Room 1 – 3/07/10, 15th arrondissement, €320 a month, source: Cité Université
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.
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.
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.
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.
Room 4 – 8/08/10, €385 a month, source: www.kijiji.fr
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.