The mail function has been disabled by an administrator.

Always Speak to the Cute French Man on the Train

Graffiti at Rocky Swimming Point, Marseille Treasure Aamayah

Everyone made it a point to tell me to avoid the city of Marseille. Fate had other plans. 

“Whenever I visit Marseille, I take my gun with me,” said an American man I met in Nimes, France. 

That statement left me with more questions than answers but the warning definitely sunk in. There was no way I would be going to Marseille.

But then, as it does, life happened. 

Like many previous encounters I experienced in France, a chance meeting with a mysterious Frenchman felt like it was woven by the spider of fate long before the meeting occurred.
I was travelling by train from Montpellier to the Riviera to see if I could find a French home among the A-listers of the world. Luckily for me, a stolen seat debacle with two British tourists coupled with my inability to lift my backpack over my head led me to eventually strike up a conversation with a Frenchman sitting across the aisle from me. And when I say “strike up a conversation,” what I mean is I gathered the courage, wrote and rewrote (and rewrote again) an introduction using Google Translate and then gingerly passed my phone across the aisle to him. Even though I knew he spoke a reasonable level of English. (Hot tip: You never approach a French person in English!)

While I am someone who no longer believes in coincidences, I will never cease to be amazed that two seeming strangers can have so much in common. Our conversation meandered, mimicking the way the train snaked its way through the southern French countryside. I learnt he had spent 10 years living in Australia (which is where I am from) but now he lives in Marseille.

I opened a can of worms when I sheepishly asked him why he chose Marseille when it’s so dangerous. He spent the next hour passionately describing Marseille and rebuking every objection I made. Everything he said contradicted everything I had heard. His passion for the city was very convincing but I had my doubts.

When we arrived in Marseille, we swapped socials and said our goodbyes and I jumped on the next train bound for the Riviera.

If I’m being entirely honest, I had no plans to ever visit his city and sadly assumed I’d never see him again. But like prey caught in a spider's web, the sticky strings of fate had other plans. Fast-forward a few months and I found myself, huffing and puffing up a narrow staircase headed towards his apartment. He was busy for the first two days of my visit and so I spent my time carefully exploring this city that I had sworn off.   

Marseille is a city that is dangerously lived in and full of life. A departure from France and yet the foundations of French history. A city that revels in its craziness. A city that breathes. A city abundant in wealth and in poverty, like two sides of the same coin. A city where all the nails stick out of the wood and there is no hammer. It felt like a playground—not completely lawless but where boundaries are pushed and the police pick and choose their battles wisely. It is the first city where I didn't attempt to be French but instead embraced my foreignness and added to the dancing chaos of the city. I decided that the only conformity found in chaos is chaos itself. 

Marseille is the only city I explored with the full knowledge that I would be returning to Australia much sooner than expected. My opinion of the city is therefore tainted by the rose-coloured glasses of a tourist and not a prospective resident. I respect that life for a Marseillian is tough. However, when I took a moment to tune in to the heartbeat of the city, it’s like it whispered, daring me forwards towards an inevitable end.

My last night in Marseille began with an innocent walk to feed the Frenchman's cat, which lived at his mum's house. The innocence slowly fading as day bled into night and I found myself giggling into a pint of beer. Chemistry is a curious thing. Growing between the words left unsaid, attaching itself to the glances that last increasingly longer and finally making itself at home with the soul behind the eyes.  

With the strength of the conversation persisting, we traded the bar for the comfort of his home. Our fast-paced conversation transformed into long pauses. There were then two conversations, the one we felt obliged to continue and the one we had with our eyes. These separate conversations eventually merged into one and this time while not much was said, nothing was left unsaid. Chemistry danced in that room as if guided by forces unseen, fanning a dangerous and familiar desire. It was as if we invited the chaos of the streets below to release our inhibitions and subsequently release us from the responsibility of our actions. 

Marseille dared me to explore parts of myself—all parts—even the parts that society likes shames us for having. I’ve learnt that travel can be chaotic and it's best to revel in it and let it expose parts of you that you've forgotten. Talk to the cute Frenchman on the train and let him convince you to explore a new city. That city may just whisper in your ear: “Your pleasure is my pleasure.” 

Editorial note: This blog has been updated from a version that was previously published. 

Add this article to your reading list
Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Treasure Aamayah

Treasure Aamayah is an Aussie living the dream in the south of France. She is a storyteller, lover of engaging conversations with strangers and known for being a perpetual nomad, with her current move to France on a working holiday being her fifth international move. Follow her at @treasureaamayah.

Website: www.coddiwompleandco.com

Join the Verge Community

Verge Magazine Membership

Join our community of savvy travellers and put nearly two decades of inspiring articles, authoritative information and expert advice to work for you.

Show me more > Login >


Travel Intelligence Bulletin


The latest openings overseas—direct to your inbox.

Subscriber Login


Travel with purpose; travel for good. Articles, resources and events for ethical and meaningful travel, volunteering, working and studying abroad.

Verge believes in travel for change. International experience creates global citizens, who can change our planet for the better. This belief is at the core of everything we do.

Like what you see?

Follow us on social media