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Banking in Paris

Once my carte bleue (CB – debit card) arrived, I had no complaints about my bank. I no longer had to use Australian money – as soon as my hours increased I could live on euros alone!

Or so I thought.

Last month I tried to use my CB to buy Eurostar tickets online. I filled out the form and entered the code that the website had sent me via sms. Then the website told me my bank had refused the transaction. On a second try, the same thing happened. Resigned, I used my Aussie card.

Then, this month, I tried the Eurostar again. Declined. I tried to buy return tickets from London to Oxford. Declined. I tried to withdraw money from an ATM in Oxford. Declined. I tried to buy a sandwich at St Pancras using my card. Declined.

So I went to the bank two weeks ago to complain. I explained the problem, and the woman looked up my details. “How much were the Eurostar tickets?”

“£173.”

“Oh, you have reached your withdrawal limit,” she explained.

Apparently I could only withdraw €500 in a 30-day period. Don’t these people live in Paris? As of last Tuesday my rent is €450 a month. My monthly Navigo pass is €95.50. That’s my limit exceeded, before I even consider food, let alone fun.

Registering my expression, she admitted, “it is very small. We can increase it.”

She then escorted me upstairs to meet with Christophe, who had originally opened my account for me. I explained the problem to him and he did some magic typing on his computer. “I have changed the configuration of your account – now everything should work.”

He handed me his business card, “if you have any problems at all, please call me.”

I left very happy – dealing with my bank had been so easy! Oh, how things had changed once I was a customer.

Then, three days later, I tried to withdraw money. €200 was declined. €100 was declined. I needed an extra €150 in cash to pay my rent on Tuesday the 21st.

I went home and tried to call Christophe but only got his answering machine. After leaving a message (I really should script them in future – I’m not even sure what I said), I visited the BNP branch near my room in the 13th.

I explained the problem to the woman at the desk.

“And where do you hold your account?” she asked.

“It’s with BNP, but I opened it at another office,” I said.

“You need to go to your agency.”

And here I thought it would be like Australia or the UK, where I could go to any Westpac or Barclays branch and be served. But no – I would have to wait until Monday and go to the branch near BTL’s office.

Having consulted my friends over the weekend, who said I should be able to withdraw money in person from one of the bank tellers, I visited my branch on Monday and asked if I could withdraw €500 (although this was much more than I needed, I figured it would be sensible to have some extra cash for when I next had to pay rent, on October 1st).

“I’m sorry, but we don’t carry cash,” the girl at the desk said.

I frowned, “but I can’t use my carte bleue and I need to pay my rent tomorrow.”

“Do you have a carte bleue?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said again, “but I can’t use it.”

At this point a woman from the next desk came to help. I explained the situation as well as I could while she looked up my details.

“You have a meeting here on Thursday morning,” she said.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “but that’s to change my address. And I need to pay my rent tomorrow – not Thursday.”

“Oh, how much is it?”

“€500,” I said.

“Okay,” she did some magic typing on her computer. “You will be able to withdraw €500 tomorrow.”

And I was! I paid my rent without hassle. On my Thursday meeting I told Christophe that I had been able to withdraw money without any trouble, and asked how much I could now withdraw in a 30-day period.

“€500 a day,” he said.

“Okay, but how much in 30 days?”

“You can withdraw €500 a day every day you like.”

Obviously I wouldn’t be able to do this for long, having only €409 remaining in my account, but it was nice to know that now I could spend my money as I pleased. I could empty it during the months I chose to go away, and be frugal during the other months. I left feeling like I had power over my income again.

Until yesterday, when I tried to withdraw another €200 to cover my October Navigo and the rest of my October rent.

Declined.

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

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!

Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 conversationexchange.com. 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

leave.

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.

I have a bank account!!!

I have a bank account! Some of you may be questioning my excitement – surely three exclamation points in the title is a bit extravagant for something as mundane as a bank account? Not so – after all of the effort it took to open an account, I’m not sure that even three exclamation points can accurately represent my triumph.

Before I left Australia, I Googled ‘opening a bank account in France’. Several sources told me I would just need my carte de sejour or visa, along with my proof of address, so a utilities bill or a rental contract.

Having signed a 17-day rental contract in my second week here, I headed to an LCL branch near my hotel. Upon announcing I would like to open an account, I was asked:

“Do you have an electricity bill?”

“No,” I said, handing the woman at the front desk my rental contract. “But I have this, and I also have my passport and visa.”

Apparently that wasn’t good enough. She told me that I needed a long list of things, the only one of which I understood was ‘electricity bill’. She also said I’d have better luck if I tried a bank closer to my address.

Scratch LCL off the list.

A few days later I went to a HSBC branch near my flat. Within a few minutes I was in an office with a staff member – this was already more promising than LCL.

I was asked where I lived, how long I would be in France, whether I had a HSBC account in Australia (no), whether I had any money (no), and whether I had work yet (at that stage, no). Unfortunately I would not be able to open an account without a work contract.

I waited until I’d signed my teaching contract before trying again. After I signed my contract, my employer recommended BNP Paribas, as it was the bank the school used and they were used to people heading straight over there with their contracts to open accounts.

I headed to the closest BNP branch and was taken to the director’s office (apparently everyone else was away or busy). She asked for my employment contract, then asked for my proof of address. I handed her the rental contract.

She shook her head, “this is only until July 9th.”

“Yes, because another girl is taking the room from July 10th, so I only had this address for three weeks.”

She sighed and said that they couldn’t do anything for me until I found a permanent address. I protested, saying that I couldn’t get paid without a bank account, and she said there was nothing she could do. She could make an exception if I knew someone with a permanent address who would be willing to receive my mail but, having only been in Paris for two weeks, I knew no one.

After complaining about my predicament in the teachers’ lounge at work, I was introduced to Mary-Louise – another teacher; and an Australian who had managed to open a bank account in Paris! She recommended the Banque Populaire (BRED), and said they had been really helpful.

Regarding the address, the other teachers said I would have to get an electricity bill from my landlord with a letter saying that I lived at that address, as well as a copy of his/her National Identity Card or passport. As my current landlord was in Russia, I would have to wait until I found my next room.

Jordane, the girl who pays the bills in my current flat, was very helpful and wrote a note on a photocopied bill saying that I lived there. The next day I went to the BRED with my documents and said that I would like to open an account. They booked an appointment for me later in the week, and I showed them my documents (my passport and visa, the electricity bill, a copy of Jordane’s passport, and my employment contract) to confirm that I had everything I needed. They said everything was fine, and I eagerly awaited my Thursday appointment.

On Thursday I was taken into an office and the woman started filling out my paper work on her computer. Then there was a problem. The number on my visa was the wrong length for her computer form. She called someone, who didn’t appear to be able to help. She explained the problem to me, saying it was impossible for her to complete the online form with this number, and asked if I had a carte de sejour. No, I didn’t, because my 12-month visa has a note on it saying it can be used as a temporary carte de sejour! She said I might have luck at another bank, but I couldn’t open an account here.

Scratch BRED off the list.

On Monday I returned to BNP Paribas with all of my documents. I was taken to see a different person this time, who looked through my documents and took the relevant copies.

“Everything is excellent,” he said, “but I need one more thing.” He handed me a form that read ‘Attestation d’Hebergement’. I needed to get Jordane, whose name was on the electricity bill, to complete the form saying that I lived there (all of the details were covered in the letter she wrote, so I’m not sure what the problem was).

“I have a problem,” I told him, “Jordane is on holidays in South America until the end of August.” (I neglected to tell him that I was renting her room until she came back.)

“Can you fax it to her hotel?”

“I don’t think so – I don’t think she has a hotel. She is working for one month and then travelling.”

Hmm – an impasse. Would I have to try another bank?

“Could your employer write an attestation?” he asked.

I thought for a moment – my employer was used to hiring foreigners, surely this wasn’t the first time this had happened? “I think maybe they will.”

“Okay – they need to write a letter attesting that you work there, and that you live in the 18th arrondissement at Mademoiselle Pineau’s place,” he kindly wrote instructions for me. We made an appointment for Thursday, and I headed back to the office to get a letter written on the official stationery.

I returned to BNP Paribas yesterday. I arrived at 8:50, early for my 9:00 appointment. As the bank didn’t open until 9, I waited inside next to the ATMs.

I could see a couple of women inside through the roller doors but, as the clock ticked closer to 9, they remained closed. At 9:01 I started to get annoyed – why hadn’t the man booked an appointment with me half-an-hour later if the bank usually opened late?

The two women inside kept running back and forth from some sort of control panel next to the side door – apparently there was a problem. I’m not sure what it was, as they neglected to tell their waiting customers (customer service – French style). This continued until 9:15, at which point all of the staff members (who had been waiting outside) were called in. I had my 9:00 appointment at 9:20.

The guy ended up being so flustered that he barely glanced at my Attestation from work – he just saved it for his files and then gave me a million papers to sign. Most f them I understood, but one had someting to do with €750 over a three-month period – don’t ask me what the €750 were for or where they came from. I’m only getting a debit card, so I don’t think it would be a limit. Maybe my overdraft amount? I hope I don’t need to pay it – I haven’t even earned that much yet.

I told him I didn’t understand, so he gave me examples with different euro amounts – 800, 900, etc. – and divided them over three months. I was fine with the maths, I just had no idea what this money was for. In the end he said it wasn’t important and had me sign another bit of paper. I left with a booklet as well as a copy of everything I signed, so I might go through it with a French-English dictionary and see what he meant.

So I now have a bank account! I have officially given my payment details to my employer and (after I follow some instructions in a letter to confirm my address – because the electricity bill, letter from Jordane and letter from my employer weren’t enough) I’ll soon have  a debit card!

For those of you who are looking at coming for France – don’t believe the websites! You can’t get an account with a visa and a rental contract.

At a minimum you need:

  1. A passport
  2. A visa (if you are staying for up to 12-months and your visa can be used as a carte de sejour) or a carte de sejour (if you are staying for longer than 12 months)
  3. An employment contract
  • A utilities bill in your name, or
  • A utilities bill in your landlord’s name, accompanied by a copy of a piece of his/her identity and an ‘Attestation d’hebergement’ – you may get away with a letter, depending on the bank, but it would be a good idea to get the official form from the bank as well as the letter

Other things that could be helpful:

  1. Copies of three months of pay checks
  2. A rental contract (as well as the utilities bill, not instead of the bill)
  3. A reference from your last bank in French

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!

TEFL Interviews – second round

Of my interviews, BTL and ICB were the only contenders. After my Wednesday interview, BTL called me back on the Friday to organise an interview on Monday with a gentleman called Paul, who would be asking me pedagogical questions.

We met at 9am, and he asked me a number of questions, including the following:

  • How would you use a newspaper article in a lesson?
  • Explain the difference between the present perfect and the past simple.
  • What would you do to make a shy student more confident?
  • What games could you play in the classroom?
  • What information would you need to know about your students before the class begins?
  • How would you expose your students to different accents?
  • How much would you use course books in a class?
  • How would you structure your average lesson?

Luckily, Renée had asked me the first three questions in my first interview, so I had ready-made answers for those. As for the others, I had revised some of my TEFL course on the weekend, so I was quite confident by the end of the interview.

Afterwards, Paul went to speak to Renée about me. After a few minutes he returned, saying that she was on the phone to the company director, but that I shouldn’t be waiting for too long, and gave me a course book to look over.

Sometime later, Paul returned and said that the company director wanted to meet me. I panicked inwardly – did Renée tell Paul that she’d asked me the same questions? Was I in trouble for cheating?

When the director was ready, I was escorted to his office. I entered the room meekly – like entering the principal’s office – but he immediately put me at ease. A tall, tanned man with impeccably styled, greying hair, he was the very image of a French businessman from the Riviera. Then he started speaking to me in a Cheltenham accent (English Cheltenham, not Australian Cheltenham). We sat on opposite sides of his desk, and he asked me to tell him about myself – education, work experience, teaching experience, etc. Every time I started a sentence, he would start talking and go off on a tangent for about 5mins, then remind himself that he was learning about me and ask me another question (which would lead to him going off on another tangent). As a result, it was the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had – he was very entertaining and there were a lot of laughs.

Later he said that he really didn’t need to interview me – Paul and Renée already wanted to hire me – but just wanted to meet me to see what type of person I was, and whether students were likely to come back to see me for class week after week (he thought they would). He called Renée in her office to organise a time for me to come back to receive my official offer of employment and, after two hours of interviewing, I had a two hour break before I had to return and shake hands.

To celebrate my triumph (and to give my poor, blistered feet a rest after two days walking in heels) I decided to go out for lunch. After walking for another 45mins in heels (it took that long to find a place that looked decent with spare tables), I sat down in a brassiere. After 10mins I was reminded why I don’t like to eat out alone. The waiter approached me and I asked for the menu.

“For food?” he asked.

“. . . yes.”

Then he took one of the blackboards with the menu from the wall, sat it on the chair opposite me, and started to read it aloud to me in English. The two chic French women on the table next to me looked on. I was mortified!

Luckily I had an ‘official offer’ meeting to brighten my spirits. So, the verbal offer was made on the Monday afternoon, and I signed my contract on the Tuesday morning. The next two mornings I was at the office for induction activities.

Wednesday’s induction was with an awesome American called Dan for three or four hours. He told me about the school, did a grammar refresher course (my grammar’s quite good, but he went through the six main grammar questions that French students ask and gave me succinct answers for them so I already have them on hand), and brainstormed some classroom activities. We then picked up the folders for my first scheduled lessons (next Tuesday) and I did some lesson plans for them, on which he provided feedback. We then went to the teachers’ lounge and bemoaned French bureaucracy and how difficult it can be to get set up (I’m struggling with the bank account, but that can wait for another post).

On Thursday I had Microsoft Outlook training with an English guy called Jeffrey (very cute in his mid-thirties with greying hair – no wedding ring, but I can’t tell if he’s gay or not. He’s very well groomed and very proper, but he might just be English). As I’ve had a number of office jobs, this didn’t take very long, and we then went onto my lesson plans for next week. After briefly looking at what I did yesterday, we returned to the teachers’ lounge and he pulled out useful worksheet after useful worksheet, and showed me useful book after useful book, and gave me useful classroom activity idea after useful classroom activity idea – they were all great, but I’m just not sure how to fit them into my courses with the course book, without overwhelming the students.

The good things about the Outlook training were that I got to see my calendar, which is filling up quickly. On Wednesday I had two hour-and-a-half classes next week. Now I have 16 hours worth of classes (once I’m settled in, it should be around 20-25 hours a week – at €16.5 an hour, this is less than I was earning in London, but I suppose that’s the price I’ll pay for living in Paris) and the first one is on Monday. Wish me luck!