When I went on my semester abroad during my bachelor’s studies, I first spent about half a week in a hostel in my destination city. The year was 2013 and I arrived in Lille, France, sometime in July. The semester was to last roughly until Christmas, and I was in for an interesting time right from the start.
My hostel was in the city center. Rooms stocked with humble metal bunkbeds, full occupancy, noise from the city outside. I still remember walking into the hostel lobby to use the computer there, and wondering if someone was playing a practical joke on me. It wasn’t a joke; it was just the (to foreigners) utterly confusing French keyboard layout.
But I fought my way through it, sent off some requests to look at flats, and then sat with some of the other people in front of the hostel. Most people must have been in their early 20s. Just one guy was easily in his 50s, calmly chatting away with people.
As the crowd thinned out, the older guy remained. Eventually, I got to chatting with him. He didn’t seem to speak English, but he was extremely patient with me trying to cobble together something in French. This seemed perfect, because, at this early stage of my semester abroad, I was still super motivated to learn French for real this time.
And so, we kept on chatting for a couple of hours. The next day, we were chatting again. We even went to a nearby McDonald’s and had a burger there. I remember being surprised at how he ate his burger, first taking the bun and then eating the toppings separately with his hands.
The next day, we went for a walk to a nearby park. He said his son was there, and we should say hi. Sure thing, I thought. When we got to the park, we met a much younger guy who was dressed like he had been jogging there. He took a brief look at me, exchanged some words with my companion, and ran off again.
Then came my final night at the hostel and the person suggested that I should come to have dinner with him at his family’s place. While we were walking there, in the late evening, through almost deserted streets, I suddenly started feeling anxious. Something in the back of my mind was sounding the alarm. I pretended to get a call on my phone and excused myself from the invitation. After turning a corner, I ran back to the hostel as fast as I could and broke into a cold sweat once I was finally in my bed.
Now, to this day I’m not entirely sure: Did I just meet a kindly elderly man who enjoyed some company? Or was I right to think that something fishy was going on?