Monthly Archives: October 2011

Finding an Apartment in Paris

I wanted to do a strictly utilitarian post for those who may be searching for an apartment in Paris to try and impart some of the knowledge that I acquired the hard way. With that, here is my guide to Parisian apartment hunting.

First, I would like to start out by reassuring you that I now live in an absolutely fantastic apartment in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, so there is a happy ending to this story. In spite of the many difficulties you will soon see, the end result is worthwhile, so bon courage!

The most comprehensive resource I found for apartments in Paris is Paris Info. It lists all the relevant websites for just about any price range. Also, it’s useful to have this glossary of apartment terms if you’re not hip to the lingo of apartments en français.

First, you need to adjust your expectations. Apartments in Paris are small. Much smaller than in the U.S. Just accept that and move on. They’re also expensive. This is one of the most fabulous cities in the world, so you should logically expect to pay more for the benefit of living here. Again, you should come to terms with that early on. Paris Info has a good guide on averages sizes and prices. Be warned, however: I find that these estimates, while very realistic, are on the conservative side. Many reasonably-priced apartments are even more expensive than what the site lists. Also (brace yourselves), something I wasn’t prepared for when I first moved here: it is normal to have to pay 3 months in rent up-front. One month’s rent for the security deposit for the apartment, one month’s rent for the security deposit for the furniture, and the first month’s rent. It’s painful. Also, ovens are a bit of a luxury here. And real stoves are, too. And your refrigerator is going to be MUCH smaller (but you don’t need a big refrigerator because you’ll probably be going to all of the wonderful marchés and specialty shops frequently to buy lots of fresh food in small quantities–I generally only buy food for a couple days each trip–stay tuned for upcoming posts about the marchés and food shopping in France).

Now, here’s the story: most French landlords want their renters to have a garant, which is essentially a cosigner, but the catch is they want the garant to have assets in France. This is so that if you flake and don’t pay your rent, they’ll actually be able to get damages out of you because the assets are in France. They don’t want to go all the way to the U.S. to sue you. So if you don’t have a garant, things will be trickier and you may want to lean toward using an agency (see infra). You’re also going to need a dossier with tons of documents about your financial situation. The more official-looking documents that are in your dossier, the better. French people love official-looking documents. Just make sure you give them copies, and not your originals!

Apartment hunting in Paris is a bit competitive. There are a lot of people here and not as many apartments. So applying to rent an apartment is a bit like applying for a job. My strategy was to always act like I was interested in the apartment (you can always back out later if you don’t want it for some reason). If you don’t have a French garant, you’re already at a disadvantage, and that is the reason why I endorse the agency strategy.

So, I know I just said if you don’t have French relatives you should consider using an agency, but I do know people who have had luck renting apartments directly from their landlords. The best resource for apartment hunting person-to-person (particulier à particulier) is PAP.fr. It’s basically classified ads for apartments (much like craigslist in the U.S., except agencies can’t post on this site, only individuals). You’ll find some great apartments and some great deals on this site. But beware, if you find a great apartment, chances are a lot of other people did too, and you may show up to find several people waiting to view the apartment with dossiers in-hand (and this is a site the French use, so they might have a leg up on you already by having a garant).

If you’re American, I’ve heard from many sources that the American Church in Paris has a great bulletin board with apartment listings. I’ve never personally used it, but it comes highly recommended by word-of-mouth around here. Also, for Anglophones, there is FUSAC, which is a great resource for all sorts of Anglophone things in Paris, but also has classifieds for apartments. They have craigslist here, but it’s not nearly as big as in the U.S., and it’s mostly geared toward Americans who don’t know any better. I do have a friend who found an apartment on craigslist, but she’s the only person I know who’s used it for anything since I’ve been here. I didn’t have much luck with it (Although I did find a lot of scams! If you find a deal that’s too good to be true, you’ll probably get an e-mail from a missionary in Africa who needs you to send the money through Western Union… RUN AWAY this is a scam.).

Here’s what happened to me: I found an apartment on FUSAC. The apartment was good, and I wanted it. The landlord was hesitant because I don’t have a garant, but I promised to give him more money up-front so that he wouldn’t be taking a risk with me, and we would apply the extra money toward the last 2 months of rent. He was happy with this arrangement (I’m a student, so I live on loans, which means I am rich in August and January and I eat a lot of Ramen in December and July. This lease was to start in the fall, so I could afford it.). He e-mailed me to have me come sign the lease the following week. The next week, I went to sign the lease, but before I signed it I started to read it (law school will do that to you–my contracts professor would be proud). The landlord saw me reading it, so he started reading it. Then he said “WAIT!” I waited. Apparently there is some new law that required him to get a safety inspection and he hadn’t done it. He didn’t realize the law existed until he started reading his responsibilities in the contract. He said he’d get the inspection and I could come back and sign the lease the following week. Now, this happened on Wednesday. He wanted me to come back the following Tuesday to sign the lease, and then I was supposed to move in on Saturday. Great. Fine. But then, he disappeared. I called him and e-mailed him everyday to find out when I could sign the lease, but I never heard from him again. So I was left with no apartment and I would be homeless the following week unless I found another place. And you’ve just read how hard it is to find an apartment. All of the above-mentioned considerations are heavily exacerbated at the end of the month, when all of the good apartments are gone and anyone still searching is desperate. I was a little freaked out. That’s when I decided to use an agency. But the really amazing thing is this: anyone in Paris I told this story to was completely unsurprised. In fact, most of them had a similar crazy story. People are kind of flakey here. They aren’t as focused on making money as we are in the states. They go at their own pace with their own priorities.

So, this brings me to the much-anticipated agency description. The pros: they generally have good apartments, you don’t need a garant, you don’t need a dossier, the process is relatively straightforward, they have comprehensive websites with lots of pictures, if you start looking far enough in advance they have a good selection (start looking early if you’re using an agency), most speak English, did I mention that you don’t need a garant or a dossier? The con: the price. Agency fees are generally around one month’s rent, and you don’t get it back. Additionally, you still have to pay the security deposit (although with NY Habitat I only had to pay 1 month’s rent for security deposit instead of the usual 2, AND I got a discount on the agency fee for being a student). I used NY Habitat (note: they are not paying me to say nice things about them). I know a lot of people who used Lodgis and are happy with their apartments, but I’ve never used them.  Those are the only agencies I know anything about, but there are others out there. You can find them all in the Paris Info listing.

I think that’s about it. Remember: there is a happy ending. Apartment hunting in Paris can be overwhelming and disappointing at times, but you will eventually find a great place to live. Bon courage!

Musée Carnavalet: Histoire de Paris

Sorry for the lack of posts! I have been getting settled into my routine with classes and general busyness, and I hadn’t ventured out on any excursions until yesterday.

On the way home I decided to go to the Musée Carnavalet. I’d been meaning to go for quite a while, and finally yesterday I had some spare time. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how vast and amazing the museum would be, and I didn’t allot myself nearly enough time. The museum was much more wonderful than I expected, and I had to hurry through a lot of it. I will surely return  soon to see more and hear a concert.

First, this is a FREE museum! That immediately merits points in its favor. Also, the museum is in Le Marais, a very chic right bank neighborhood near the center of Paris. The neighborhood is full of very high-fashion boutiques, art galleries, cafés, and shops. It’s always a fun place to walk around or grab a bite to eat. So before I even got to the museum, it already had potential.

Link Gallery

I came to the museum, which is housed in two old hôtels connected by a bridge. The entrance is through a courtyard. The buildings themselves are impressive, and they make a grand backdrop for the collections. The hôtel Carnavalet was built in 1548 and showcases fantastic architectural features. The hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau houses an incredible orangerie (greenhouse) and surrounds a beautiful garden. There are over 100 rooms in the museum, and each shows a different period or aspect of Parisian history. The overall feeling of the museum is like being in a miniature castle (but this comparison is not intended to imply that it’s small!).

"Les retardataires" (The Latecomers)

The premise of this lovely museum is that it is dedicated to the history of Paris. Therefore, visitors can walk through rooms with collections from prehistoric Paris and the Roman era all the way through the time of the monarchs, the revolution, and modern day.

Sign Gallery

When I walked into the fantastic sign gallery at the museum’s entrance, I asked the man at the table in French if I could take one of the guides. He said that I certainly could and handed me one in French. I picked up one in English and told him that it was my langue maternelle, and he said “But you speak French! Here, take the French one too and you can switch between the two.” (This is a very loose translation.) I was happy to have the compliment, and told him “Thank you, that will be good for me since I am learning.” A compliment on my French from a Parisian stranger! Happy day! (It was a very basic conversation, and not too much to brag about, but a small triumph is welcome nonetheless.)

My favorite parts of the museum were the buildings themselves and their beautiful rooms (some decorated with furniture collections), the Roman ruins in the orangerie (It’s easy to forget about the Gallo-Roman period in Paris, but there were temples, baths, an amphitheater, and everything else Roman here for about 400 years!), and the paintings in the link gallery (the bridge connecting the two buildings). Also, the concise descriptions of each historical period were good (but they are in French, so bring a Francophone friend or get a listening guide). I was a bit disappointed by the revolutionary period rooms. They mostly contained models and smaller mementos from that time.

L'orangerie

As I was getting ready to leave the museum, they announced that there would be a classical concert with piano, violin, and singing. The cost was €10. I didn’t have time to stay and enjoy the music in this incredible setting (and imagine that I was

Roman Collection

here in another era being entertained at a party), but I will try to come back for another concert later on.

Highlights of this museum include: the gallery of shop signs from the 16th-20th centuries at the entrance, a chess set Louis XVI used to distract himself while awaiting the guillotine, a recreation of Marcel Proust’s bedroom with his bed and other furniture, carved stones from the Roman period, Neolithic dugout canoes from 2800-2500 BC, paintings of Paris’s belle epoque in the link gallery.

New Words: grève (strike), soutien (support), chausson (a fruit-filled pastry, often in apple: pomme), les cuivres (brass instruments), salarié (salaried employee), prestation (performance)

Chercheminippes

What a crazy week!!! I found an apartment (hooray!), moved into said apartment, and started classes. Whew!

So far, classes in France are a lot like my undergraduate classes were. This is because, for them, law school is an undergraduate major. So it’s a huge lecture hall where the professors talk at the students for an hour and half and the students transcribe every word the professors say in paragraph form. Needless to say, I am getting notes from my new-found French friends. Their notes are flawless transcriptions of the class! It’s amazing! My notes are sparse. Just listening, I can understand 50-80% of what the professors are saying (except for one professor, who speaks very quickly and has a naturally soft voice). But when I try to take notes and I start writing, things go south quickly. My French is not good enough to listen and write at the same time. I write, then I start to listen again, and I’m completely lost for a minute because I’ve missed some critical piece of information while I was writing. So I try to take some notes, but mostly I try to listen and rely on my extremely kind French classmates for notes.

Overall, the week was spent organizing the apartment (have I mentioned that I have the greatest apartment in all of Paris? it’s perfect.), going to classes, and fighting with the administration to get properly registered. But on Wednesday, I had some retail fun.

Paris is the fashion capital of the world. However, for most of us mere earthlings (especially those of us on student-sized budgets), the clothes are EXPENSIVE!!!!! The whole city is one big shopping-tease. You look into window after window of the most gorgeous, unique, outrageous, elegant, stylish clothes, and then you look at the little price marker next to them and your heart misses a beat. You don’t even bother converting the euros into dollars, because that would just make it worse.

Other than H&M and Zara, my only Paris fashion experiences had been the sort of lèche-vitrine (“window-licking,” or what we refer to as window-shopping) I’ve just described. But this week I discovered Paris’s dépôt-ventes. They are second-hand luxury fashion stores where you can buy the most exclusive brands at a fraction of the price! Now, sometimes a fraction of the price is still a high number, but in general you can find affordable couture. I was thrilled to find Chercheminippes in the 6th arrondissement. I bought some fantastic new (to me) designer clothes and I didn’t break the bank. It was great.

I promised to increase the multimedia-to-text ration on the blog, so I will take my camera for some outings this weekend. I haven’t forgotten. I’ve just been at home or school most of the week. Neither occasion merited camera-use.

Happy Friday everyone! Bon week-end!

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Last Friday, the weather was beautiful. Actually, come to think of it, the weather has been perfect for a couple of weeks now. Anyway, my fellow foreigners and I went to our morning class and then had lunch as usual. After lunch, we came back for our afternoon oral language class, and the teacher announced that the copy machines were all broken and it was beautiful outside, so we were going to the Père Lachaise cemetery. We were all happy to be outside in the sunshine.

The cemetery is vast, and it is full of graves of Paris’s elite. It is still used as a cemetery today, but only the really rich or famous can be buried there. It is very hilly with cobblestones everywhere, so if you’re planning a trip you should wear comfortable shoes (I speak from experience; since this was an unplanned impromptu trip, I was wearing heals and it made the trip less pleasant). Since I didn’t know we were going on the trip, I not only wore uncomfortable shoes, but I also didn’t bring my camera. Sorry for the lack of photos in this post. I’ll make up for it in upcoming posts.

We visited the graves of Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Frédéric Chopin (who was not French, but Polish), Molière, Oscar Wilde (who’s grave was covered in red lipstick kisses and notes written in red lipstick in spite of a sign forbidding it—the French don’t really follow rules that conflict with tradition), and Jim Morrison.

Jim Morrison’s grave is closed off because people would go smoke on it. I don’t think that was a huge issue initially, but then people started writing on the nearby graves, which is disrespectful. There were actually a few nearby graves where people had written “I <3 Jim” and things like that. Who does that? Who writes on someone’s grave about someone else? I was disturbed.

When we visited, around 2pm on a Friday afternoon, there was a group of Americans sitting on a grave near Jim Morrison’s and drinking and listening to music and jumping onto other graves to take pictures. Out of our class, I’m the only American, and I was so embarrassed by them. I said, in French (partly because I didn’t want them to know that I was American), “those are not my compatriots,” and my teacher responded “Ce n’est pas à toi,” (“it’s not for you,” literally, but in this context it was more like “it’s not your fault”). When one guy jumped onto a grave, my teacher said to them “this is someone’s grave” in French. The guy who had jumped on the grave was sarcastic in responding “pas Jim Morrison’s grave.” Then the teacher said, in English, “Yes, but someone else is buried here, this is not a bar, it’s a cemetery.” Then the offenders just nodded and said “you’re right,” and kept drinking. It was disgusting. The French are generally tolerant of crazy partying, as far as I’ve been able to tell. But jumping on graves and listening to music and drinking on someone’s grave in a cemetery is just downright disrespectful. Maybe if they were on Jim Morrison’s grave, it would be okay, but they were on some random person’s grave nearby. The whole thing was weird, and I think everyone who came to visit the grave was put-off by them.

Other than the awkward exchange with the rude Americans, the cemetery was beautiful. It was very peaceful and FULL of famous people’s graves. We could have stayed all day and enjoyed the lovely weather and seen the graves of many other incredibly famous people (I wanted to see the graves of Georges Bizet, Francis Poulenc, and Gertrude Stein), but it was such a massive place and we were all hot and tired by the end of our long walk.

If you’re looking for a good walk on a nice day with interesting and historical scenery, come here. Overall, it’s very peaceful and beautiful.