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Rent scams

Moving day today! In honour of moving into my fourth and (hopefully) final room in Paris, here’s a post on rent scams:

When I was looking for accommodation in London at the end of 2007, I tried to organise a room before I left. A room off Piccadilly Circus was advertised at £46 a week – never having been to London before, I didn’t realise that this was too good to be true.

The person I was emailing had me fill out a tenancy application form and asked me to send the deposit and first month’s rent to her via Western Union. Having only lived at home, I didn’t realise that I needed to pay both the rent and a deposit and only paid the rent. She got quite aggressive when I hadn’t paid the rest and asked me to send the second payment to Nigeria. Now the alarm bells started flashing – I went back through the emails and something about the tone seemed a bit fishy, she had two different surnames and an Australian email address, none of the rental documentation she had sent through was actually official, and she refused to wait until I arrived in London to accept the second payment, claiming that she would be charged a £5000 fine if she didn’t have the deposit. I called the British Consulate in Australia and the Camden Council in London (I was a little worried that I’d be causing her grief if she was legit), who said they hadn’t heard about any fines like this. I told her this and made up a story about not coming to London after all, but she refused to refund the money I’d already paid and said her god would curse my family (all in uppercase. I don’t know if I’m being sensitive, but uppercase emails rub me the wrong way).

When I got to London, the street where the property was supposedly located wasn’t even residential.

Now I was quite lucky. True, I lost a little money, but I could have lost much more. And at least I figured it out before I left and had a bed at a hostel waiting when I arrived – I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people who show up at what they think is their new address with their suitcases in tow, only to discover that it isn’t there.

When I was looking for somewhere to live in Paris, I came across a number of ads like this, mostly in the Craigslist classifieds (that being said, there are also a number of good ads on Craigslist, so I’d still recommend it).

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Someone asking you to fill out a rental application based on photos they’ve sent you
  • Someone asking you to pay money before showing you the room
  • Someone saying they can’t show you the room because they’re away (ask whether they’ll be back before your moving date. Generally you don’t pay until the day you move in)
  • Lots of detail – many of the ads have realistic prices, but watch out for the replies they send to your inquiries. I generally have a sentence or two about my age, where I’m from, how long I need a room for and the work I’m doing, and ask when I can have a look at the room. The responses in these scams often contain several paragraphs of a life story that may include a sick relative, some sentences begging you to take good care of their home or only being interested in serious people, and a mention of sending you a rental application if you’re interested (which you should not be filling out until you have seen the room in person)
  • If in Paris, anyone advertising or emailing you about 22 Braque – I had three separate people use this address

The main thing to remember is not to pay any money by any means until you have physically seen the room – yes, some people may have unusual circumstances, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Attached are some of the emails I’ve received (including the original London ones) in case you want to get a feel for them.

Jessica Waller – Original London Scam

George Phillips – Paris

Various initial emails

Rooms – aaarrgh!!!

Yes, that was a cry of exasperation.

Picture me making it while pulling my hair out.

So the room in exchange for babysitting has been given to someone else – I’m not sure whether this is because the parents found someone they preferred, or just because BTL took a couple of days to get back to me about organising my hours. Luckily, I know I can take Bénédicte’s room, the only problem is that I don’t have a confirmed move-in date. And I’ve only been told that I can keep my current (temporary) room for up to three weeks, which could mean that I’m looking for another halfway house in a few weeks’ time.

I just want to be able to relax, and I can’t do that until I know where I’ll be living. Being constantly tense is resulting in rather drastic mood-swings, and they’re starting to exhaust me. The smallest things set them off – I’m out in Paris on a warm evening, a gentleman tells me I’m charmant, or I have a great class, and I fall in love with the city all over again and could easily see myself staying here for the whole year, and even start thinking about enrolling in a Master’s Degree here so I can get another visa after my current one expires.

And then I get tired, or hungry, or I find out that I can’t have a room I really liked, and I don’t know how I’ll get through the next week and start thinking about resigning and changing the date of my return flight to Australia.

Currently the main culprits are the rooms I see, because, when I see a good room, I start imagining my life there. When I saw Camille’s room I easily imagined my life in Paris where I went to the bakery on the corner and put my books into the shelves in the old fireplace; when I saw Cory’s room I imagined what it would be like to be an au pair as well as a teacher, and thought about being a part of a family; and when I saw Bénédicte’s room I could see myself folding my bed away every morning and writing at the desk underneath a poster of Venice before bed. Every room is a possibility of a new life, and every time I lose one, that possibility disappears.

Even last night, when I made my second trip across Paris with my luggage, my mood changed several times. Every time I move I take two trips – one with my small wheelie suitcase and my large handbags filled with books, and one with my big backpack. Last night I took the big backpack. What I didn’t take into account was that I’d be moving it after work – so I would be wearing heels and a suit as I dragged a backpack that weighs half as much as I do from the 18th to the 13th. I realised that I would look utterly ridiculous when I arrived at my former flat to collect the backpack. What I didn’t realise was how much more tiring it would be – after standing and talking to the former flat-mates for an hour my feet were already starting to ache. Then, as I heaved the backpack onto my back and navigated my way down the cobblestone road to the metro in my heels, I started to feel it through my legs and ankles.

Luckily the metro wasn’t crowded, and I managed to sit on a couple of strapontins (fold up seats in the metro) – one for my backpack and one for me. I only realised how heavy the bag was when I tried to stand up again, and fell back down to the seats. I was not happy. If I was a cartoon there would have been dark storm clouds around my head as thought about how sick I was of moving (this is the third time in three months). As I was changing to Line 7 at Gare de l’Est, I couldn’t help but think that I couldn’t do this again, that I didn’t have the strength. Then, the metro driver happened to see me as I was approaching the stairs that descended to the platform.

He waved. I waved back. He then beckoned, asking if I was catching that train. I shook my head and waved my hand dismissively –yes, I was catching a train in that direction, but he was ready to leave the platform and there was no way I could run down the stairs wearing my bag and heels. But he waited for me anyway. And I found my mood brightening as I thought that Paris is a pretty good place to be after all.

I think I need to get away for a few days. At the moment I’m so invested in every little thing that anytime anything happens (or doesn’t) it feels like it can make or break this experience, and I’m not sure I can get any perspective while I stay in Paris. So, next weekend I’m going to Oxford – hopefully my mental state doesn’t deteriorate any more before then. :p

Update: Bénédicte’s room has been confirmed and I’m moving in on Tuesday September 21st – relief!

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!

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.

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


Finding a room – take 2

Given that I was only in my first room for 17 days (I’m moving out today), there was a second search for rooms.

This time I looked on Appartager, the bulletin board of the American Church of Paris (this is updated daily and features English as well as French ads) and Kjiji (this is the French equivalent of GumTree – although most of the ads are in French, there are a lot of them).

There were also a number of ads that were clearly scams, but I’ll save them for another post.

Room 1 – 25/06/10, 5th arrondissement, €500 a month, source: Kijiji

As I climb out of the metro I see a market. My heart leaps – in the 5th arrondissement this room is a stone’s throw away from the Notre Dame, the beautiful Latin Quarter, le Jardin des Plantes and the Luxembourg Gardens. And it’s near a market too!

This room was advertised in both French and English – I’d replied to the ad in English, but we’d organised the viewing in French over the phone. I get to the door and Marco – a tall, slim Frenchman in his early 30s with short, sandy hair and glasses – greets me and takes me up to the first floor. He’s very talkative and friendly, but it’s all in French. For the first time I realise what an effort everyday life will be here, and how much of an effort my

Notre Dame from the Seine

non-anglophone housemates in London must have made. I’d expected that my life in the outside world would be a bit trying at first, but I was hoping to be able to relax when I got home at the end of the day. Not likely if I want to improve my French.

As we talk I realise how much I remember – my sentence structure is still okay, though Marco frequently corrects grammatical slip-ups that I never used to make. Although the language is starting to come back, I’m translating in my head whenever I run into trouble, which means I’ve lost the rhythm that I used to have and find myself speaking in a halting manner, punctuated by winces and apologies for my bad French.

As for the apartment – we talk in the living area, which has been set up with Marco’s double bed, a desk next to the window and two upright pianos on opposite walls. A red curtain can be drawn to separate Marco’s area from the tiny kitchenette, which consists of a table against the wall, a sink, a stove and some cupboards above the sink/stove area. The bedroom is small with a single mattress on the floor and an old-fashioned English desk under the window (one of the ones where the table surface folds up and can be locked closed). Access to the bathroom (and the fridge, which is in the bathroom because it doesn’t fit in the kitchen) is through this room.

All of this for the bargain price of €500! Or so I thought – on top of the rent are taxes, utilities and the internet, so it’s likely to be at least €650, which is €150 over my budget. The price, combined with the fact that anyone wanting to use the bathroom would have to come through my room, helps me decide not to take the room – thought its location had me sorely tempted.

Room 2 – 26/06/10, 20th arrondissement, €550 a month, source: Kijiji

At €550 a month, this is slightly more than I want to pay, but the picture online showed a double bed and it’s in the Paris centre, so I take a chance. When I arrive Kim, the landlady takes me up to the apartment. She opens the door, and I’m immediately drawn in by the abundantly stocked bookshelves that fill the wall opposite the door.

To the left is the living area, with a large couch and an office area decked out in stylish red and black furniture. The room is a decent size with a double bed and a balcony that is shared with the girl who rents the other room (there’s not much of a view, but hey, it’s a balcony!).

I’m already picturing living here – Kim and I switch back and forth between English and French, so there shouldn’t be any communication difficulties, the price is a flat €550 (no bills on top), and although the main thing the area has going for it is one of Paris’s main cemeteries, the apartment is only two minutes from the metro, which makes me a 10-20 minute trip from the rest of the city.

I ask when the room’s available. Not until August.

Hmmm – I need a room on July 9th. If I take this, then I have to find another place for three weeks. I tell her I’ll think about it.

Room 3 – 27/06/10, Neuilly sur Seine, €450 a month, source: American Church of Paris bulletin board

La Defense - view from metro Pont de Neuilly

This room is available immediately, and it’s only when I get the metro there that I realise it’s right between Paris and La Defense. If I end up teaching in businesses near La Defense, this will be really convenient.

When I leave the metro at Pont de Neuilly I walk down Boulevard du Chateau, and I start to get excited. Turning off a highway, the Boulevard is one of many with rows of large, leafy trees which shade the streets with their thick canopies. Although they don’t help with the humidity, it’s a relief to be out of the sun. The buildings in this area are lovely – ornate and clean with flowers in their window boxes. On the walk from the station I pass a small shopping area surrounding a round-a-bout adorned with pink, purple and white flowers, and there’s a beautiful boulangerie/patisserie that is selling gelato in the heat. I turn down the street towards the room, and there is a primary school on the corner. At the end of the school day, parents are collecting their children, and the kids who are still waiting are running around and playing ball sports.

I reach the building and call Quiterie, the girl who is showing me around. The room is on the seventh floor, and I follow her into the tiny elevator – I feel like I should know her better before we get this intimate. On the seventh floor I breathe a sigh of relief to get out of the confined space, and wipe the sweat from my forehead (it was 30 degrees and about 90% humidity that day).

She takes me to the room. Having seen pictures online, I know what to expect – there’s a single bed against one wall and a desk under the window. She points out the book cases and the plastic boxes under the bed as storage space, and then reaches for the wardrobe door. I expect her to talk about the storage. I was not expecting the wardrobe to be fitted out with a bar fridge, a microwave and an electric stove on one side, and a sink, mirror and pots and pans on the other. I’m immediately turned off – it’s already roasting in here, I wouldn’t want to cook in here in the summer, and I also wouldn’t want everything to smell like food. Also – where would I put my clothes? I spent so much time trying to pack them at the airport that I’m not sending any back now!

She then shows me the bathroom. Oh, wait a minute – there’s no bathroom. It’s a shower in the wall. The toilet is also in a tiny space behind a door. And this shower and toilet are shared with two other people.

Apparently this is quite common in Paris – back in the days of nobility when people could actually afford entire buildings like this, the maids used to live in these rooms on the top floor. Now, if someone owns a floor or two, they rent these out to students and young expats. I decide not to join their ranks.

I get home and email Kim about Room 2, saying that I’m interested but will have to find another room for July 9-31, and ask whether I can email her in a couple of days.

Room 4 – 29/06/10, 1st arrondissement, €500 a month, source: American Church of Paris bulletin board

The Louvre

Although I’ve pretty much decided on Room 2, I’d already planned to look at this one. The location immediately has me suspicious – it’s only a two minute walk from the Louvre, right in the centre of Paris, and only €500 a month. However, the ad said it was ‘bright and sunny’, and the ad was written in English, so I take a look anyway.

The woman who was advertising the room was away on holidays, so she has her son show me the room. He’s probably in his late 20s, and says that his mother stays in this apartment when she’s in Paris, but is often away and wants to rent out the spare room.

In Paris, a lot of the older buildings have large, heavy doorways at their entrances that lead into private courtyards. This was one of them – when I walk in, I start to get excited. We take the elevator to the top floor (the fifth, in this case) and go inside.

I try to like it. I really do. Although the room is a decent size, the paint on the walls is peeling. The kitchen and bathroom desperately need renovating and there are clothes horses with jackets hanging off them and other clutter littering the formerly spacious rooms. The kitchen is also interesting – although large, for Paris, it has a single bed at one end under the TV (“in case you like to lie down while you eat,” the son tells me) and there is a bird cage with some birds on the other. I have some issues with birds. Nothing too severe, but I do prefer to keep my distance, and I’m not sure the pecking and fluttering sounds against the wall of my bedroom would be conducive to sleep.

I get home and email Kim about Room 2, asking whether it’s still available.

Rooms 5, 6 & 7 – €400 a month, source: Kijiji

I’ve grouped these rooms because these were all rooms that were available over the summer, where I could stay until Room 2 was ready in August.

Room 5 – 29/06/10, 18th arrondissement, available for both July and August

The area looked a little dodgy, but the house reminded me of where I spent most of my time in London – the housemates like to hang out together, sometimes eating and going out together, and have a relaxed attitude to household responsibilities. There were three people living there and they had two guests over, and they invited me to hang out with them for a while. I couldn’t say a lot in French, but they spoke to me in a mix of French and English and I could follow most of the conversation. The place was okay – a bit of a mess, but very large for Paris. The housemates seemed nice and the rooms had double beds, and I only needed it for three weeks. They told me that they’d prefer to find someone who could stay for the whole two months, and I said I’d confirm the next day after I’d heard from Kim in Room 2.

Room 6 – 3/06/10, 14th arrondissement, available for July

There were only two people living here, and the one who was going to be staying over July didn’t seem to speak any English. The rooms were large, but lacked personality, and it was quite difficult to talk to the girl who was showing me around. However, they were okay with me just taking it for three weeks.

Room 7 – 3/06/10, Malakoff, available for July

I’d decided against this room before I got there – the walk from the station was just too long, and I couldn’t do that twice in three weeks in summer with a big backpack and a wheelie suitcase. It was similar to room 6 – the rooms were so large that they had no personality. The room was interesting – a double bed which was basically the top level of a bunk, with floor space underneath. Unfortunately I’d have to go through the other bedroom to get to the bathroom.

I got home and Kim had emailed me back about Room 2, saying that she’d already let it to someone else, and that she was surprised to hear from me as I didn’t seem that interested (I guess I should have sent an email after she didn’t reply to the first one where I asked if I could let her know in a couple of days).

So I emailed Room 5, and agreed to take it for July and August. I’m a little nervous about living with a couple of very sociable French people, but it will be good for my French – I’m not going to get fluent using English at work!

Finding a room

The Seine and the Eiffel Tower

After arriving in Paris, my first priority is to find somewhere to live. I have a friend from London visiting on my first week; however, I try not to let him slow me down too much.

Using Fusac, Appartager and ClickFlatShare, I have four rooms to look at. Considering I only looked at four or five each time I went in search of rooms in London, I figure this should be plenty.

A quick note on the websites – Fusac is a magazine that has English and French classifieds for rooms, jobs, etc. in Paris. The appeal of this is that I might get a landlord who speaks English, which will mean we’ll both know what I’m signing.

Appartager is a site I came across when I was searching for rooms. It has a large range; however you either need to pay for a premium membership to contact all of the members, or you can only contact other members with premium memberships. There are virtually no ads in English. I tried emailing in French before I came over here but, after trying to speak to someone in French on a payphone, I gave up and started spamming people in English to see who would reply in my language.

ClickFlatShare – this is another one I came across when Googling. It doesn’t have many ads, but they are in English.

Room 1 – 17/06/10, Boulogne-Billancourt, €410 a month, source: Fusac

As the landlady is in Russia, she gives me the current tenant’s details and I have her show me around. The tenant is Manuela, a lovely Bulgarian girl who has been in Paris for five years, and who has also studied in the UK and has very good English. The area seems decent, and there is a small but beautiful park right outside the building. The room is 11m2 and has a desk against a window overlooking the park. The only disadvantages are:

a) The bed is a single one. Maybe I’m spoilt, but I’m a grownup now and would like a big bed.
b) We don’t have access to the living room. Because the landlady isn’t in Paris very often, she uses the living room when she is here. That means it is locked the rest of the time, which makes socialising difficult. Socialising with housemates was the main way I made friends in London, so it’s very important to me.

I decide this room is a good backup option, and tell Manuela that I’ll think about it.

Room 2 – 18/06/10, Montrouge, €470 a month, source: Appartager

Again this building seemed to be in a decent area, and again it was a room in a two bedroom flat. Although slightly messy, the flat is beautifully decorated with a brand new white couch/futon, a new TV, a bar/kitchen area, and colourful material draped over the coffee tables. The room is awesome – yellow wallpaper with two red-roses on one of the walls, and a double bed!
The people also seem nice – a girl who mutters that France losing one of its World Cup matches is a ‘catastrophe!’, and a young guy who does most of the translating.

I confirm that the price is €470 (it was advertised at €430 + €40 in charges). No, they tell me. The room is €600 a month, but it’s not going to be available for another three months. They are currently advertising the couch in the living room at €500 a month.

Scratched off the list.

Room 3 – 19/06/10, Marie de Clichy, €450 a month, source: ClickFlatShare

This one I’m a little bit wary of from the beginning, as the girl I’ve been emailing says the current tenants are herself, a German student, and her mother. I don’t really want a mother-figure during my year in Paris, but I decide to give this one a shot because this mother is about the same age as mine, and my mum’s pretty awesome.

As I’m running late, the mother ends up showing me around the flat. Within the first few seconds I realise that the communal areas aren’t actually communal – they are mother’s domain. She isn’t unwelcoming (quite the opposite), but most of the share houses I’ve seen either have a neutral decor in the shared areas, or the shared areas are a mess of pieces from everyone’s cultures. In this flat, the kitchen, bathroom and living area of this flat are filled with Vietnamese calendars, family photos and plastic flowers. Mother’s domain.

As for the room, it’s slightly smaller than the first one I saw, but otherwise similar.

I tell mother that I’ll email her daughter and expect to leave, but mother has more she wants to show me. She takes me to the bathroom cabinets and points out which shelf will be mine if I choose to live here. The takes me to the fridge and shows me my future shelf. She shows me which keys go into which locks, and also takes me down to the basement to show me where the rubbish goes.

We finally get to the foyer and I think I’ve made my escape, but she tells me that I don’t need to walk to the station. Apparently there’s a free bus, and she insists on walking me to the bus-stop. At the bus-stop she tells me about all of the buses that stop here and goes through each of their timetables with me. When she’s done there’s still a seven minute wait for the bus, and I think she’ll leave me to wait. Of course not – she waits with me.

After nine minutes the bus still hasn’t come and I tell her that I’ll just walk. She insists that I wait another couple of minutes, because the bus is more crowded on a weekend and often runs late. After another couple of minutes, I volunteer to walk again, thinking this might be my escape.

She walks with me. How on Earth do I get rid of this woman?! This is beyond hospitable. She walks with me until I reach the final turn before the station, and we say our final goodbyes.

I don’t take this room.

Room 4 – 19/06/10, 11th arrondissement, €350 a month, source: Appartager

Of the four rooms, this is the only one in the centre of Paris, near the metro stop Nation. As soon as I come out of the metro, I’m delighted. I’m at a large round-a-bout with a small park and statues in the centre, surrounded by a boulangerie, supermarket, pub, patisserie and more. As I walk down the main road towards the house, I pass more bakeries, a fromagerie and numerous other specialty shops.

This house is about five minutes from the station, down a beautiful, cobblestoned little laneway and next to a Japanese museum. Inside, the main living area is warmly lit – there is a large kitchen area and hardwood floors, and a number of desks with large Apple monitors are set up. The owner explains to me that this is used as an office during the day (this is slightly distressing – I don’t have any work yet, so will I be kicked out every day?).

The room is smaller than the others, but given the price, the flat and the location, I only remember this in hindsight. The room also has a door leading directly to the bathroom, which has a huge tub, as well as two basins set in a brown marble bench top in front of a wall-length mirror. This is awesome!

I tell the owner that I need to think about it, and go away to deliberate. I try to establish a catch, but my friend and I can’t think of any, so I resolve to email the owner back once I return to my hotel and laptop.

I email back saying that I loved the place and would like to move in the next day, if that’s possible.

He emails me back within five minutes. ‘No sorry, I’m not interested.’

Damn.

I frantically call up the first room – my ‘backup’ option to see if it’s still available. Mon Dieu – it has been rented out by a girl who will be moving in on July 10th! I panic – this is supposed to be my last night in my hotel room and I have nowhere to sleep tomorrow but she says I can stay there until the 9th.

On my first day in the room I am kicking myself – why didn’t I say yes immediately? It’s a great little place, I love my desk under the window, and it even has a good shopping area. By the next day I settle down. I feel like a giant climbing into the single bed, the lack of a living room means that Manuela and I don’t really hang out, even though she’s lovely, and there’s a really bad internet connection that keeps dropping out. However it’s safe and dry, and I now have two and a half weeks before I need to worry about sleeping on the streets.