First Impressions of Bordeaux, France

A tram arriving at a stop in Bordeaux, France.

Written by  April 1, 2013

Tips for surviving study abroad in France.

Last week, my roommate Lara’s friend Philipp came to stay with her for a few days and I had the chance to see Bordeaux through the eyes of a tourist (as opposed to an exchange student who now calls it home). We answered a list of questions on his last day here, to compare and contrast our experiences. Here’s what came through:

How long have you been in Bordeaux?

Philipp: 10 days

Sidrah: 6 months and 2 weeks

What were your expectations before coming to Bordeaux?

P: I had heard the general stereotypes like “they eat baguettes all day”, but everybody in Germany knows it’s not true. It’s more of a joke. In terms of personal expectations, I thought the university system would be very modern and advanced. I didn’t have much of a chance to stay long but I went to my friend’s classes for a week, and I noticed that the system is a lot more guided here. In Germany you decide if you want to go to class or not, or choose between an exam and an essay (at least as a philosophy major). In Bordeaux, most classes are mandatory, but this goes hand-in-hand with the fact that there is more note-taking in class here and less handouts. (My experience doesn’t represent that of a regular student though.)

S: I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been on exchange before to Quebec, but that was in my own country and it was a lot of fun. So I was expecting fun and living in France is a blast. I was also expecting there to be delicious food everywhere and there is delicious food everywhere. I was expecting it to be beautiful and it surpassed my expectations. On the other hand, I have had quite a few learning curves thrown at me, which I didn’t expect, but I can always appreciate learning.

First impression.

P: The first impression was “Wow, there are no skyscrapers in Bordeaux”; the buildings weren’t very tall. The architecture is very different. You can see it in everything: the types of materials used for the buildings, the roof design, etc. I could feel that I wasn’t in Germany. Also I had to validate my ticket on the bus. In Germany you just buy your tickets and it’s done.

S: My first impression wasn’t that great, actually. I didn’t meet a lot of nice people right away; everything felt disorganized and when I arrived at my apartment, I was the first of four roommates so I was all alone. I had no phone and no Internet. But eventually, I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had this kind of experience when I first arrived. It would be nice if there was more of an organized orientation for international students in Bordeaux. It took me a day or two to begin to appreciate Bordeaux and now I love it.

What was the most surprising in Bordeaux?

P: I was very surprised when our friend, who has diabetes, couldn’t find glucose energy cubes anywhere in Bordeaux. They can be found in every supermarket and pharmacy in Germany! She will have her sister ship them over to her.

S: Yes, that was surprising for me too. We used to buy glucose sugar in Saudi Arabia when I was growing up too. Even the sports store didn’t have it. On the other hand, I was really surprised that the tram is so convenient. I love it. I don’t miss being in a car at all and it’s great that the transit system here (trams, buses and bikes) makes the entire city accessible. I was also surprised that there was Kinder chocolate everywhere in huge amounts. It’s my favourite!

What has been your favourite part of Bordeaux?

P: I love the area around Place de la Victoire, and Rue St. Catherine! I love that you are able to see straight ahead for 1km because the street is so long.

S: I love the marchés (markets). You can get all your groceries from the open fresh markets of local vendors and I love the community. I can go with my friends every weekend. I also love the food here because I’m such a food addict.

What did you find challenging in Bordeaux?

P: I didn’t have any real challenges. The only minor challenge was something normal, like getting the tram ticket at the machine. I was only here on holiday and my friend picked me up at the airport and took me everywhere.

S: I’m on exchange so I have challenges galore. I think for an exchange student, the most frustrating challenge is the paperwork, so I recommend finding friends and doing the work together. It’s always easier when you know you’re not alone.

Ten words that you could use to describe Bordeaux:

P: nice, friendly, delicious, quiet, cheese, wine, tram, lasertag, sunshine, market

S: walking, cheese, Nutella, crepe, proche, marché, Kinder, rain, sunshine, kebab

Tips or things to remember when coming to Bordeaux?

P: When traveling with a group, it is good to remember that restaurants here will not split your bill. They give you one bill and you have to pay it at once, so you’ll be doing lots of math to split the expenses. In Germany, each person at the table can pay their own separate bill.

S: It is important to know that most restaurants in France are closed from around 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., so if you plan to be eating out, don’t plan it during these hours. If you cannot avoid food between those hours, like me, I recommend Pizza Pino at the stop Gambetta on the tram B line. They are open all day, every day. Also, it’s good to carry some cash and change on you. Many convenience stores and shops have a minimum 10 Euro requirement for using your bank or credit card.

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Sidrah Shams

Sidrah Shams is a Canadian Communications student studying in Bordeaux, France. Her interests include music, health and fitness, cooking, henna design, travel, languages and writing. Follow Sidrah’s adventures in France!

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