French in Melbourne: how the city reminds me of Lyon

Thomas Pouillevet 19/11/12Named “the world’s most liveable city” for the second consecutive year, Melbourne appears the ideal place to set down your luggage.

Having the chance to study in Melbourne for a year, I can’t help but compare the capital of the State of Victoria with the French city of Lyon, of which I am a native…

Two former leading national political powers

Thomas Pouillevet 19/11/12Melbourne and Lyon, founded respectively under the British Empire in 1835 and under the Roman Empire in the first century BC, were once the capitals of the Commonwealth of Australia and of Gaul. Today, Melbourne has lost its political leadership to the benefit of Canberra, and remains less well-known than Sydney. In the same way, Lyon is no longer the primary French city and remains generally unknown to Australians for whom France is sometimes made up only of Paris.

This former pre-eminence of Melbourne is particularly noticeable in light of the city’s different buildings. Flinders Street Station, the first of its kind in Australia, the main façade of which is covered in clocks, is for example in itself a symbol of the city.

Like the Lyonnais, the inhabitants of Melbourne are generally very chauvinistic, and some like to brag about the merits of their taste for culture and gastronomy, notions that are supposedly foreign to the uncouth inhabitants of Sydney, who are obsessed with the weather forecast and swear only by the surf (this is all obviously exaggerated, but you will find an amusing graphic on this topic in the references).

The ambience of the two cities

Rue Merciere

Strolling in these two cities invites you equally to compare them. While getting lost in Melbourne’s city-centre in the surrounds of Flinders Station, the laneways, small pedestrian alleys cluttered with atypical restaurants, bring to mind the ambience of the rue Mercière in Lyon’s second arrondissement; a festive and convivial atmosphere in this haven of well-being, where the hubbub of conversations contrasts with the hustle of the crowds on the large neighbouring avenues.

Following the example of the French city’s traboule alleyways, small narrow and discreet passages allow you to shift from laneway to laneway, without ever leaving them. Although cultural diversity is more important in the Australian city, you could also compare the Croix-Rousse suburb of Lyon to that of Fitzroy. In effect, this suburb of Melbourne reflects a bohemian-bourgeois image, and houses perhaps the most unusual bars of the city.

Traboule dans le vieux Lyon

A shared passion for sport

Lastly, for Melbourne as for Lyon, sport is king. A veritable religion in the country, Australian football, or footy, divides the inhabitants of Melbourne on a weekly basis. Indeed, the city accounts for 9 of the 18 teams in the Australian league; so the derbies are frequent.

Each year the Grand Final brings together 100 000 spectators in the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This year, the Sydney Swans beat the Hawks of Hawthorn, a suburb in the Eastern part of Melbourne, to the great joy of the rival supporters.

In Lyon, the reigning sport is football as well, but the kind that is played with the feet. The city accounts for only one team in the premier league, and also is entitled to its own derby, against the Saint-Étienne greens. Lyon also fields a rugby team in the pro D2 league, hosts the Tennis Grand Prix of Lyon, and will also be a stage of the 2013 Tour de France.

Thomas Pouillevet 19/11/12
Finally, Melbourne hosts events that remain more prestigious, such as the Australian Open, or the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the sportive fervour of its inhabitants has no equal.

And you? Do you see other similarities between these two cities?

Translation by Michael McArdle
1. Melbourne retains the crown of most liveable city, by the Economist Intelligence Unit
2. “Australian Capital Cities”, by Jo Jackson on Suite 101 
3. Infographie “Sydney vs Melbourne”, on Hotel Club 
4. Les clubs de la première league, on the official site

Image credits:
1, 2. Thomas Pouillevet
3. Rue Mercière, by Javier Lastras on Flickr
4. Traboule dans le vieux Lyon, by Guy Moll on Flickr
5. Thomas Pouillevet

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Thomas Pouillevet

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