France has been home for over a month now, but I have yet to fully emerge from the “settling in” phase. I have neglected my blog in favor of trying to keep from collapsing under the weight of French rental agency demands. The following is a selection of the most significant stories (to me, anyways) and the most random anecdotes from the last four weeks or so – the good, the bad, and the French.
The Castle Beckons
When I wrote last month that I hoped to find a studio in the city center with a view of the château, I didn't expect to find a studio in the city center with a view of the château. Stroke of luck? Yes. Unfortunately, the "finders keepers" rule does not apply in France.
I had not realized until now how easy I had it in Paris four years ago. I had found my fully-equipped and fully-furnished apartment online, called a New York office to reserve it, sent a check, showed up in Paris, and stored my clothes in the closet. My American roommate and I paid the owner once a month in cash withdrawn from our bank accounts back home.
This time I’ve actually had to do this the French way, which consists of the following steps:
1) Fall in love with an apartment facing a centuries-old fortress.
2) Find a cautionnaire/garant. Definition:
a) someone who makes three times your monthly rent figure
b) someone willing to foot the bill if you spend all your money on wine and crêpes and can no longer pay for your 27 meters of living space
c) someone who pays French taxes (i.e. not my parents)
d) someone who doesn’t mind sifting through files for loads of paperwork
e) someone with the patience to read, sign, and initial every page of a 22-page contract
3) Send all required official documents (yours and the garant’s) to the agency officials.
4) Buy insurance to assure you won’t be charged if your 4th-story studio floods.
5) Verify that your “dossier” (folder) has been “approved” by the rental regime.
6) Transfer a disturbingly large sum of money to your French bank, which will never have heard of an international swift number and will have to call half of France to figure it out.
7) Write THREE checks to the rent nazis.
8) Breath a sigh of relief when your money is no longer in electronic limbo, your checks will not bounce, and you will not end up in French debtor’s prison.
9) Visit your apartment (you’re certain it’s yours now, right?) with the realtor and point out every tiny crack in the wall to ensure that seven months from now you will be handed back your deposit money. God knows you will need it.
10) Freaking move in already.
And so I did!
A Curtain Story (and related events)
The apartment is mine! (Insert Dr. Evil laughter here.) I had won the first battle, but little did I know that the war would wage on.
My studio was barely furnished when I moved in. There was a sort of triangular book-slash-other-stuff shelf, a little table who’s fourth leg wishes to succeed, and a “clic-clac” (or is it “clique-claque”?). This is a couch that opens into a bed with a “clic” and a “clac.” The Cuban equivalent is of course the world famous “ping-pang-poong.”
A photograph of my rebellious table and its secessionist leg:
Teachers have loaned me all sorts of stuff, including bed linens, chairs, and stools. I’m expecting a microwave and possibly a toaster oven. If someone doesn’t loan me a TV I will be buying a used one somewhere because I now religiously watch the dubbed version of Prison Break. I’ve also somehow convinced myself to buy a 99 euro convertible couch from Ikea. Despite the hodge-podge of stuff, the overall décor is actually coming along nicely.
The only real problem is the shower. Living on the top floor has its quirks. I think all the awkward angles on the roof give the place character, but they also prevent me from properly installing a shower curtain for my tub. I purchased a curtain and some adhesive hooks from the local Monoprix, trusting in my creativity and problem solving skills. The curtain has been through several unstable transformations and has finally evolved into a transitional form that is certain not to collapse, but sure to look a little ghetto. Suffice it to say the solidity of the structure largely relies on a bright green hanger.
Curtain Stage Un:
Curtain Stage Deux:
Curtain Stage "I'm so done with this curtain":
Shower dilemma #2: My hot water lasts a paltry five minutes. This is where the rent officials become rent nazis. They cannot guarantee me, or so they say, that I will not have to pay for the electrician. Everyone and their French mother agrees that this cannot be so, that French rental agencies are wicked, and that they are attempting to steal my money. I’ve already had some tough words for them, but I have three French citizens in line to tell them off for me some more, which I’m sure is bound to make them cave. I cannot do battle now, however, for the first extended vacation of the French school year begins today, and I’ll be busy traveling.
I’m writing this from my school in Segré, but I’ll be posting it from somewhere in Paris, where I’ll be spending the weekend. Then I’m going to Greece! As I trod the fictional steps of Odysseus, trace the history of Greek theater, and worship Athena at the Parthenon – I think I’ve made it clear I’m a geek – I will take a staggering number of pictures on my specially-purchased-for-France digital camera. I’ll be back in Paris on November 5th, and on the 6th I head home to Miami for my cousin’s wedding. I’ll return on the 12th, mentally and physically exhausted, at which time I will again post way too many paragraphs for anyone to read.
Notes of a Random Nature
- I’ve met several other teaching assistants in town (two of whom I’m going to Greece with), and they’re all lovely.
- The neighbor and his girlfriend and his friends are charming, too. Would have gone for a drink with them tonight were I not getting up at the crack of dawn tomorrow for my travel triathlon.
- Once I’ve purchased and assembled my Ikea convertible couch I will play host to my new French, American, and Canadian friends.
- I purchased and assembled a rolling, clothes hanging and shelf contraption, so I am up for the couch challenge.
- I recently watched Under the Tuscan Sun on my laptop, and the main character’s impulsive decision to buy a completely rundown Tuscan villa made me feel better about my shower trouble. Of course, I can’t hire Polish workers to fix my shower.
- No matter how many times you tell a French student to pronounce the letter H, he or she will inevitably forget the next time.
France Fun Facts
- The exchange rate sucks, but euros are pretty.
- Everyone is obsessed with Desperate Housewives, Prison Break, and Les Experts de Miami (CSI Miami).
- There is a 2-euro store in Angers! (I now own wine glasses and a retro cutting board.)
- French teachers are nice.
- French bank tellers are nice but clueless about swift numbers.
- French realtors are the scum of the earth.
- My students are for the most part sweet, attentive, fascinated by my high school yearbook, and pretty bad at English.
Despite French realtors and faulty showers, I like it here. So, a "bonne nuit" to you all, from my private little château.