On a recent visit to the city of Marseille, I got an authentic experience of the place. Staying with a friend in her city apartment allowed me to see Marseille through non-tourist eyes. I met her friends, real French people, who meet up at La Plaine to play pétanque and to drink and eat in the sun. I actually felt somewhat French, even if the locals did remark on my pale complexion. In a sea of golden sun-kissed skin, I was by far the pastiest. I have some serious tanning work to do in my last month abroad.
The evening, like the day, was spent sitting along a big wooden bench drinking and singing Marseillais songs. To better imagine the scene, it was a bit like the Stonecutters in The Simpsons, only without the funny clothes. Never before have I encountered a group of people so incredibly proud of their city than in Marseille. Naturally, they’re patriotic towards their country, but their loyalty lies completely with their city. Some of the locals even choose to speak the Marseille dialect, which can be rather difficult to understand when you’ve been taught Parisian French for the last ten years.
More surprising than their overwhelming pride towards their city was the warmth of the people of Marseille. Stereotypes show French people to be arrogant and inhospitable. In fact, quite the contrary, well from what I saw. A rather strange and eccentric man, who is well know around town, is accepted as one of the group. They’d say ‘He’s crazy, but he’s friendly’. They also welcomed me, a complete outsider, with open arms. An outsider who also struggles to keep up with a group of French friends nattering away. It’s almost as if they saw me as a blank canvas; they knew I knew nothing about Marseille so they wanted to teach me. They introduced me to typical Marseille culture – basically food, drink and music. They felt their task had been accomplished by the end of the night after I’d tasted Pastis, the drink of Marseille, and as I was able to recognise, and tap along to, Marseille songs.
In my attempt to remain an undercover native, I put away my camera and refrained from putting too much on social media for that weekend in Marseille. So that means I got to enjoy being there, learning a lot, speaking a lot of French, all the while trying my very best to fit in. Visiting the tourist attractions would have been lovely, don’t get me wrong, but thanks to Clem’s hospitality my experience of Marseille was completely and totally authentic.