“Have You Got the Keys?”

Day one in Lyon:

For the first time in my life I was willing to wake up at 5am. Granted, I hadn’t slept in the first place with all the excitement and pre-trip jitters but I still count this as an achievement. We were on the bus and eating a ‘continental’ breakfast (being that it included a pain au chocolat) by 6:30am. After several rounds of ‘is this the way to amarillo?’ we arrived at the airport where we were zipped through security by the special assistance desk. At every stage our guide announced to the waiting staff “It is a group seven blind people”- probably not her average day at the office!

On the plane we had a small hiccup. C (my french teacher and the trip organiser) had been given an ipod touch to take photos with by an IT teacher back in England. It was on the plane that we discovered that the ipod was permenantly in ‘selfie’ mode. So whilst attempting to take photos of the outside world all that could be seen was your own puzzled expression staring back at you. It was sometime later that we discovered that it was actually the world’s most egotistical ipod, and it didn’t genuinely have an outward facing camera.

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At the other side, having landed in Lyon, we were greeted by a very enthusiastic man called V from the college. I was told that he didn’t speak any english, and yes I would be one of the only French speakers on the minibus. I was very proud when half way through the journey, after much nagging from my fellow passengers, I somehow managed to ask what time we would be arriving at the college. Even more surprisingly, he seemed to understand me and in turn I understood his eerily accurate response of: “seven minutes”.

After briefly going to our accommodation to put our bags down we headed into Lyon to find some food. Before we left C found herself surrounded by our francophone friends who were enthusiastically describing the intracate nature of locking a gate. We were hearing different recommendations of correct key usage from all directions and, possibly more confusing, they were all talking simultaneously. Also in very fast French. From what I could gather the key centred concern was based on the fear that a child, on seeing the unlocked gate, would break out into oncoming traffic. I was later told that this was a ‘very french’ way of going about matters: loudly, enthusiastically, repetitively and whilst a group of others are also attempting to do the same. This was certainly an incentive to check and double check the lock before we went anywhere and we found that keys were a centre of discussion at multiple points during the day.

We then went onto a ‘Casino’ supermarket and began grabbing ourselves snacks for lunch. This included; crisps (which we couldn’t identify the flavour of- though our guesses took us to somewhere between mushroom and mustard) and baguettes. We hadn’t thought about the fact that we would be eating outside in a park, and subsequently found ourselves creating inventive methods for cutting slices of Emmenthal from a chunk. The picnic was great fun and it was so lovely to be out in the sun and having a laugh together. I was beginning to get to know the group and my excitement was building for what was ahead.

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The first event in our programme began before dinner. It was a party with a mixture of students and staff to mingle with and a table of nibbles to choose from. This was the first time during the trip that I found my french was very much put to the test. The students were all lovely but I found that I was really struggling to think of anything to say in general- rather than having a lot to say and not enough french to say it. Myself and a member of staff from my college who shared this feeling tried to explain this finding to one of the french members of staff. In an attempt to make our english easier to understand she said “We find it difficult to make friends” as opposed to “We are shy”. The realisation that this lady now possibly felt we were implying that everyone was unfriendly hit hard, and we deeply feared that we may have accidentally severed our college’s anglo-franco connection for good. This worry was intensified when the lady made her excuses before moving on to talk to other people.

After dinner we had the pleasure of listening to a little performance by the french students. The Cité Scolaire René Pellet is different to our college in England; in that it accepts both blind/visually impaired students and their siblings. This means that they have a mixture of sighted and VI students. They sang several songs for us and I got the strong feeling that they share our college’s ethos of supporting and caring for each other. Later the ‘girls’ of the trip shared a herbal tea, some fruit and a snack. In France they drink most hot beverages from a bowl rather than a cup- I really like this and think that bowls of tea would certainly help me during those late night revision sessions!

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