Conversation Exchange

Having realised that I wasn’t using any French in my daily Parisian life, and that I needed to expand my social circle beyond the teachers’ lounge, I joined Conversation Exchange is a website where you can meet people who want to learn your language, who can help you practice their language.

So, I registered as a person who speaks English and wants to learn French, and people who speak French and want to learn English have been contacting me. In fact, a lot of them have been contacting me – I have 50 unread emails from the site in my inbox. There are only so many people I can meet!

Centre Pompidou

My first conversation exchange was with Chris. We met at the Centre Pompidou, where there was an exhibition that mainly consisted of women dressed as Snow White twitching around a banquet. A couple were also walking around with machine guns and at random intervals some of them would break into dance, collapse, or shout in gibberish. I didn’t get it.

The conversation exchange was good – we spoke for two and a half hours, and at least half of that was in French (go me!). When we started in English II was worried that I wouldn’t be able to switch over, but I happened to say a French phrase and suddenly we were speaking in French! We kept this up for another hour, at which point I was pretty drained and started trying to think of an excuse to

Snow Whites - Centre Pompidou


We’ve met up a second time since then, and the same thing happened – I got tired after a couple of hours and struggled to get away. Now I think he might like me – the second time we met up was on Monday after work. When I got home on Monday night he’d already sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet up with him on Tuesday, and he listed some other things he’d like to do (Montmartre, another exhibition, etc.). I didn’t reply and on Tuesday there were another two emails with suggestions. I replied that I was booked out for the week with conversation exchanges (which I was), and he said that we could go for a drive to a castle in the country on the weekend. I’m not sure how to get rid of him – I can’t say I’m not

Snow Whites - Centre Pompidou

interested when he hasn’t formally declared that he is . . . suggestions anyone?

My second conversation exchange was with Thibaut. Thibaut was lovely. Having had a rather stressful day at work (mainly getting lost on my way to new classes), I just couldn’t get my brain around the French language, so we started in English. After meeting at Opera we went to a bar – my French needs work at the best of times. Add background noise to the mix and I’m useless. So we continued in English, which he handled easily – he’s from Strasbourg and has lived in Germany and the US, so has fluent English. One of the things he couldn’t adjust to in the US was the standard of everyone’s personal presentation. Apparently the other students at his university couldn’t understand why he was always so dressed up (wearing a nice shirt and jeans). He couldn’t understand why people would leave the house in their pyjamas. I felt a bit bad when I told him that people went out in their pjs in Australia too – though I quickly assured him that I didn’t.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

David’s English wasn’t as good as Chris or Thibaut’s. He has quite a strong French accent and frequently punctuated his sentences with ‘oh my god’, which I thought was very cute. We met under arch in front of the Louvre and sat for an hour in the Tuileries gardens – unlike Chris, where there was a French part of the session and an English part of the session, David and I kept switching between the two. I would speak in French for a few minutes, until I came across something that I couldn’t say, then we would switch to English for a few minutes, until David came across something that he couldn’t say, at which point we would return to French.

Afterwards we went to get ice-cream on Rue de Seine in the Quartier Saint Michel. The Quartier was beautiful and quiet, with narrow, winding streets and tiny, tranquil gardens on some of the corners. That is, until we got to the ice-cream street. A road of bistros, brasseries and pizzerias cut through Rue de Seine, and on the other side of the intersection there was a large fruit and veggie shop, a stall selling smelly cheeses, sausages, salty meat and loaves of bread, and another stall selling olives, pâté and salads. We had ice-cream at Grom – an Italian ice-cream parlour with a queue trailing down the street. The ice-cream was worth the queue.

The next Tuesday I met with Aurélien. I was looking forward to this one – after meeting three different guys over four different meetings, I couldn’t wait to just hang out with a girl for a bit. So I was a bit shocked when, as I was waiting at a metro station, a guy approached me and started talking to me in English. For some reason I thought Aurélien was a girl’s name; and I had to pretend that my surprised daze was due to being incredibly absorbed in my book.

Aurélien was nice, but I doubt we’ll meet up again. My emails were starting to pile up, so I didn’t see much point in regularly seeing someone about whom I felt lukewarm when there were so many other people to meet.

Parc de Bercy

And on Thursday I met Nathalie – who really was a girl! We met at Cour Saint Emillion after I finished work, and spent a couple of hours walking through Parc de Bercy as we conversed – the first half in French, the second in English. Nathalie was awesome. She is an Engineer who wants to move to Canada, the US or Australia to work, and who has already done a lot of travelling in the US and Canada. It was just really nice to hang out with a girl – maybe it’s because I went to an all girls’ high school, but having close girlfriends is really important to me. She also seemed to think I was hilarious in both English and French, which helped get her into my good books. I’d really like to meet up with her again.

On Saturday I had two conversation exchanges organised – Pierre in the afternoon and Inés in the evening. I met Pierre one station down from where I’d met Nathalie two days before – first, because he lived in this arrondissement, and second, because I already knew I liked the area. Unfortunately he asked for the address of this blog, so I can’t give you too many dirty details. :p

Seriously, though, it was a lovely, laid-back afternoon. We had some ice-creams and strolled around Parc de Bercy, and (because I’m lazy and my brain doesn’t work well in humidity) we spoke more English than French. He was also good at correcting my frequent errors – the most irritating one is that I keep conjugating verbs that should go with être in the passé composé with avoir.

After I left Pierre I went to meet Inés (my second girl – yay!) at Saint Michel, but she cancelled at the last minute. Suddenly I was in the middle of Paris with nothing to do on a warm evening – one of the first times this has happened to me since I arrived. I’d been so busy organising work, rooms, a bank account and conversation exchanges over the past month that it had been ages since I’d just enjoyed being in Paris.

I left Saint Michel and headed to Paris-Plages, crossing Ile de la Cité and pausing as I passed the Notre Dame.

Paris-Plages is a few kilometres of artificial beaches that runs down one of the banks of the Seine during summer – form 20 July to 20 August this year. As most Parisians leave the city, the tourists and the humidity over the summer to visit France’s real beaches, Paris-Plages was instigated for residents who had to remain in the capital. When I was first told about it a few weeks ago, I rolled my eyes.

Now, I have visited it twice and I love it. The road is closed and dotted with potted palm trees. People relax on banana lounges on the grass and the sand, and there are several ice-cream vendors and kiosks along the stretch. Although you can’t go swimming in the Seine (at least, you wouldn’t want to), there are a number of fountains and showers that spray a fine mist across the road to keep you cool, and there’s even a swimming pool for children. There are also a couple of playgrounds, a picnic ground and an area where you can play lawn bowls. Underneath the bridges that cross the Seine, there are frequently musicians – ranging from A Capella opera to bands of five. There are also regular events – including dance lessons from 5pm to 8pm near Pont Neuf. On both visits I have been too late to see the actual lessons, but it’s a lot of fun to watch all of the couples switching from salsa to le rock to the waltz as the music changes.

As I left the rock and roll dancers on Saturday night, I stared at the small groups of people drinking wine and continued my stroll down the bank of the Seine, calm and happy. It may not be London, and it may not be Melbourne, but Paris isn’t a bad place to be lonely.

Bénédicte – help!!!

A few weeks ago I wrote about spilling nail-polish in the bathtub and was panicking about cleaning it up before Bénédicte got home.

As I’ve just made the biggest screw-up in any of the houses where I’ve lived, it might be time to tell you about Bénédicte, and maybe you’ll understand the reason for my panic.

Bénédicte is my flatmate, though the fact that she is also my landlady and I pay my rent to her means that our relationship is completely different to the relationships I’ve had with my former flat and housemates.

The apartment is hers. I never use the living room, and I feel uncomfortable using the kitchen when she has friends over. Although she has never spelt it out, the arrangement is very clear – this is her apartment and I am a guest.

This means I need to follow her rules. This is fine, though she seemed to assume that I would automatically know the rules without being told. For example, when I arrived I would wash my dishes and leave them on the sink to dry. A week or two later, she told me that I couldn’t do this because the cat’s water was on the sink, and she was too scared to climb up and drink it if there were things drying there.

Fair enough – don’t leave the dishes out. Still not sure how she expected me to know that.

Also, the bathroom. Here it seems to be very popular for people to have showers without curtains or doors. Bénédicte’s is essentially a large bathtub with a shower-head attached to the tap with a hose. This means the floor can get a little wet. I soon got a lecture about drying up the water after myself so she wouldn’t get mould and mushrooms. Again, fair enough – but with which towel?

Having had a couple of incidents like this, I was hoping to wait until we had a good relationship before I told her I broke the folding chair in my room (it made a strange noise when I sat, and when I tried to fold it flat again, one of the screws broke). I broke it in the first half of October. I still haven’t told her.

The week I got back from Croatia was a bad one – I arrived at 12:30am on a Sunday morning. When you leave the keys in the inside keyhole of our front door, no one can unlock it from the outside. When I got home, my key wouldn’t turn because hers was on the inside, so I had to ring the bell and wake her and her boyfriend up.

A few days later I (very stupidly, I know) left the stove on in the kitchen. In all honesty, it was on a low setting and I would have seen it the next time I went into the kitchen, and Bénédicte saw it about ten minutes later, but it was still pretty idiotic, and I got a talking-to about having to be more careful.

Then, in the same week, apparently some of my food was touching the back of the fridge, and this caused the fridge to leak onto the kitchen floor. Bénédicte was furious! Visibly trying to keep her voice down, she beckoned me to the kitchen and pointed to the fridge and to the floor and told me about how I had to pay attention, and how disgusting it was, and how I was creating so much more work for her when she did all of the cleaning, etc., etc.

That has been the low point to date. After she left I cleaned the entire apartment, and have tried to be on my best behaviour ever since.

I even thought it might be possible for us to have some sort of relationship, so that these things wouldn’t be such a big deal (because, let’s face it, I can be extremely absentminded, and it can be charming once you like me). Patrice, a guy I’ve been having Conversation Exchanges with for the last three weeks, suggested cooking her dinner once a week, so we could talk.

I went home happy, thinking about what a good idea it was and feeling optimistic about Bénédicte’s and my relationship. I set my things down in my room and turned on my laptop.

Bénédicte knocked and poked her head in. “I came into your room earlier and cleared this shelf for you, so you can use it for your things,” she said.

What? I raised my brows; she came into my room when I wasn’t home?

“And,” she continued, “I saw that you had a stain* on your desk and cleaned it for you. If you aren’t going to clean, you need to be careful, because that can damage the wood.”

“Okay,” I said and she left.

I felt violated. She went into my room when I wasn’t home. I only had one room in the apartment, and part of what I felt I was paying for was privacy.

No – I didn’t think a real relationship would be a possibility after all.

So, for the past three weeks we’ve been coasting along on a fairly neutral standing, and I was just waiting for the opportunity to tell her about the chair.

Then yesterday, she came home and knocked on my door, handing me my key.

I’d left it in the keyhole outside.

Okay . . . maybe I’d wait a couple more days before I told her about the chair.

But that was nothing, compared to what I did today. I can’t believe how stupid I was! Even for me, this was beyond . . . I don’t even know what it was beyond. I have no words.

I came home after work and my room smelt strange. I couldn’t figure out what it was – I smelt the curtains, the carpet, my clothes, but didn’t know where it was coming from. I sprayed around some air-freshener and opened my windows for 15 minutes, and promptly forgot about it.

Until I unfolded my bed for the evening.

My bed folds into a rectangular hole in the wall. At the top of this hole are two down lights that I usually turn on when I’m tucking myself in for the evening.

I didn’t turn them off before I left for work this morning.

The lights had been on all day, with the foot of my bed pressed against them.

And there are now two black holes in the foot of my bed.

The top blanket has been burned through, as has the top layer of my doona cover. The doona has two brown holes gouged out of it and the other side of the cover has two black circles. The fitted sheet and mattress protector underneath that have brown circles, and even the mattress has a mark.

Hole in my bedding - think she'll notice?

The smell was my bed burning.

I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t start a fire, but at the moment I’m panicking about what to do. Should I tell her now and risk being kicked out? Should I wait until I move out and risk losing my deposit (which I really need for my travel budget)? Should I buy new bedding and try to dispose of the old stuff discretely?

Please help!!!

And I still have to tell her about the chair.


*It was a glass ring. And I am a clean person, it had just been a busy week and I’d been out all Saturday, and hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

Recon work

Having been lazy for a few months, a couple of weeks ago I decided to start replying to unread Conversation Exchange emails in my inbox. Last week, I met up with Patrice for a coffee near Opera after his Japanese class.

Yesterday we met at the same time, and he brought along Bernice*, another Australian teaching English in Paris.

As my only teaching job has been with BTL, I’m always curious about the conditions at other schools, so I took this opportunity to interrogate her.

Bernice works for Berlitz, where they don’t have a regular timetable with the same students every week, but only teach students for one class each course (so the students get 10 or 20 teachers over their courses). They don’t get paid for preparation time, but are expected to follow the course books, so don’t need preparation time. The teachers are expected to work for 35 units a week (I think she said a unit was 45 minutes, with 40 minutes of teaching and a five minute break).

Bernice works Monday to Saturday, and says that although she is supposed to have Mondays and Wednesdays off, the school usually books classes for her then.

So far, BTL sounds better to me. I like that I get to see the same students each week. Admittedly, a couple of them have been a little trying, but I generally enjoy building a relationship, and find that the better I know a student, the better I become as a teacher because I can plan more interesting lessons.

I also like having the freedom to plan lessons. Yes, course books are a godsend and I would really struggle to organise everything without them, but it’s nice to be able to take a break. As I told Bernice about how I use the Ethicist and BreakingNewsEnglish podcasts, OneStopEnglish news lessons (a few weeks ago I had great fun with the story about the Belgian skydiver who murdered her love rival), Mad Men extracts and Almost French extracts in my lessons, I rediscovered my enthusiasm for my job. I think it would be extremely different if I was constantly chained to the books.

However, the main advantage of working at BTL was the salary.

At BTL I earn €16.50 an hour. At Berlitz, Bernice earns €9.00 an hour. At 35 units of 45 minutes a week, that works out to €236.25 a week. That’s what I’d earn in 14.5 hours, and although I’ve had some slow weeks, I haven’t consistently worked that little since summer.

I think I might have to enlighten the other teachers at BTL – there has been lots of grumblings about uprising in the teachers’ room lately.

*Bernice’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity – and her job.

Time to go

On December 15th it will have been six months since I arrived in Paris.

And I feel ready to leave.

On November 17th my best friend in Australia emailed me to tell me she was getting married next May – I’m so happy for her, I think she and the guy are a great match and it’s nice to see her being taken care of after a few messy years. There was never any question about me going back for the wedding.

However, this has put a definite limit on my time in Europe. Some of the post-Paris plans I’d been tossing around included staying in Paris on a student’s visa and studying, or staying in Europe and teaching in Turkey and Italy for a few months each, and travelling in between.

Now that I’m definitely going back to Australia, I’m not sure I’ll have the finances for another return flight to Europe. This means that, if I want to travel while I’m here, I’ll have to stop teaching early.

The second reason for my decision is that I’m not sure how much more I can learn from teaching. Yes, I still enjoy it, but nearly all of my original students have finished, and I haven’t built the same rapport with many of the new ones. I’m also finding that I have fewer stories to tell – most of the things that happen are things that have happened before.

The third reason is related to my mantra. If I truly want to treat myself with love and respect, then I shouldn’t stay in a job that is no longer fulfilling because I think I should – if I was planning to do more teaching after Paris then I would have liked to have had a year’s experience under my belt, but now that I know I’ll be returning to Oz, I think I’ll get more enjoyment from travelling than teaching.

I also think that I deserve to have a career that I’m passionate about, and would rather focus on working on that when I get back home, and hopefully travel to gain more experience towards my career, rather than teach so I can travel (as a side note, one of the reasons I did the TEFL course was so I could travel, but it’s quite difficult to do when I live in Paris – the cost of living here eats up a lot of my salary, and I can be very frugal, and I also don’t have a lot of time to get away).

I’m quite happy with my decision – I’ve put quite a bit of thought into this, and it’s not a decision I made out of desperation in one of my mopey moments.

The only drawback is that it seems rather anti-climactic. I haven’t really had the big adventure for which I was looking. My French hasn’t improved that much (though BTL started giving us French lessons last week, so hopefully that will change). I also thought I’d be sucked into an incredibly French life here – chatting in French over hot chocolate or kir in cafés every afternoon, eating croissants for breakfast, going to sophisticated cocktail parties with my French friends – but although I have a couple of French friends and still do Conversation Exchanges every now and then, I still lead a largely Anglophone life. And I haven’t had an exhilarating romance with a fabulously wealthy and handsome Frenchman :p

That being said, I don’t regret anything I’ve done here – if anything I probably needed some quiet time to get back in touch with myself.

So at the end of the month I’m going to hand in my resignation and at the end of February (I need to give two-months’ notice) I’m going to head to Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Naples, Rome, Marseilles, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, and who knows where else!

Partie de Campagne

On a Thursday I work from 10:00 to 4:00, and I have a 1.5 hour break from 11:30 to 1:00. A few weeks ago, I remembered that my friend David (who I met through a Conversation Exchange – we had coffee and hot chocolate at Café des Deux Moulins, the café where Amélie works) actually works in the same building where I have my morning class.

Since then, we’ve been having lunch on a Thursday.

The week before last we went to a French restaurant in Bercy Village called Partie de Campagne. It was lovely and rustic – the walls and floors were all exposed wood, along with the tables and chairs, which were not covered by tablecloths. The walls were decorated with rooster motifs, and general bits and pieces that you would find around a farm, like brass buckets, wrought iron coat hooks and even a wheel (if I remember correctly).

Bercy Village

The seating was a little bit crowded, but with the warm light and the smell of food wafting in from the kitchen, it felt more cosy than uncomfortable.

We both ordered the dish of the day – Canard de Maghreb, for €9.50. The service was very fast, polite and unintrusive, and the food looked beautiful when it was laid in front of us – two slices of duck under a ladleful of gravy, with a small lettuce salad, potatoes and some sort of ham concoction on toothpicks on the side. The duck was okay, but when compared to the richness of the gravy (which we both mopped up with the sliced brown bread from the bread basked), it seemed a little bland. The salad was simple, served with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and the potatoes were lovely – a stack of sliced potatoes with cheese and chives, they were a cross between baked potatoes and potato gratin.

But what won me over was the ham things – we each had two toothpicks, each one threading through two pieces of ham which rolled around something. I sliced open one of them, and could see some sort of black jam. The combination was incredible – the saltiness of the ham contrasting with the sweetness of the (prune?) jam made my tastebuds sing.

As I have a friend visiting me in Paris at the moment, I decided that we could also meet for lunch during my break on Thursday, and we would go to the same restaurant.

This time I was left in awe of the service. Bercy is not a tourist area, so I was assuming that I would have to do all of the talking, as my friend speaks no French. As soon as the staff realised this, they assigned waiters to us who spoke some English who were very attentive, explaining dishes, offering suggestions and making jokes.

Unfortunately the duck dish with the ham concoction wasn’t on offer, so this time I went with the Formule Gourmand (the suggestion of the day – today a prawn and calamari dish, with a Café Gourmand – coffee with a trilogy of mini-desserts). My friend chose the Boeuf Tartare, and looked a little bit shocked when it arrived French-style – a cylinder of beef mince topped with a raw egg.

My dish wasn’t bad – the prawns were amazing, seasoned so well that I didn’t need to use any sauce, crispy with a salt-and-pepper crust. The calamari was a little chewy, and the plain rice was rather bland. Unfortunately the sauce they gave me seemed to be a tomato sauce, thinned out with tomato juice, Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce, which really didn’t compliment the dish or make the rice more enjoyable.

My friend was very impressed, though, saying that he couldn’t believe that raw mince topped with a raw egg was one of the nicest things he had ever eaten. It was served with chunky potato wedges seasoned with chicken salt, and salad.

Then came dessert – a large plate dusted with icing sugar arrived, carrying a short black and three small deserts in matching white pots – chocolate mousse, crème caramel and slices of banana in a thick chocolate sauce. Not being a coffee drinker, I gave the coffee to my friend and set about attacking the desserts. The chocolate and banana concoction was heavenly, though anything chocolate and gooey is sure to win me over. I ended up eating some of the chocolate sauce with the chocolate mousse. Although the chocolate mousse was good, the other desserts were so rich that I was using it more as a palate cleanser than anything else.

And the crème caramel . . . excuse me while I drool. It was ridiculously sweet. The custard was lovely and firm and moist, but I could barely taste that over the generous amount of caramel sauce that had been ladled over it. Every time I dug in my spoon, more caramel would seep into the crevice I had created, and I felt my smile grow bigger and bigger with every bite.

All in all, I was very sorry to have to rush to class. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough change to leave a decent tip, so I’ll have to remedy that the next time I go there.

Although some moments at Partie de Campagne weren’t outstanding, the atmosphere, service and food highlights are enough to warrant a return visit. And how much was our meal? Two mains, one drink and one dessert for €32.50.

Qui est le mystérieux auteur de ces souhaits d’anniversaire?!

The week after my birthday, I received this text:

Happy Birthday Mademoiselle J! (sorry for the delay – just read your post)

Unfortunately I didn’t have this person’s number in my address book, so I wasn’t sure who he/she was. I thought about it that evening – who has my number and knows about the blog? And whose number wouldn’t I have saved? Perhaps someone who had shown me a room when I had the blog address in my email signature? Or someone from a conversation exchange who I forgot to add to my address book? I searched for the number in my email, but nothing showed up.

I had no idea – I could think of a couple of likely culprits, but their names were already in my phone.

So I replied with this the next day:

Thank you . . . I’m sorry but I don’t have your number saved in my phone. Who is this?

Yesterday I received this reply:

Re: Thank you . . . who is this?

Hi Mam’zelle J de Neuilly . . . Make an educated guess, as George Clooney would say in his ad for Nespresso! (I am not George though!!!) What about a new post for your blog: “who is this?” or, en francais “Qui est le mystérieux auteur de ces souhaits d’anniversaire?!”

I can’t wait reading such post! Who would you like it to be?

So, mysterious texter, here is the post.

As far as my educated guess goes – I’m pretty sure that you’re French because there were some slips in your English, and you also managed to do an acute accent over the first ‘e’ in mystérieux (I have no idea how people do this in texts – I probably need a French phone to do it), though you did forget the cedilla on the ‘c’ in français . . .

I also think you’re probably a man, because you wrote ‘le mystérieux’ instead of ‘la mystérieuse’.

As you see – I haven’t gotten far. I’m starting to think that it’s someone whose number I have, who is just using a second number to mess with my mind. Does anyone else out there have any ideas?

As for who I’d like it to be – George Clooney would have been nice :p


I later received this text:

As-tu trouvé?! [Mr Frog], Conversation Exchange @ Café Livres! Take care

Mr Frog (apologies to Petite Anglaise for stealing the name, but as he used it in his comment, I’m not sure I should reveal his true identity) and I did a Conversation Exchange back in early August. We met at a café between Chatelet and Hotel de Ville called Café Livres, where all of the walls are lined with bookshelves that people can borrow while they drink their coffees.

His English was excellent – by far the best of any of the people I’ve met through Conversation Exchanges so far – and he was a very entertaining conversationalist. I even found it quite easy to speak with him in French, which was a boost to my self-esteem as it happened days after my Mon français est un escargot moment.

Following the text confirming his identity (why didn’t I guess? I thought I already had his number! In hindsight it seems so obvious – no one else would have made the George Clooney job) we met up last night. As we sat in a small garden in the Marais, he told me that he had gotten me a birthday present, but that I needed to guess what it was based on our conversations so far, and what he knew about me from my blog.

I’m terrible at games like these – when I think about an easy present that someone would know that I’d love, it’s generally food, but I hadn’t written about this in my blog – and was shooting in the dark. Vegemite? An Eiffel tower keyring? A chocolate eclair? No.

Seeing my inability, he gave me another clue, “it starts with the letter L or B, and it’s the same in English and French.”

Now I was stumped – something about my life, in my blog, that started with L or B . . . “books, or livres?” I asked.

No. They were decent guesses, but not the right one. “Lingerie?” I asked.

He laughed and said no, and that I would have had to have been with him. It also would have sent a rather unusual message from a married man . . . but this is France!

In the end it was some English breakfast tea – the ‘L’ word was London or Londres and the ‘B’ word was Big Ben, the company that makes the tea. A perfect gift, considering the falling temperatures in Europe.

So merci Mr Frog! Now hopefully my parents will send me some Tim Tams that I can dunk into this tea . . .

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.


I am so cold.

I went outside today in long socks, jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a cotton turtleneck, a woolen jumper, a knee-length jacket, gloves, a scarf and a hat. I was freezing.

Earlier this evening, my friend Nathalie and I visited the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées, where there happened to be four outdoor heaters spread along the street (not evenly, unfortunately). Every time we reached a heater we rushed to it, like moths to the flame, and stayed for a good 15 minutes until our hands and faces were warm again. Each time we reluctantly dragged ourselves away, knowing that if we didn’t we’d never leave.

I can’t believe it’s only November. Tomorrow the mercury is expected to drop to -6. I don’t know what I’m going to do in January and February. I already feel like the Michelin man in all of my clothes, and I already have four blankets on my bed.

That being said, there is one good thing about the cold weather . . .


On Friday it snowed – beautiful, fluffy flakes that floated in the air like feathers. I gasped as I left the metro at Grands Boulevards and laughed to myself as I walked to my class in the 2nd arrondissement, ignoring strange looks from blasé Parisiens.

After class, some of the other teachers and I went to Belleville for Vietnamese, and the snow started again. I ran down Rue de Belleville with my arms outstretched, catching large flakes in my hands and trying to catch some of them in my mouth (this is surprisingly difficult).

Don’t laugh. I’m Australian. For me, snow is awesome and unusual.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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!