When you google pictures of Molsheim, a small town in north-east France, a few snaps of all the tourist spots appear. But to me, the place wasn’t notable for its tourist attractions.
I come from a country where the sun keeps its shine most of the year and rain is always a surprise. Never having experienced over a full couple of Autumn weeks, one of the many things I fell inlove with when I visited during this season, was the orange and green colours that were EVERYWHERE. This thought alone reminded me of so many scents and colours and sounds that I had experienced there during my short two week stay.
Here is how I put this beautiful place on the map:
My boyfriend was sent there by the company he worked for to do some engineering training for a month. He had booked a four star hotel and was training between 8AM and 6PM (including transportation time). In the meantime, I was studying in Greece and I had decided to join him for two weeks.
It was horrible!!!
The first couple of days, I stayed in the room whenever he wasn’t with me. I didn’t even check the hotel out without him.
I remember the moment that I had decided to explore the town alone.
I realised how bored I felt not doing anything in France. And even though I had no map and I could barely remember any french from school, I put on my colourful airy maxi dress (mediterranean tourist alert), went down at the hotel’s reception, and asked for directions towards the town center.
All I did from that day on (between 9AM and 5PM) was wander around neighbourhoods! I had the greatest time by myself. Every day I had lunch alone around the central square. I tried to communicate my allergy to the waiter using the few french nouns and verbs I could recall, dressing them up with gestures.
At some point I even got myself lost unintentionally, because I was so absorbed in all the shades of orange around me. In combination with that deep silence in the streets, the simple act of walking around was hypnotic. I had never lived in a place where I could hear nothing.
That day I asked for directions from a middle aged woman, who started power-walking like I was some kind of threat, leaving me even more disoriented than before. But to be fair I did look like a tourist and they don’t get many as the town is not a popular destination, probably because it is fairly isolated and small.
I suddently wanted more from that trip. Looking around was not good enough now. The day I got lost, I bought a mini french dictionary so I can refresh my french and connect with the locals. I looked at them in the eyes waiting for an exchange of culture. When I wasn’t getting lost in the streets of Molsheim, I was writing down words that I would have to use at the restaurant or at the mini-market.
In the meantime as we reached to the second week of our stay, my boyfriend and I decided to stay in a studio room in the same hotel that had a kitchen. Needless to say that cooking was the perfect excuse to interact with random locals when I was food shopping. On the first day when we moved rooms I actually walked 2km from the hotel, on a quest to find a huge supermarket I had heard about. On the way there, I saw the Bugatti museum on my left and all I could think was:
“How weird is this town. Why do they have so many bronze bugatti statues?”
At the time I didn’t even know that I was staying at the place where Bugattis were born.
The point is that even though I didn’t make friends, I was able to make small talk with the baker’s wife every morning when I bought my bread. And whenever I wanted to learn more about something I had heard or seen, the florist explained it to me in the afternoon after having my lunch. I experienced having the best french wine I have ever had (and I generally don’t go crazy over wine) every single day, at the price of 3-4 euros per bottle. The food wasn’t bad, but it was german oriented because of the area we were in, which didn’t really give me a chance to experience the real french cuisine.
After being more open and adaptive, I had a glimpse in the french mindset. All just by attempting to communicate with the locals in their language and by adapting my behaviour to particularly two french norms: 1. clothes – I started wearing a cardigan and/or a scarf everywhere to stop drawing attention on me, and 2. I enlarged everyones personal space, because I noticed that the french found me threatening when I was overly open or standing close to them (something that is completely normal where I come from).
Travelling without interacting with the locals never appealed to me, probably because it is something you can do by watching a video about the country or by reading about it. However, cultural exchange takes you on a full body and mind voyage in a nation’s essense.
In what ways have you adapted your behavior or appearance during travelling just to fit in a bit more?
Go Explore Nicole