For a couple of months, I’ve been apartment-hunting. My school schedule will not allow me to be an au pair anymore, so no more free housing for me. Before I started looking, I (naively) set my budget at €350/month. After getting acquainted with French rent lingo, allowing me to decipher the ads that are basically written in code, I realized my budget was too low.
“propose une chambre 11m dans F3, SDB, cuisine équipé, €500cc, pas d’APL” = one room of 11m² is available in an apartment consisting of 3 rooms, two of which are a bathroom and a fully-equipped kitchen, costing €500/month including water, gas, electricity, wifi, and habitation tax, without possibility of government aid.
Going to see the apartments has been quite the adventure. I canceled my first visit after the owner told me on the phone that I wasn’t allowed to sign any sort of official lease with her or even get my mail delivered there, because she didn’t want the French government knowing about me.
Another great place turned up in the south of Paris near my new job. It was right down the street from the metro, on one of those lovely blocks with tons of grocery stores, bouchers with roasting chickens on the sidewalk, marchands selling fruits and vegetables, and plenty of bars and restaurants. The apartment had a code and an elevator, and as I pressed the button to go up to the fifth floor, my stomach sank as fast as it rose. This was too nice for €450.
Suddenly it dawned on me that I hadn’t understood from the ad that this was a room chez l’habitant – or, living with the owner. My fears were confirmed when a (perfectly nice) old lady opened the door, letting out a waft of the most disgusting air I’ve ever inhaled indoors. I think I was smelling centuries worth of cigarettes, mixed with old lady smell (sorry old ladies, I love and respect you, but some of you smell bad). Behind her I could see a large table laden with candelabras filled with red candles. It was clean, but knick knacks cluttered every available surface and the tv was loudly blaring pop music. The upstairs room with its beautiful, plant-filled terrace and plenty of storage space, and the fact that the rent included twice-monthly cleaning of my linens and room, weren’t worth it.
I expanded my search to la banlieue – the RER is actually quite practical and the rents are lower. Sometimes it’s faster to get from outside the périphérique to Paris than it is to go from point A to point B within Paris. In Gagny, I visited a house with a front AND back garden. There was a full kitchen and living room, and the tiny €350 room available upstairs had it’s own shower and sink. But, after walking the twenty minutes back to the train station, I saw a man and a woman scream at each other for about ten minutes. The fight ended with the man throwing a rock at the woman. At noon, on a Tuesday. What would it be like on a Saturday night?!
Becoming more and more desperate, I even began searching on Craigslist. This is not advisable in France because they don’t really use it as frequently as we do in the US. But, I looked, just in case there was a hidden gem. And, some would say this was one:
Just in case you can’t read that, it says that for the bargain of €400 you get a whole 7m² (75 sq ft), a Turkish toilet in the hall (stand-up toilet), and no shower. But! There are plenty of gyms and pools in the area to keep you clean!
Sigh…back to my search…