20 Feb 2013

The Indisputable Truths of Renting in Paris

So searching for a room in Paris is a mission to say the least.  Firstly, you'll be paying an arm and a leg for anything considered vaguely 'liveable', and if you want to find something 'affordable', well, you're in the wrong city for that.  If chance has it however that you should find lodgings below 500, you'll probably be living in some 'exotic' suburb of Paris where going home makes you
want to sob uncontrollably in the corner of the metro because the 'box' which awaits you a) doesn't have heating, b) is on the 10th floor without an elevator, c) has dial-up internet which works sporadically, d) has no window, e) has a landlord who showers in your room and f) wouldn't even be suitable lodgings for a blind tarantula.  "Beggars can't be choosers" and all that, but if you're going to be splashing the cash on a tramp's hovel, you may as well splash a little bit more to find yourself a room with a few more prospects.   

My first failed attempt at finding somewhere was back in January. I saw the listing on the noticeboard in church and thought it was a sign from God.  Well, sort of.  I'd spoken to the lady on the phone and she seemed friendly enough so I planned to visit her one Saturday afternoon after completing a 16km run (first problem right there - I felt like throwing up on her doorstep due to lack of sugars in my bloodstream.)  Despite feeling like a zombie, I marched with purpose towards the address I'd written down hurriedly on my Paris map.  Yet as I got closer and closer, I frowned slightly.  The beauty of Paris had faded in this area and I missed the pretty streets and glamorous apartments which dotted St Germain-des-Pres where I was currently living.  Instead, it felt all the more industrial and uninviting.

After squeezing myself into what could only be described as an elevator fit for a small child, I reached the 6th and final floor where a large door had been left ajar.  It began to move and an old lady with a walking stick hobbled into view.  I gasped.  I have nothing against old people per se (we all grow old one day), but I'd heard enough about the horrors of living with an old French woman from my friend Rachel who'd only recently decided it was to time to pack up her things and move out.  I played the whole "polite English girl" card on her which was perhaps a little foolish of me because of course this made me the ideal candidate.  She insisted that she wasn't looking for a carer; just someone to live with as she didn't like living alone.  I cringed slightly at the idea of her slipping in the bath one day and me having to drag her screaming, sopping wet body out of the porcelain crater.  Naturally, the thought filled me with dread.  The room she was letting was admittedly very nice with a double bed, tasteful antique furnishings and an ensuite wash room.  It wouldn't have looked out of place in a quaint boutique hotel and it charmed me in many ways.  The problem?  It was adjacent to her bedroom so late night partying would be problematic.  I also didn't want to live with someone four times older than me, particularly someone who looked at me incredulously when I mentioned I have friends of the 'male' variety.  I said I'd get back to her within the next couple days and left the apartment immediately.  Never to be seen again.

After speaking to a few friends based in France, I decided to join the online website appartager.fr where I paid a 40 fee for 30 days which would allow me to contact anyone on the site who had a room in an apartment or a studio to rent.  There were plenty of listings so I sent email after email, hoping something would land in my lap on a silver platter.  But hardly anyone responded and I realised my emails had probably been lost or deleted amongst the plethora of others sent by equally desperate room-seekers.  However, everything looked up one day when I received a response from someone renting a room in central Paris near Hotel de Ville.  The rent was low, the location marvelous, and I'd be sharing with two lovely French girls.  I received an email from the landlady whose name was Dana Helen and she gave me a nice little introduction and sent me pictures of the place which looked incredible; almost too good to be true.  She required a 1500 deposit to be paid via Western Union which would be returned to me the day I arrived.  Unfortunately, Dana was at this present moment in London, supporting her mother because her father had recently passed away.  I would therefore be unable to see the apartment before moving in but she gave me the email address of a certain Ivy Dana (Dana again?), a friend of hers, who would apparently be able to vouch for the credulity of the apartment.  She even sent me a photocopy of her passport.  Yet something  made me feel uneasy (can you blame me?), so as a caution I entered her email address into Google to see what came up.  And lo and behold, I was warned immediately that it was a scam.  I shook my head in disgust when I saw the same false email I'd received, word for word (except that it was a listing for an apartment in Canada).  After ignoring "Dana Helen" (although I may have expressed a few words or two in a fiery reply), I similarly received about four more emails from other scammers on the site.  One of whom replied with a simple 'ok' when I wrote to him something along the lines of: "I KNOW THIS IS A SCAM....I HOPE THEY FIND YOU AND IMPRISON YOU blah blah blah".  I felt like such a fool and it seemed like the biggest waste of time and money.  By the time I actually found something legitimate, I was still paranoid that I'd be sucked into another money-grabbing con.

But at last I've found a new apartment in an ideal location, whilst paying the arm and leg I'd be warned about.  I know that in Exeter I'd be getting a luxury penthouse (probably with a maid for no extra cost) overlooking campus for this sorta dosh, but I've had to face the facts: Paris is not cheap.  I've spoken to other friends on their years abroad (outside of Paris) who are paying perhaps a third of what I am, but this is France's capital city so it's hardly surprising that rent prices are sky high.  But despite knocking knees with bankruptcy, I wouldn't for a second trade city life for village outback.  Now don't get me wrong - rural villages are great for week-long getaways and relaxing spa breaks, but when you're a 'budding' young professional who wants to throw him or her self at every exciting opportunity and network your way into lucrative employment, you've got to be at the crux of it all.

I don't necessarily like the person that city life makes me become - stressed, impatient, intolerant...in many ways overly flamboyant when money comes into the picture.  But it's certainly the most exciting adventure I've ever been on!

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