The first task on our immigrant checklist is to find a new place to hang our hats. Most everything else that we want to do actually requires a physical address. A bank account, cell phone, bus pass, work permit, health care coverage, Doctor, Dentist, etc, etc, etc. all require a mailing address.
Basically, without a somewhere you cannot be a someone. I think that this is because France is very paper based. If you want stuff done, there is probably a letter to write, or a form to mail. If you don’t have a return address, the whole thing falls apart.
We were originally promised a guide to help us find a place here. The only problem is that they are really very expensive. They charge 16% of the yearly rent in order to sign a contract on a new place. Rather than ponying up this hefty fee we tried to make a go of it on our own.
Some co-workers back home gave us a few hints of where we should look. Craigslist isn’t as common here as back home, but there are other places, like the PAP (person to person classifieds), FUSAC (France, USA, Connection), and housing search websites like seloger. The lists are quite good, and our poor mastery of the language didn’t actually block us at all (contrary to the advice the moving company gave us). Most people spoke English, or at least understood poorly spoken French, well enough to book an appointment.
We put in an offer on three places.
The first, was actually very large by Parisian standards. 51 square metres, or 550 square feet. It was a one bedroom with eat-in kitchen that overlooked a green courtyard, had bike storage, and a decent collection of antique furniture. It was super warm, super quiet, and the landlord spoke great English. It had its down sides too: it was a little pricey (1350 euro), and the antique furniture was paired ikea furniture. We actually came very close to signing a lease on this place, the killer for us though was that the landlord was leaving all of their stuff behind. The shelves were full of books, knick knacks from their travels, their wedding china, etc. Also, they expected that we wouldn’t re-arrange their furniture or re-decorate. In the end, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to work, so we took a pass.
The second place we offered on, though never heard back from, was very near to where we are staying now. It was actually about 30 m from the Moulin Rouge, and the biggest strip of strip clubs that I’ve ever seen. Not that this makes it a seedy neighborhood mind, you, this is just how Paris is organized. Businesses of one type tend to stay together, so seeing a block of strip clubs is no more strange than seeing a block of shoe stores, guitar shops, or DJ equipment. We’ve even found a block of nothing but model train stores.
This place was the epitome of ‘cute French apartment.’ It was smaller than I would have liked, 37 m square, but this turned out to actually not be as small as I thought. I think that we could have lived in a space this size comfortably. However, the stopping points here (aside from no call back) were the lack of an oven, and that the entrance to the bathroom was in the bedroom. This didn’t really work for me.
The most recent place we saw this past Saturday. The neighborhood appeared dead when we arrived, but apparently it was because we were in a Jewish district, and things aren’t open on Saturdays. The other surprise we had was when the current tenant greeted us at the door. Nice guy; no pants.
The place was actually an American style apartment. Which means that it was quite spacious, had lots of storage, and a huge beautiful kitchen. I love that kitchen. Sarah loves the huge closet (maybe twice what we had in Van). The apartment had recently been renovated and was actually very nice. The downside here is that it’s in a less than ideal location. It’s far from work, and would take three trains to get to where I wanted to be. Still only 25 minute of commuting, but more of it will be moving, and less of it sitting. Also, the neighborhood is one of the places that people kept looking at and saying “Don’t live here.” The rent here was better, 1150 euro. If it were in any other part of the city, I would have snapped it up with no question. We still have it on the back burner.
Today we will meet with the moving agency for the first time to see what they have. We will have an address by the end of this week as long as I keep my fingers crossed.