle but nicer. Because it’s Welsh.
  • Welsh people are proud, and they should be! They have a dragon on their flag! And an absolutely beautiful anthem.
  • It does not always rain… Sometimes it drizzle. I’m joking, sometimes it is sunny, we even had 28 degrees this summer and we had sunburns.
  • They love sports and when the national or local team plays, they all wear the jersey (women and men) and they prefer cheering anyone but the English, even the French! Well, they used too, now with what happened lately…
  • Merlin, King Arthur, Roald Dhal, Bonnie Tyler, Tom Jones, Duffy, Charlotte Church, Catherine Zeta Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Gareth Bale, Christian Bale, Luke Evans… All are Welsh! Yes, I put Merlin and King Arthur because what if they were real?
  • I probably should stop my list here. But I also have to say that they are funny, they use specific words and they are all named Jones or Davies. It is not true but it’s like in France, we are not all named Martin or Dubois but almost everyone.

I also have to say that they have strange things in their supermarkets but I need to write a post about it because you won’t believe it. Very interesting.

Another thing, the school where I work is a comprehensive school, all boys. I have to admit that it scared me at first because it is really different from what I’m used to but I feel like there are less trouble and some of them are really nice, attentives. Of course I’ll admit that when they are 14, they are like every 14 year-old boy. But still, it is something really different and that’s cool!

When we arrived, I made a little wishlist:

  • Running in London
  • Running in Cardiff ✓
  • Run a race ✓
  • Go to the cinema ✓
  • See a cricket game ✓
  • See a rugby game at the Millenium Stadium ✓
  • See a musical at the Wales Millenium Centre ✓
  • Go to Snowdonia ✓
  • Go to Brecon Beacons ✓
  • Go to the Pembrokeshire ✓
  • Visit Tintern Abbey
  • Go to Hay-on-Wye ✓
  • See a hockey game ✓
  • Go on a hike
  • Learn Welsh (I’m still trying…)

As you can see, we did most of the thing on my list and I’m very pleased! You can find all my blog posts about visiting Wales here. I made a wide list because we were supposed to stay a year so we wanted to see most of Wales, but since we’re staying a little but longer…

  • Go on a hike to Pen-Y-Fan
  • Go to Tenby (check out this new website about Tenby)
  • Go to Tintern Abbey
  • Run a half-marathon (it’s Sunday, I’m scared…)
  • Run 10k in a race
  • Go to Aberystwyth
  • See the waterfalls in Brecon Beacons
  • Learn Welsh
  • Run in London
  • Rent a small boat in Roath Park
  • Rent a cottage for a couple of days
  • Going back to Snowdonia

And for this list, let’s see where we are next year ;)

I don’t know if you are still here after all those words but I think I don’t have enough words to describe how this country touches me and blows me away. I feel like this country and its inhabitants changed me, some parts of me are changed for ever and some of my opinions are turned. I could talk about this place by personifying it completely, it has a soul and is filled with an amazing beauty. I like living in a human sized capital, being 30mn from the coast and 30mn from the countryside. I like having so much castle to discover that I won’t be able to see them all. I like this green and this blue, those powerful colours, the red of the dragon and its personality. I like having the possibility to walk in a park within a 5mn walk, I like that there are so much parks. I like the freedom: grey, green, pink or blue hair whatever, skirt, gothic, chinos or shorts even if it is 5 degrees and no one looks at you. I like this open-mindedness, this mix of religions and cultures, those signs with every colour skins. I like turning my tv on S4C and understanding nothing except hello and having to put the English subtitles. I madly like those accents, those warm people even if they might seem scary at first sight. I actually like this rain. I like the sheep, the animals that live here even if I’m a little bit scared of the swans when I run near them. I like racing with the squirrel. I like the seagulls. I like the daffodils, they tell us that spring is coming. I remember sitting in front of a lake in Snowdonia, breathing and feeling like crying because of the beauty. I will never forget that. This country is so beautiful.

We were supposed to stay a year but we’re staying longer. Now my lovely Wales, you are a part of me and you will always be. I love you so, very much. I wanted to tell you, and whoever will read this. WALES FOREVER. Happy anniversary to you and us or, as you would say penblwydd hapus. End of my sentimental speech,

Des bisous to you too, thanks for being here.

All the pictures are from my Instagram and it’s here.

 

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