Archive | August 2010

Finding a room – take 3, part 2

So, I have found a room, I’m just not sure which room it is yet. How many rooms did I email to find it? Probably over 250 (I have 140 messages still in my inbox relating to rooms (I have deleted a number of them), and would have received about 30 or so in my Appartager inbox – and these are just the ones that replied). A number were clearly scams (interestingly, I first tried Craigslist in early July, and then pretty much everything was a scam. Then, in mid-August, I found some serious rooms on Craigslist – I’ll include some scam emails in a later post so you can see what to look for); others just seemed creepy; two I went to visit but couldn’t contact the owners when I reached the front door, so didn’t end up seeing them; some people had already found housemates when I contacted them; and many people just didn’t get back to me – probably due to language concerns.

That being said – finding a room was much easier for me in London. Even before I knew anyone. For those of you planning on coming to Paris at some point – expect your room search to take a while if you don’t know anyone, and accept temporary rooms while you look, as they’re much cheaper than hotels and hostels.

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Room 1 – 23/08/10, 18th arrondissement, €525 for September, source: Craigslist

I left the metro at Barbès – Rochechouart and walked to the address, noting that there was an abundance of shops, people and noise in the area. As I turned down the street, I grew excited. Those of you who have been to Paris will know that the Sacre Coeur is on a hill and is surrounded by trees. Some of these trees were at the end of the street – I was only a few hundred metres from the Sacre Coeur!

The building seemed to be some sort of student dorm, and the room was only available for September (this wasn’t a problem – I had eight days left to find a room, so I figured this could give me time to find something else). The girl who showed me the room was nice, and the flat wasn’t bad (a double mattress on the floor of the bedroom, a tiny kitchen and bathroom, but the location made up for it), but it cost more than advertised.

“So, it’s €525 for September?” I asked.

“The rent is €525,” she said, “but you also need to pay another €50 for the utilities and €15 for the internet. And you’ll also have to pay a small deposit.”

This was likely to be more than I had readily available at the start of September, but I decided to keep the room in mind in case I hadn’t found anything else by the end of the week.

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Room 2 – 27/08/10, Neuilly-sur-Seine, €450 a month, source: Flamine (former landlady)

I had now been in contact with Bénédicte for close to two months. I found my first room in Paris (where I stayed for a whole 17 days before another girl moved in) in Fusac. A few days before I moved out, I received an email from one of the landlady’s friends, Bénédicte, saying that she had a room available from July 10th.

Having already seen a room in this area, I knew it was a beautiful place, so emailed back saying that I was definitely interested, but that I didn’t need a room until September. Bénédicte said that this was fine, and I visited the room last week after she returned from her summer holidays.

Chez Bénédicte

Having already seen photos of the apartment, I knew it was beautiful, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were two joined living areas with heavy curtains with pelmets, yellow and white couches on ornate wooden feet, and warm rugs on the floor. The spare room was lovely and tiny – there was a desk on one wall, and a double bed that could fold up into the wall so that when it was tucked away it looked as though I had a wardrobe with mirrored doors (it’s so strange – I always talk about how I miss the space of Australia, but when I see something like a bed that folds into the wall, or a bar fridge being used as a kitchen bench top, my heart leaps because it seems to be so Parisienne).

Bénédicte was also lovely, and I could easily see myself living here as she talked about how important it was for people to respect each other’s privacy.

There was only one problem – her son was currently living in the room, and would probably be there until late September as he was currently looking for work and somewhere else to live. I told her that this was fine, that I was still interested and that I would look for something temporary in the meantime, and that I would let her know if I found somewhere permanent.

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Room 3 – 28/08/10, 6th arrondissement, free in exchange for 10-15 hours of babysitting a week, source: Craigslist

When I saw this ad, I almost didn’t respond because it seemed too good to be true – a room in exchange for babysitting. Yes, I’d seen similar deals, but they were generally for cheap (€300) rooms in exchange for babysitting, not free rooms in exchange for babysitting.

When I left the metro, the street was calm and clean, with trees lining the road and beautiful Haussmannian architecture. The apartment was huge – it was the entire fifth floor of the building – with large windows and lovely wooden floors. His four-year-old daughter’s room is bigger than many of the ones I’ve been looking at for myself, and she has a private bathroom! We had some green tea in the kitchen (also the largest I’ve seen in Paris) and Cory told me about what he needed.

The studio (which I wasn’t able to see at that stage but, based on Cory’s character and his apartment, I think it will be in pretty good shape) was being offered in exchange for baby-sitting. An English-speaking babysitter was requested in the ad, as Cory is American and wants his daughter speaking English at home since she speaks French at school. He explained that sometimes he needs to work until 8pm, so needed someone who can take care of his daughter in the evenings and stick to her evening routine. He also said that they like to have dinner at 6pm, and usually cook using fresh food from the market – although the studio has a kitchenette, he said I would be welcome to help with the cooking and eat with them. The more I heard the more appealing it seemed – I really liked the idea of being a part of a family, even if it was temporary.

There was one catch – he needed someone who would be available to pick his daughter up from school at 4:20 on most days. With my current teaching schedule, this is only possible for me three times a week. I explained my situation and said that, although I was interested, I would need to check with BTL and see if we could organise my timetable around this (after getting in trouble last week, there’s no way I’m going to try doing it myself again).

Assuming everything goes well with BTL, I will then need to be interviewed by his daughter’s mother (cue foreboding music).

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Room 4 – 28/08/10, 17th arrondissement, €500 a month, source: Craigslist

Arc de Triomphe

This room was right near the Arc de Triomphe, so it was great from the bragging-rights perspective. I rang the bell at the door of the flat and it was answered by a man who seemed to be an ageing hippy – he was wearing old, flared jeans, a yellow t-shirt and a yellow or orange bandanna.

The flat was small, the room was tiny, and the bathroom and kitchen needed a clean. The decor was also unusual – the main things that struck me were the animal skin rugs on the floor, and the smell (like stale air and smoke, and maybe some lingering traces of food). He seemed nice, but I really don’t like to be trapped in places with strange smells.

However, I figured this would just be a short-term room where I could stay before Room 2 became available (assuming Room 3 didn’t work out), so basic comforts weren’t so important – my main priority was being dry and safe.

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Room 5 – 28/08/10, 11th arrondissement, €125 a week, source: Kijiji

After I saw Camille’s room, which wasn’t available until September 15th, I posted an ad about an Aussie girl looking for a room for the first two weeks of September. Olivier was one of the respondents, so I figured that this could be another short-term solution.
Olivier’s flat was beautiful – warm wooden floorboards, yellow walls in the living and kitchen areas and green walls in the bedroom. The windows in the living room and bedroom looked over the building’s private courtyard, and the building was on the edge of Chinatown, so there was lots good food nearby.

The only thing that worried me was that there was only one bedroom. As he showed me the bedroom, I assumed he wasn’t renting out the futon in the living room. And I wasn’t sure how to tackle this question in French.

However, we sat in the living room and started having a conversation about the apartment, his interests and personality and my interests and personality (and my blog, of all things. He was one of the ones who had read it). Eventually I broached the question:

“If I decide to stay here, will I be sleeping here in the living room?” I pointed to the couch.

“No, no, in the bedroom,” he assured me.

“Then, we will share the same room?”

“No, I will sleep in the living room,” he explained, since I was just looking for this room for a short time.

Oh, the relief! Then I was able to relax into the conversation. Olivier was really lovely and we conversed for a good 90 minutes, at which point I started to get tired and my French deteriorated drastically. So we said our goodbyes, and I told him I would contact him on Monday.

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After speaking to BTL on Monday, they said it was possible to arrange my hours so I could have the room in exchange for babysitting, but they didn’t get back to me until today. As I needed somewhere to sleep tonight, I emailed Olivier from Room 5 and have arranged to stay there for one week, and will finalise the length of my stay on the weekend once I’ve spoken to Cory again and know whether I’ll be taking Room 2 or 3.

I must admit – I’m really looking forward to settling somewhere for good – I must have set some sort of packing and unpacking record over the past couple of months!

Blogging Anonymity

In a bid to increase my readership, I put the address of this blog on my email signature. I’m starting to think it was a bad idea.

First, Camille, a girl who had a room near Maison Blanche, emailed me to thank me about all of the nice things I’d said about it (she’s lucky that her room was one of the ones I liked!).

Next, one of my room email enquiries was answered with:

Hello mysterious woman:

Autant écrire en Français, puisque vous êtes ici pour le français..

Je suis en vacances pour quelques jours je rentre à la fin de la semaine prochaine, si vous pouvez attendre et ainsi écrire notre rencontre dans votre site de votre vie parisienne… De même, si vous souhaitez découvrir quelques endroits parisien insolite… faites moi signe.

(Bad) translation:

Hello mysterious woman:

I will write in French, since you are here for your French.

I’m on holidays for a few days and I get back at the end of next week, if you can wait and so write about our meeting on your site about your Parisian life… The same if you want to discover some unusual Parisian places… Let me know.

. . . I wonder if he’ll be pleased about making it into the blog?

Then, on the weekend when I was looking for rooms, two of the gentlemen who showed me their rooms commented on the blog! They were both very nice about it – one of them said I was a good writer and the other one thought it was interesting to see Paris through the eyes of an outsider – but I’m a little anxious about losing my anonymity.

The problem is that I’m going to be writing a post that features these rooms and these men, and the knowledge that they might be reading it is making me consider whether I need to censor myself.

I think I’ll just assume that they both have fulfilling lives, and are too busy actually living them to regularly follow my blog :p

Called to the principal’s office . . .

On Thursday I got in trouble for the first time in my teaching career (it took less than two months – go me). The short story is that I cancelled a class and the student complained to BTL (my school).

If you want the long story, read on.

On Thursday August 19th, I discovered that I would have to go to London for an afternoon (for reasons that shall remain undisclosed for the time being). On my calendar, the most suitable day was Tuesday the 24th, as I had a class at 9:00-10:30, and another at 4:30-6:00. I asked a couple of girls in the teachers’ room about cancelling classes, and they assured me that most students didn’t mind rescheduling.

Unfortunately I didn’t know the student in question – I happened to be waiting for my first class with her while I was trying to organise all of this. All I knew was what Lisa* from the planning department had told me:

“She’s a bit upset because she’s had to change teachers over her last two cycles.”

I was taking over a cycle from another teacher who had already had five lessons with this student. The previous teacher’s notes had said that the book the student had was Market Leader Intermediate, but the notes covering what she’d done in the lessons all referred to units taken from other books, so I didn’t know where she was up to. I planned a lesson around a unit on Ethics. As this was unit 11, I figured I would be fine.

The student, Kate, arrived for her class thirty minutes late. I introduced myself and, when I took out the Ethics unit, she complained that she had already done it with Timothy (one of her former teachers) on a previous cycle the year before. I apologised and explained that I only had the notes from the current cycle, which said that the teacher hadn’t used this book.

Kate went into a 10 minute rant about how disorganised BTL was, how inconvenient it was for her to keep changing teachers, and how she had friends who had the same teachers for 2-3 years. “I have had four teachers in two years, and every time it is the same thing and they don’t know what the teacher before has done!”

“A problem with learning English is that teachers from outside of Europe are usually on limited visas, which means they have to leave at some point,” I explained. “Maybe you could request a teacher from the UK for your next course? That way you wouldn’t need to worry about their visa expiring.”

“Oh, but Timothy was English,” she said.

I shrugged helplessly.

She then asked me how long my visa was valid.

A bit taken aback, I replied vaguely, “oh, don’t worry, I still have a few months left.” (It’s valid until June 2011.)

“And how long will you stay in Paris?”

“I’m not sure . . .” I said. Regular readers will know that Paris has been a little bit of a struggle, so I still haven’t decided whether I’ll stay here for the whole year, and I didn’t want to lie to Kate. Moral of the story – always lie!

I then had the nerve to ask which chapter in the book Kate was up to, and she sighed and said that I should have had the notes from the previous cycle.

“Okay, let’s do some listening then,” I changed the subject and we spent the rest of the lesson listening to and discussing The Ethicist podcasts.

By the end of the lesson she seemed much perkier, so this was when I dropped the bombshell – I needed to reschedule Tuesday’s lesson.

Kate was not happy – “why did BTL schedule a lesson this day if you could not do it?”

“It’s my fault, not BTL’s,” I said, and explained that I hadn’t put the trip to London in my calendar, so BTL didn’t know. As she was going away for the second half of the next week, I gave her the times I was free on Friday and Monday, as well as my phone number. She took it and, although she didn’t look happy with the situation, she seemed to have accepted it.

I returned to the teachers’ room and sent her an email confirming my availabilities. Problem solved – or so I thought.

On Friday night she emailed back saying that the times weren’t convenient for her, so I figured we’d just push the class to the end of her cycle.

On Tuesday, I had a call from Lisa at BTL when I was on my way to Gare du Nord confirming whether I’d cancelled Kate’s class, as I’d left it in my calendar. I said yes, and that I was unavailable for the rest of the day. The trip to London went smoothly – the only hitch was that my (dying) phone refused to make or send calls – and I did everything I needed to do before I reluctantly returned to Paris.

I got back to my place in the 18th a bit after midnight, and my phone started working again. I had two messages and one missed call from BTL. I checked the messages and could hear Lisa from planning sounding rather stressed:

“Hi Jolie, it’s Lisa from BTL. I was ringing because, talking to you earlier, I realised that you’d said yes to an intensive this evening from 6:30 to 8:00, and now I no longer know whether you’re coming to do it or not, so I need you to ring me back urgently to let me know because otherwise I’m going to have to find another teacher. Please ring me back in the next half an hour. Thanks, bye.”

“Hi Jolie, it’s Lisa from BTL. Just letting you know that we’ve found another teacher for that intensive from 6:30 to 8:00. Thanks, bye.”

I’d completely forgotten. Generally the planning department puts new classes into our calendars and I’d forgotten to chase this one up when it hadn’t appeared.

I then opened my work email and had a meeting request from Renée, the pedagogical coordinator, for Thursday morning regarding feedback on a conversation that I had with Kate, the student whose class I cancelled.

Oh crap, I’m getting fired, I thought before I settled down for a poor night’s sleep.

On Thursday, Renée took me into one of the small classrooms at BTL’s office. She put a notepad on a table and said, “so, we’ve had a student complain.”

I nodded, “I assume it’s about Tuesday’s class?”

“Well, that’s one of the things.”

One of the things?! I balked inwardly – what else had I done?

“So why don’t you tell me about what happened on Thursday’s class from your point-of-view?” Renée asked, her pen at the ready.

I told Renée about how I’d made the mistake of preparing a chapter that Timothy had already done with Kate, and then opened her file to show that there was no record of this. I then said that when I’d asked Kate where she was up to in the book, she complained about how disorganised BTL was. I said that we’d had a listening lesson using podcasts after she’d finished letting off steam, and that I thought it had gone well from that point.

Renée told me that Kate had complained about me being unprepared and disorganised, but that I’d explained that, and said that Kate had said that I was unclear about whether my visa was running out soon, and that I’d implied that I might be leaving BTL.

I admitted that I’d been surprised about the visa question and had responded vaguely, but I didn’t say anything about leaving BTL.

Renée leaned back and asked, “so, are you considering leaving BTL? Are you happy here?”

I answered honestly, “I really love teaching and I like BTL, so I’m not planning to go to another school, but living in Paris is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I have no money, because I just started working in July and didn’t have many hours, and I only have my current room until the end of the month and I haven’t found anything new yet, which is a bit stressful. Everyone keeps saying that September will be better, but it’s a bit hard for me to see that as I’ve only been working over the summer.”

Renée then started being very mother-like towards me – Renée has always been lovely, but I was expecting a stern talking-to, and this unexpected kindness caused me to tear up a little bit.

Renée told me that BTL often offers interest-free loans to teachers and said that they could help me with a deposit, and she also said that if I was desperate at the end of the month that she had a room I could rent for a week or two. I think my situation may have stopped her from being as harsh on me as she would have been otherwise – she didn’t even mention the intensive class that I missed, or the fact that I hadn’t been answering my phone on Tuesday.

She then reminded me that I had to book holiday leave through the official process – even if it was just for half a day – as then BTL would be able to cover classes, or make judgements about which students could be rescheduled. My judgement was off – BTL had to give Kate free lessons and a new teacher in compensation. I must say I’m a little relieved about her getting a new teacher – I think out next lesson would have been a little awkward.

So, from now on I’m going to be a very good girl and will follow the official process any time I want to do anything slightly out of the ordinary – then maybe I’ll reclaim the brownie points that I’ve lost.

*all names have been changed to preserve anonymity. And my job :p

Money

A couple of weeks ago I received my first month’s pay. It wasn’t much.

Due to July being my first month, as well as being during the summer, I only worked 51 hours. I’m on an hourly rate of €16.50, so that works out to €841.50. That ended up being €694.52 after tax.

I know that July was a slow month. However, I was more optimistic about August as I had 86 confirmed hours, after I’d removed classes from my calendar due to holidays. But they’ve been cancelling! The first week of the month I had 21.5 hours of classes. The second and third week dropped to 12.5 and 14.5 respectively. This week I have 13.5 hours. On the last two days of August, I have 9.5 hours confirmed, which bodes well for September, which is reputedly busy because all of the Parisians will have returned from their holidays.

But it is a little stressful not to know how much I’ll be earning in an average month. And, with a total of 69.5 hours, my August pay isn’t going to be as generous as I was hoping.

This is forcing me to make some difficult choices. Perhaps I won’t be able to do any travelling for a few months. Maybe I should consider a career change. At the bakery, I might have to choose a baguette instead of a croissant, because they’re usually the same price and I can make a baguette with some sort of spread last for two meals, whereas a croissant is only good for one (being broke is great for my figure). That being said – I was given restaurant tickets for July (10 valued at €5.60 each), which are good because they force me to buy food.

A warning to those considering teaching English in Paris – you will not earn much money. If you want to live like a king or save money from teaching alone, you’ll have better luck in the Middle East (where the pay is amazing with great benefits), or Asia and European countries where the cost of living is lower.

I’m now looking at ways to supplement my income – any ideas?

La Défense


I love La Défense. I know it sounds strange because it’s not actually a tourist area, but I do.

Although I miss the space of home, I’m a city girl at heart, and La Défense is one of my escapes from Paris. Standing over the metro Esplanade La Défense I can see the Arch de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower when I look towards Paris. When I turn around, it’s a futuristic maze of shiny glass and metal towers surrounding huge pedestrian areas and courtyards framed by trees, shrubs and park benches, with Grande Arche de La Défense as its focal point.

Yesterday, it was incredibly calm and serene. I went to a class in the neighbouring area of Puteaux and the entire region was like a ghost town – it was the first time I’d been back since my two Société Générale students went on holidays. What I hadn’t realised was that the rest of white-collar Paris had gone with them.

After yesterday’s class I sat on a step near a fountain and let the breeze ruffle my hair and my skirt, feeling safe in my sense of anonymity – something that you can only really achieve in a city (yes, I’m aware that Paris is a city, but each arrondissement is like a little village – I already have a following in mine).

Jazz music washed over my stone steps and I watched kids wading in the fountain, ignoring the ‘no swimming’ signs – if I hadn’t had been wearing a skirt, I might have joined them. It was very tempting, at the fountains were stunning in the afternoon light – when each stream of water hit its peak, it broke into crystal-like fragments and crashed back down to the pool.

La Defense - Fountain

I usually like La Défense because it is filled with business people and I can pretend that I’m one of them in my power suits (we’ll ignore the fact that I burned one of these suits with the iron, and I have to balance my bag over the now-shiny material until I sit on it). But yesterday, being there when it was so peaceful, I started to think of what it would be like to live in one of the white apartment buildings in Puteaux, and to have a career in one of these towers.

As I watched the clouds turn pink and the shadows lengthen over the courtyards, my heart filled with love for this amazing city.

Finding a room – take 3

Room 1 – 3/07/10, 15th arrondissement, €320 a month, source: Cité Université

Cité Université - so pretty I'm considering doing a Masters just so I can go here

One of the guys at work suggested looking at the bulletin board at Cité Université for room ads and, when I found one that specified a young Anglophone girl for €320 a month, I thought it must be the one.

There were two phone numbers on the ad – one for Vera, the girl renting the room, and one for her mother, probably to protect her from creepy French men.

We arrange to meet on a Saturday, and I call her when I reach her building. We start in French and switch to English, as she tells me she has just gone to the shops, but will be back soon. After a couple of minutes I can hear someone running. I turn around and there is a gorgeous, petite girl in a maxi-dress bounding down the street, with an abundance of dark curly hair bouncing behind her. I like her already.

As we ride in the elevator, she explains that she is going to have the flat painted, so it won’t be ready until August. The rent is €320 a month, plus bills, and plus a few hundred euros to help her pay a fee that she will be charged at the beginning of the year.

We get inside and I can see she hasn’t lived here long – all of her furniture looks like it has been donated. This might have worked, but on a rather grey day and in a flat with walls in desperate need of a paint, it all looks very old and dirty. However, I really like Vera (who is 18 and about to start a degree in English literature, hence the ad for an Anglophone) so I decide to wait until I see the room before making a decision.

The room is dark with an old (read: dirty) double-mattress on the floor and peeling green walls. Think bathroom, or public-swimming-pool changing-room green. I ask what colour they are going to be painted, and she tells me that she’s only having the living room and kitchen area painted.

Okay – not this room.

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Room 2 – 6/08/10, 13th arrondissement, €350 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr

Due to being on the opposite side of the road, where there is a one of those corners of grass that is considered to be a park here (I miss space), I walk past the building. After realising that the road has changed names, I turn back and find myself in front of a block of flats. I call Eric’s number (after accidentally leaving a message in French for one of the teachers at BTL, who coincidentally shares a name with someone else who was showing me a room) and tell him that I’m waiting on the street and am here to see the room.

“Oh, okay. Levelatet.”

“Pardon?” I ask, confused. I don’t know this word.

“Levelatet.”

I frown, looking around. He then starts to repeat himself in a sing-song voice, “levelatet, levelatet, levelatet!”

Eventually I look up to see someone leaning out of his window, waving both arms. Oh! The realisation strikes – levez la tête! Basically, lift your head, or look up (I’m not very good over the phone. This is why figuring out how to recharge my credit was such a proud moment).

He directs me to the right floor, and when I arrive his door is open for me. I take off my shoes (upon seeing that he is barefooted and there are other shoes waiting by the door) and walk in. The apartment smells familiar . . . like stale gingerbread.

He takes me into the salon and I get a sinking feeling – there are A3 photos of a toddler everywhere. I already wasn’t taken with the area (the 13th seems to have some lovely parts and some dodgy parts – this one was a bit dodgy and dirty), and the photos of the are enough to turn me against the flat. You will have observed that I prefer the shared parts of my flats to truly be shared – too much personal memorabilia leaves me feeling like I’m a guest, and I don’t really have the right to call a place my temporary home.

I ask if his family lives here, and he says that it’s just him, but confirms that the child in the pictures is his daughter. The flat is a decent size, and in the spare bedroom there is enough room for one of those beds that looks like the top-half of a bunk bed with a desk underneath, as well as a separate single bed. I ask whether the room is for two people and, after finding out that I don’t want to share, he tells me that it isn’t. So this room could be okay as a backup – it’s definitely a good price.

We sit on the couch afterwards, and he seems to be very interested in hearing about Australia and why I came to Paris, and what I like about Paris. He then gets up, saying that he has something for me. I get a little worried, wondering how I’ll make my escape (we’re on the 5th floor). He goes to the kitchen cupboard, and comes back with a box of Ferrero Rochers. Next he gives me some sort of sweet which I find to be too sugary, and when I finally excuse myself he gives me another Ferrero Rocher for the road. I start feeling like I’m falling into a modern-day Hansel and Gretel trap.

I don’t think I’ll be taking this room.

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Room 3 – 8/08/10, Joinville-le-Pont, €380 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr

The first thing I notice as I take the RER A out of the city is how many trees there are. True, I have looked at other rooms outside of the Boulevard Périphérique, but not this far. When I get off the train, I take the wrong exit and start walking down a highway on the wrong side of the Bois de Vincennes, and feel like I’m well on my way to the country.

Hamdi, the gentleman showing me the room, calls me after about 10mins when I’ve realised that I’ve been going the wrong way and have started heading back. He meets me back at the station and walks me to the flat, which is only two minutes away (much easier!).

Like previous flats, I know it’s not for me as soon as I see the living room. There’s just too much decoration there – Tunisian table cloths, ornate candle holders and family photos. This isn’t a share flat – this is a flat that clearly belongs to a family which has a spare room.

Then Hamdi (who is very cute, by the way – full lips, dimples, fine features) mentions that he has a wife and a baby. They are currently on holidays, but will be back in a month. No matter how good the price is, I don’t really want to live with a family.

In general, the flat is fine – the price is good, it’s only on the second floor, which is good because there’s no elevator, and the rooms are all good sizes. But it’s not in Paris.

I’ve discovered that Paris is not like London or Melbourne. In London or Melbourne, you’re still considered to be a part of the city if you live in the suburbs. Not so with Paris. If you’re not within the Boulevard Périphérique (i.e.: in one of the 20 arrondissements), you’re not in Paris. You’re either in, or you’re out. I decide that being in Paris is now one of my essential criteria.

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Room 4 – 8/08/10, €385 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr

The Sacre Coeur

Back in Paris, I visit Michel, who is renting a room at an extremely good price for Paris. I reach the front gate of the building and start to call him, when an elderly man who was waiting outside approaches me, asking my name.

It is Michel. He explains that he didn’t know whether to look for a girl or a boy, but that he was glad I was a girl because he was hoping the rent out the room to a young woman.

Just some background info: only wanting to rent out a room to a young girl isn’t creepy. In fact, it’s quite common. We have a reputation for being cleaner and quieter (sorry guys), and even houses with both girls and guys sometimes request girls because they are worried that things could get out of hand if there are too many guys.

And the question about my gender is a result of my name. My nickname is generally reserved for girls in Australia, but here it’s generally reserved for boys. I’ve had French teachers become very confused, and students be unsure about whether or not I am really their teacher.

Due to his age (probably mid 60s to mid 70s), I assume that Michel is the landlord. He takes me up to the apartment (eighth floor with an elevator – yay!) and shows me the room. It’s rather bland, but it has a double bed and plenty of wardrobe space, as well as a balcony that I share with the kitchen. The kitchen is long and narrow, but with plenty of counter space and is very warm and well-lit in the afternoon.

I ask if Michel lives here, and he says yes and takes me to the living room, which has been set up as an office/bedroom – almost like a studio. Then he takes me out to the balcony where I can see the private park (there are four apartment buildings which form four walls around a small park – maybe 100m2) and I think about how nice it will be to sit under one of the trees reading, without having to worry about a strange man approaching me. Then I look up and see that he has a view of both the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur. At that moment, there is a break in the clouds over the Sacre Coeur, and it almost seems to be glowing in comparison to the surrounding buildings.

I only have one reservation about this room – socialising. Having been living in a French flat-share for the last month, I’ve realised how important it is for me to be able to talk to my housemates at the end of each day, especially since I still meeting new people. I’d also really like to find an English flat-share (Michel only speaks French). Although I know it would be bad for my French, I want to be able to relax at the end of the day, and it’s impossible to do that if I’m trying to speak in French.

However, the price, the location and the private garden are all so tempting that I start to think that this might be my room. I tell him that I’ll think about it and let him know in a couple of days.

Suddenly, Michel gets a bit strange.

“What’s wrong?” he asks me. “Is the room not a good price?”

“Uh . . . yes. It’s the best price I’ve seen in Paris . . .” I reply, unsure where this is going.

“Am I not well presented?” he straightens his tweed jacket and flashes me a smile.

I smile, “yes.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Um, there’s no problem, but I have other rooms to look at before I can make my decision,” I reply.

Then he gets agitated, talking about how he is offering me the base price because he wants a young girl to live in the room, and that if it was a man he would be charging €50 more a month, and he moans about how difficult it is to find a girl, then proceeds to take out previous rental agreements to show me how the price has dropped. In 2008 the room was €450 a month, then in 2009 it was €500 for a guy who rented it for three months.

“Yes, I know it’s a good price,” I say, unsure where this is going.

“Then why can’t you give me an answer?!”

“Because I have other rooms to see,” I say, looking for a way to escape. “I can tell you on Tuesday.”

“But all the girls say they will call on Tuesday or Wednesday, and they never do.”

I firmly tell him that I won’t make a decision now, and tell him I will call or email on Tuesday. When Tuesday rolls around I’m not sure what to do – it’s still the best value I’ve seen, but I still want someone I can socialise with, and I’m a little uncomfortable following his insistence on the weekend. But I only have two weeks and a half to find a room – what if I don’t find anything?

In the end I decide to sacrifice the room, and send him an email saying that I found another. Then I start looking for rooms on Craigslist, where most of the ads are in English.

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Room 5 – 12/08/10, 18th arrondissement, €495 a month, source: paris.en.craigslist.org

Earlier in the day I’d realised that, although I checked ratp.fr for directions to this room, I forgot to write them down. Luckily, I remembered which station I had to go to and had the address written down, so I figured I could find my way using the map at Stalingrad station.

After locating the street on the map, I take a photo of it so I can find my way when I climb back up to the real world. Unfortunately, I attract the attention of a gentleman who looks like he is drunk and homeless, though he may just be an unsavoury frog. I ignore him as he follows me to the intersection, and then I stop to check my map. As I stop, I can hear him mumbling in French under his breath, but figure that he’ll wander away if I continue to ignore him. Then I hear what he is saying:

“I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you . . .”

I look at him and gape, and he starts talking about my culottes before returning to the previous refrain:

“I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you. I want to have sex with you . . .”

I tell him (in English) to leave me alone and that I don’t speak French, then speedily walk away. And he follows me!

After another 100 meters, I turn around and tell him that I don’t understand him, that I don’t speak French, and ask him to leave me alone. He doesn’t. After another 20 meters I whirl around and snap the same thing, but with more force.

The next time I turn around he is gone. Strangely, I’m not feeling too enthusiastic about this area, even if I can see the Sacre Coeur over the train tracks. This feeling doesn’t get any better as I walk through streets of rundown flats and over the wide expanse of train tracks that leads into Gare du Nord.

Ironically, the street where the room is located is the nicest street I saw in the area. I call Guillaume, the landlord, from the street and he comes down to collect me. After walking up four floors of stairs (no elevator) we reach the apartment. It’s tiny – the kitchen has a bar fridge that also functions as a bench, there’s no living room, there’s no bath and the room is pretty small. But the room has a double bed, and the toilet and bathroom are separate, and the shower has a red curtain (I have a thing for red). And la cuisine may have been ridiculous, but it felt so Parisienne.

I prepare to tell him that I’ll think about it, and leave it as a backup option if none of the other rooms are okay, but he decides to introduce me to the housemates. There are two other girls – one Italian, one Spanish – and we spoke in French about the quartier, my job and how bad my French is (“mais non, ton français est bon!” they tell me encouragingly). I don’t know what it is – we don’t talk for long, or about anything significant, but I already feel welcomed here and have a feeling that this could be the place for me. Despite the man in the street who wants to have sex with me.

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Room 6 – 15/08/10, 13th arrondissement, €450 a month, source: paris.en.craigslist.org

That weekend I still had three rooms to see, but I figured they were just a formality as I had pretty much decided on Guillaume’s room. Then I exited the metro at Maison Blanche to see Camille’s room in the 13th.

There are no creepy men. The streets are quiet and clean. I restrain myself from getting too excited – I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by a nice area before. This room also isn’t available until September 15th, and I need a room for August 31st, so I can’t really get my hopes up.

The flat is on the fourth floor (no elevator) and across the road from the bakery. I knock on the front door as Camille is saying goodbye to someone else looking at the room. I enter and the room is beautiful – warm yellow walls, a window in the corner where the afternoon sun streamed in, a double bed and a desk, and a fireplace which has been filled with mini-bookshelves.

The bathroom is small but spotless, as is the kitchen, which even has enough space for a small table. There’s also a storage closet, where I can stash my suitcases until I leave. And the rent is lower than Guillaume’s room (€415 a month plus electricity, which makes it about €430 in the summer and €450 in the winter). The only disadvantages are that there is no washing machine, and that the room has no door – it has a beige curtain that goes across the doorway – but knowing that Camille will be my only flatmate, I’m not worried about my privacy.

I tell Camille that I’m interested and ask whether she can bring the move-in date forward. She says she can’t, because the other girl who lives there won’t be leaving until September 15th, but she’ll let me know if anything changes. So I repeat that I’m interested (I’ve also lost a room before by not seeming interested enough), and say that I’ll look for something else for the two weeks. We end up talking for about 40mins about everything – in English, because she wants to practice – and I leave feeling like I made a good impression.

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Room 7 – 12/08/10, 12th arrondissement, €525 a month, source: paris.en.craigslist.org

After Camille, this room is definitely a formality. Though when I leave the metro, the area is even nicer – two rows of leafy trees down each side of the main road, there is an ornate roundabout and all the major shops are on the same street.

I reach the front door and give Andreea a call. I’m not actually meeting Andreea, the girl I’ve been emailing, today, but she said her boyfriend could show me the room. However, I don’t have his number, and she doesn’t pick up her phone. I send her a text and wait on a bench outside the front door.

A few minutes later I hear something, and see a boy leaning out one of the third-floor windows waving at me. I wave back and go in. It’s the third floor (no elevator – I don’t seem to be having much luck with elevators in this room search. I know it won’t usually be a problem, I’m just worried about the initial move) and he has the door open for me.

I walk inside and he comes to greet me. I’m immediately put off – B.O. The flat is a decent size for its price, and it’s in a good area, but nothing can compare to how pretty Camille’s was. This one is also a mess, and you need to go through my potential room to reach the bathroom, which is not ideal.

I thank the boyfriend for showing me around, and make a note of this place as a possible two-week solution while I wait for September 15th.

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I realise that Room 8 is outside of Paris, and I need to get a bus from the station to get there (I don’t take buses here – it’s one of the fears I need to overcome), so I cancel that appointment and wait for Camille to get back to me.

Yesterday, she did. As the room isn’t available until September 15th, she doesn’t want to make the decision until September. As I only have my current room until the end of the month, this doesn’t really work for me.

Logically, I should call Guillaume from Room 5 back, but I have some things in the pipeline, and don’t know how long I can commit to a room just yet.

Mon français est un escargot

Yes, you read correctly. My French is, in fact, a snail.

French snail

It is progressing at a glacial pace, leaving a silver ribbon of rolled-eyes, confusion and snickers in its wake.

But the speed of my progress wasn’t what gave birth to this metaphor. My French has been getting better, and I’ve been getting more confident, due to the Conversation Exchanges I’ve been doing. However, I didn’t realise how fragile this confidence was.

Last weekend I was leaving La Villette to look at a room to rent. As I was walking to the metro, a man interrupted me. After some pleasantries, I told him that I needed to leave to see the room, but he insisted that I stay and tell him about Melbourne and Australia, how my homeland is different to Paris, whether I like Paris, etc.

This would have been fine – he seemed nice and it was an opportunity for me to practice my French. However, he continuously corrected me. He would repeat every sentence in the way I should have said it, and I eventually left feeling as though my French was terrible and I’d been getting nowhere.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of constructive criticism. But by constantly bombarding me he basically poked the escargot that is my French with a fork, and it has retreated back under its shell.

Now I’m trying to be very gentle, so that I might coax it to venture out again and continue its slow trail through poorly conjugated verbs and adjectives that don’t agree with their nouns.

August 10 – A day in my life as a Business English teacher

I know, I know – I recently did a couple of posts about a week in my life. However, I have been persuaded to risk repeating myself for a great, selfless and noble cause.

. . . okay, maybe it’s not so noble. And it’s definitely not selfless. But I still think it’s pretty great – by writing about a day in my TEFL life, I can win a two-week holiday! Rate my post here. Just highlight and select the stars at the bottom of the page.

I wake up at 7:30 – strangely, always one minute before my alarm goes off – and get ready for my day. At the moment breakfast is a bowl of cereal, but when I’m a little richer I might splash out on daily croissants. At 8:15 I leave and take the metro (lines 12, 4 and 5) to Gare d’Austerlitz. From here it’s a five-minute walk to my first class.

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9:00-10:30, Groupe Prima, Upper-Intermediate

Having three people, this is usually my largest class. However, the two ladies are on holidays so I only have Olivier – I’m guessing he’s in his late 30s, but he still has the approval-seeking mannerisms of a school boy. Last week I asked, since he would be on his own, what he would like to work on.

He replied with ‘listening comprehension.’ Fair enough – I haven’t done much listening with this class because my iPod doesn’t like the audio tracks from this course book – although it plays them perfectly in iTunes, they keep skipping when I open them in class. This means preparation takes a while, as I search for suitable podcasts. I stumble upon two gems:

1 – The Ethicist

The Ethicist is a podcast of letters written to the New York Times asking questions about moral dilemmas, and their replies. Tracks are generally under five minutes and contain 2-3 letters ad responses. These are great for class because they can lead onto debates after the comprehension questions (so, was it a good idea? Was it right? What would you do in this situation), and can also spin-off into letter-writing exercises.

2 – NPR Story of the Day

This podcast discusses front-page stories, so we get to talk about news, and the episodes are quite short. This is advantageous because anything over about 4 minutes is too long for the students to digest.

So Olivier and I discussed three ethicist letters, an NPR podcast on US employment statistics, and a 5 min excerpt from a Cambridge Conference podcast on ‘Becoming Barbie’. Issues related to female stereotypes and beauty have always interested me, but I’m a bit worried about how Olivier, being a man, will react to an audio activity that mentions both breast and bottom augmentation. However, I reason that if I’m interested in a topic, it will be more interesting for the students, and my reasoning proves correct! He answers the questions I set, takes nearly two pages of notes and we have a great conversation about beauty, plastic surgery and feminism.

Admittedly, I was only able to do this activity because he has a very high level of English, but I think some intermediate students (even strong pre-intermediate listeners) could cope with The Ethicist and NPR.

My next student is on holidays, so I walk to Gare de Lyon and take the metro (line 14) to Saint Lazare, then walk to a replacement class on Rue d’Astorg.

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11:30-1:00, Guillaume, Upper-Intermediate

The receptionists direct me to the fourth floor and, when I leave the elevator, there is a gorgeous man waiting for me. He introduces himself as Guillaume and takes me to the meeting room where our class is booked.

As we do the getting-to-know you activity (a page in my notebook filled with circles, each saying a word about me – students need to guess the significance of each word, which makes it great for practising questions), I realise that he has eyes just like Eric Bana (swoon!). Miraculously, I don’t offer myself to him on the conference table and we get to work. The lesson follows a unit from his course book (In Company, Upper-Intermediate) on Information and Media. As a rule, I find lessons that just follow the book can be a bit of a bore, but this is a topic we’re both interested in, and the listening activities (which list several surprising facts behind newspaper headlines) provide ample material for discussion.

Afterwards I take the metro from Saint Augustin to Grands Boulevards (line 9), and plan to quickly by a sandwich before my 1:30 class. There’s a wonderful blue boulangerie on Rue Montmartre that makes the most heavenly sandwiches – I almost which I had class in this area every day so I could eat more of them! The bread is lovely and soft with a divinely crunchy crust . . . but my hunger is not to be sated! I walk past the little boulangerie and it is closed, with a steel door rolled down over the windows. I desperately pray that this is temporary.

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1:30 – 3:00, Group Lazaar, Pre-Intermediate

This is my least favourite class of the week. There are two students, Samya and Florence, but generally I only have them one at a time due to holiday and work commitments. Samya is lovely and talkative, and we get along really well. Florence is also lovely, but I don’t think she likes me much. In two of our classes she has been close to tears of frustration over the work, and she frequently snaps when she doesn’t understand something, and then rushes through everything afterwards. Even when I do lessons around topics that she has said interest her, we still don’t seem to build a rapport.

Surprisingly, today ends up being our best lesson so far. We start with half-an-hour of ‘have you ever’ (a card game with questions that begin with ‘have you ever’ on each card) before checking her homework on modal verbs and doing a section from her course book (Market Leader Pre-Intermediate) on negotiating. We try a negotiating role play, but she starts to get frustrated, so I ask whether she would prefer to do some listening, or some vocab.

She chooses listening and I play a podcast about stress and holidays – after she easily does the comprehension questions, we talk about the two-week holiday she is going on next week.

Next I’m back on the metro (line 9) and I travel from Grands Boulevards to Havre-Caumartin. I arrive at my school’s office at 3:20, which gives me plenty of time to plan Wednesday’s class before my 4:00 lesson. Yes – you read correctly. Wednesday’s class. Singular. Being August, many Parisians are away, including many of my students, so things can be quite slow.

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4:00 – 5:30, Magali, Pre-Intermediate

My final class of the day is with Magali, who works for Medecins du Monde, which means she has seen many incredible places and has many stories to tell. After a vocab quiz, a homework check and doing a few pages from a unit on Selling Online (Market Leader, Pre-Intermediate), we play ‘have you ever’ and have a great time talking about all of the things she has seen and done and tasted (some interesting dishes include caterpillar and some sort of flying marsupial!).

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So on a Tuesday I start at 9:00 and finish at 5:30. As I only get paid for my teaching hours, I get six hours of pay for the day. That’s right – no paid preparation or travel time (though I do get partially reimbursed for my public transport costs). Based on the other interviews I had in June, this seems to be fairly standard and, as this is my first position, I didn’t have the leverage to negotiate a high hourly rate.

Being rather poor at the moment, I meet up with a friend after work for a walk around the 14th arrondissement and a late dinner of spaghetti with salmon. I wasn’t literally expecting plain spaghetti with a piece of smoked salmon tossed on the top, but I’m not one to complain about a free meal.

Mistress Jolie?

As I only have my current room until the end of the month, I have begun my third room search. Here is one of the responses I received to my ‘Jeune fille australienne cherche une chambre’ ad:

Je suis un homme soumis et je propose colocation gratuite longue durée si vous aimez humilier un homme.
Aucune relation amicale, esclavage total de ma part.
Qu’en pensez vous ?
Merci d’être franche.
Mes respects Mademoiselle.

Translation (not exact):

I am a submissive man and I can offer you a long-stay for free if you would  like to humiliate a man.
No friendly relations, total slavery on my part.
What do you think?
Thank you for being frank.
My respects Mademoiselle.

. . . what’s strange is that I’m considering this :p


Blogging

There were two reasons behind me starting a blog. The first was that I always send ridiculously long emails about my travels and have no idea who actually reads them, so now people can just check the blog if they’re interested. The second was that I was looking for a similar blog when I first decided to do my TEFL course – one from the point of view of a brand new teacher getting his/her first job and starting a life in a new country (when I put it like that, I’m not sure that I’m doing the concept justice . . .) – and I couldn’t find anything. There were plenty of TEFL blogs, but I couldn’t what I wanted, so I figured that my blog might be able to help people who were in my position.

What I didn’t realise, was that blogging has a darker side. It’s something that I never had to deal with when emailing.

Statistics.

On the admin site for my blog, there is a graph that shows how many people are visiting my site every day (so far my highest is 10 hits in a day – how popular am I? :p ) and which posts have had the most views. This would be fine if I were a normal person.

Wordpress Stats - Jolie à Paris

However, I’m afraid that’s not the case. I can get slightly obsessive. The first thing I check when I turn on my computer in the morning is my WordPress stats. When I get home from work, the first thing I check is my WordPress stats. Whenever I’m using my computer, I have one tab reserved for my admin page, and I refresh it at regular intervals to see if someone else has looked at my page.

I might need help.

The only things more aggravating than the 10 hit ceiling I can’t seem to break (what more do they want from me?!), are the low points on the graph. I like that the graph has had an incline over the past month or so, so if I have a day that has less than five hits, I worry about how this will affect my average.

When I sent emails, I would send one every month or so about interesting places I’d seen, and occasionally about the strange things that had happened in my life. When nothing was happening, the emails would stop until life got interesting again. Now that I’m blogging, I’ve easily been doing one or two posts a week, because I’ve had so much to do in Paris.

Until today. It’s been a slow week. And although I’ve been an active participant in my life, I haven’t done enough of any one thing to write a post about a single topic.

If I was emailing, I would wait until something happened and write about that. But now I have WordPress stats, and I’ve only had three views today! So I had to write something, even if it is the last 497 words of inane babble.

For those of you who wonder why I don’t do Facebook – this is why.