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!

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