Most tourism advertisements for the South of France will perpetuate the stereotypical palm tree lined coast, romantic architecture, beaches, wine and the leisurely life of the wealthy. Which is quite true, if you spend time in Nice or Cannes or head to nearby Monaco, where un cafe noir sets you back 5 euro and every building is laid in marble (alarmingly accurate).
This is wonderful for day trips and camera happy tourists, but its not reality. It really is just a day trip, you have to go home at the end. My home is Montpellier and my reality here, two hours west of Nice, is hugely affected by mass student habitation, nomadic gypsy culture and North African immigration. Its easier to find a kebab than foie gras.
At first this lower socio-economic status was a little intimidating to me: the streets are a little dirtier, homelessness and unemployment are a little more evident. Also the initial language barrier made everything all the more foreign, unwelcoming, cold.
But I’ve become all too comfortable in this culture now. What I’d forgotten at the beginning of my time here, was that I was a humble student too. I had very little money (and even less now), but this meant that I fit in easily. Equipped with my single pair of worn boots, buying the cheapest drinks from seedy jazz bars, seeing films on student discount nights, Montpellier’s low cost, low fuss life was far more fitting than the expensive, snobby cities to the East of the coast. Cities that would frown and snarl at my shabby appearance and frugal tendencies, instead Montpellier recognised me as a one of its own.
I think I came here expecting a Cote d’Azure experience of romance and beaches and chateaux, what I’ve slowly found instead is a city where I belong. i’ve never been well heeled, sophisticated or haute couture, and had I lived in a city that had those qualities, I would have quickly resented it. Home is however you define yourself and I have come to belong in Montpellier.