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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 13 July, 2020

Let's talk about the time... my bra saved me hundreds of euro on Erasmus

It wasn’t one of my finer moments.

I FIRST WENT on Erasmus in 2008, when I was a 21-year-old undergrad.

shutterstock_1119224987 Source: Shutterstock/bepsy

Three years later in 2011, I spent another year in the same city as part of my MA.

These periods in Vienna were vastly different for a number of reasons.

Ostensibly, one could argue that the difference came down to the fact I was three years older, had an MA thesis to complete and a part-time job I was required to turn up for – all of which was true.

But really, it came down to the fact I was damned if I was going to see history repeat itself.

Let’s put it this way; my first academic year abroad was – and I’ll be frank here – a crash course in stupidity.

what the hell

As I lived at home while attending NUI Maynooth, moving to Austria was my first time living away. And with the benefit of hindsight, I realise I was less living with my parents during those first 21 years, as I was being saved from myself on a regular basis.

So to Vienna I went, with all the naivete of a first-time Erasmus student, who had spent the previous six months imagining the various ways that this new European culture would enrich their life.

Little did we know it was less café culture and gallery openings, and more eating cereal straight from the box and waiting for SurfTheChannel to stop buffering.

Over the course of the academic year, I outdid myself in the stupidity stakes, and one such incident involved a set of very expensive keys.

I had gone to a party in the basement of my student accommodation, raring to go having started (and finished) a bottle of Katzensprungen – white wine which could be procured in the local Billa for the tidy sum of €1.99 – during pre-drinks.

It was a long night – the details of which are hazy -  but I woke up the next morning in a friend’s apartment in the same complex, and realised my key could not be found for love nor money.

Let me explain the severity of the situation here.

Upon moving in, we had been informed that given the building’s security system, anyone who lost their key – which gained them entry into the building, their apartment and their bedroom -  would have to shoulder a very hefty fine while management would be obliged to change a number of locks.

The key system was a complex one; my key could open the main door of the building, my apartment, and my bedroom, but not that of my flatmates’ bedrooms. Their keys could also gain them entry to the building, the apartment we shared, but not to any bedroom but their own.

Essentially, they were all the same key… up to a point. What was this sorcery?

Anyway, losing a key was a big, big deal.


Hungover beyond all belief, I trawled the corridors of my building on my hands and knees – this wasn’t necessary in retrospect, but it felt like it was at the time – and came up empty.

I alternated between bouts of muted giggling and indistinct whimpering as the gravity of the situation intensified, and students stepped over and around me, eager to avoid the hysterical Irish woman skulking between various floors of the building.

I knocked on doors, I went through bins, I looked in postboxes in the foyer, I stuck notes in the porch and I prayed to St Anthony, in both English and German – I wasn’t taking any chances.

After a few hours, I returned to my friend’s apartment, ashen-faced, resigned to the idea that I would be shelling out shedloads of cash, and causing untold hassle for management and tenants.

Unable to get into my own apartment as my two flatmates were away, I retreated beneath a blanket in my friend’s bedroom. The hours wore on, and my head whirred with possible scenarios which might have caused me to lose the damn key.

As I had given my camera and wallet to a taxi driver the week previously as a form of payment – don’t ask – I wondered if I might have indulged in some form of bartering the night before, and sacrificed the key in the process.

Perhaps I had been in the market for another bottle of Katzenprungen? Maybe I waved goodbye to the key for little more than a portion of Kartoffelpuffer?

Embarrassingly, the list of possibilities was endless.

My friend’s bedroom grew darker as dusk set in, conversation was non-existent, my eyes became ever more sunken in my face, and as a desperate form of self-comfort, I wrapped my arms around my chest, letting my hands settle in the hollow of my armpits.

Barely daring to believe what I thought I had felt, I inched my right hand into the left cup of my bra and slowly unearthed a full set of keys.

And I’m not talking one solitary key here.

If I say Flannery’s photo keyrings and Newbridge Silver trinkets, you’ll understand how substantial a set of keys I had been missing. (And how basic I was back in the day, but that’s beside the point.)

While I crawled around my building, rooted in bins, shook my friend by the shoulders, and questioned whether I was experiencing early-onset dementia, the bunch of keys I was so desperately looking for had been on my person all along.

And not just on my person, but wedged into my bra.

Wedged. Into. My. Bra.


I dangled the hefty bunch of keys between my thumb and forefinger, and stared mutely at them for a long, long time.

I don’t know how many minutes, or indeed hours, passed as I gazed at the small bundle of assorted objects in front of me, before my friend noticed the atmosphere in the room had shifted somewhat.

He glanced at me, slowly shifted his attention to the keys, looked at my chest to which I was feebly pointing, and then lifted his gaze and stared me dead in the eye.

“I’ll be off,” I said, and hauled myself up.

I earned myself a week off lectures and seven days in bed for that one. Stress of it, y’know?

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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