Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

I’m renting from Kanye West.

The French are very protective of their language. Discussing the phonetic nuances of u versus ou seems to be a Parisian sport. Strangers have no qualms about correcting your incorrect grammar, and waiters refuse to serve you une café, because it’s un café. All this I knew.  But my dear landlady takes correction to a Kanye West extreme. Cases in point:

1. “That’s a good lookin’ sandwich an’ all, but y’all know that Beyoncé’s sandwich skills is better.” This one takes place barely a week into my French experience. I had been running errands all day and got home, starving. So I pulled out my demi baguette and proceeded to make myself a delicious foot-long cucumber and brie sandwich.  Which, apparently, included far too many carbs. I was instructed to remove all the sandwich filling ingredients, place them in a bowl, return one half of my baguette to the fridge and eat the bread and salad separately. She stayed to watch me do it.

2. “Hey, you makin’ your bed? Dontchu know Beyoncé can make it better?” Yes, I was making my bed, and apparently doing it incorrectly.  So sometimes, when it’s not too cold, I sleep on top of the comforter and only use the light cover. Because, you know, I don’t want to die of sweat in the middle of the night (ew, what a way to go).  But apparently, one must always use the flat sheet.  Moreover, there is a proper way to make the bed, so that entering it and placing yourself under said flat sheet at night is easy.  Never would I have known…

3. “Is 50 degrees ou’side: Beyoncé would wear a sweater.” Little did I know that moving to France meant losing the ability to dress myself.  Not only was I treated to a lecture on it “no longer being summer” and that if I continued to dress so skimpily (skimpily, as in leggings, jeans, shirt, scarf and jacket) I would catch a cold, but when I returned from my room (after putting on a sweater), she checked to make sure I really had put one on.  I felt like I was three again. But Mommy, I really did brush my teeth!

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Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , , ,

The search is over!

A while ago I made a post about the trials and tribulations of long-distance apartment-hunting, or as I fondly referred to it, LDAH.  Turns out, all it took was sheer luck.

My aunt and uncle recently (I say recently, but it was probably more than two years ago) moved to a small town in southern India called Coonoor.  Their neighbors include the usual assortment of monkeys, wild buffalo, and tea fields, but also, surprisingly, an art community and a couple of Francophones. And that’s how I finally found accommodation in Paris: I’ll be renting a room from my (beware: long winded explaination ahead) mom’s sister’s husband’s French friend’s mother.  Whew!

My 12m2 room is in the 5e arrondissement, which is wonderful on many accounts.

  1. It’s the oldest part of the city, as it was built by the Romans waaaaaay back in the day but then overhauled over time, which means a quick walk around my quartier has me gazing upon a veritable history of architecture, from the Panthéon (completed in 1789) to the Institue du Monde Arab (a Jean Nouvel building, completed in 1987).
  2. It’s where the learning’s at, pardon my butchering of the English language. The Sorbonne calls the 5e home.  Hopefully, that means there will be all kinds of wide-eyed French undergraduates looking to learn a bit of English on the side, and more than willing to fork over the 15€ per hour I’ve been told I can charge.
  3. It’s on the banks of the Seine itself.  Which means nice long walks along the river front, thoughtfully nibbling on a pain au chocolat as I ponder the mystical effects of Rive Gauche on the intellectual growth of Paris.  Ooh là là.

Nouvels IMA buildings apertures dont work, but theyre still beautiful!

Nouvel's IMA building's apertures don't work, but they're still beautiful!

The room itself is not a shabby deal:

  1. It’s a 12m2 room *with* a private bath! As opposed to a 9m2 room, which is what I would be paying an arm and a leg for otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, this room I’m renting is going to stretch my budget, but the extra cubic feet of air I’m getting is quite worth it.
  2. One (hyphenated) word: rez-de-chaussée. No flights of stairs up which I must drag my suitcases.  Sweet.
  3. Apparently, it comes with a view to the courtyard.  As my readings in last semester’s Design Theory and Research class taught me, nothing better than a view to nature to perk up the drooping soul.
  4. Did I mention my room comes with a piano? No excuses now, I’ve got to practice with all that free time I’ll have. Hmm…and maybe get some beginner piano students?

The only downside I’m currently forseeing is the length of my commute.  It’s going to be at least an hour from door to door, since the RER E line that I’m supposed to take to Roissy-en-Brie is in Rive Droite, which means I have to take another 20 minute metro ride to connect to the E and a 30 min ride to get to Roissy-en-Brie…but I did an hour commute (Reston to Georgetown) all last summer, and at least this way I can catch up on some more reading.

I’m not sure how much CAF will refund me for this place, but any money I get back will be a blessing, so it’s not something I’m counting on (i.e. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that I’ll have to find a way to make extra cash to make ends meet).

Still to do on the to-do-before-I-leave-for-France list: figure out how cellphones work in Europe, get more info on Bank of America’s international plans, have my birth certificate translated to French, gather teaching materials, and apply for design jobs in Paris.  At least I won’t be homeless when I get there!

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LDAH: Long distance apartment-hunting.

It’s harder than a long distance relationship, let me tell ya.

The very second I found out I was going to be teaching right outside of Paris I started scouring the internets for places to stay in the city.  Last summer, when I interned in DC, my only regret was not staying closer to the city.  I stayed in Reston with some family friends, which was fantastic, but it meant that I had to be home by a certain time so that I didn’t miss the last bus (yay public transportation!).  So this time, I’m going to do the reverse.  I’m teaching in a small town outside of Paris, and since I’m only teaching 12 hours a week, I figure I’ll want to spend most of my time in the city anyway, so I’m going to try to look for a place in the city that’s within my budget.

So that’s the first problem: budget.  As my maternal unit can attest to (and as she more often than not mentions) I’ve led a rather cushy life.  My parents have paid for pretty much everything so far when it came to my education, which included tuition, supplies, room and board, etc.  I’ve spent my pocket money (comprised of the random cash I’ve earned from freelancing and savings from summer jobs) on travel and fun stuff (i.e. movies, dinners out with friends, etc.).  Now, not only am I out on my own for the first time, I’m out on my own in a foreign country!

Anyone can tell you that a teacher’s salary is nothing to brag about.  I’m not even going to be a full-time teacher: so I guess you could say that my salary is something to shove under the couch cushions and never mention. But I’m going to say it anyway – I’ll barely be making enough to sustain myself.  We get paid €950 per month, which after taxes is €750 a month.  A small studette in Paris (a tiny room 9 m2 with a mini-kitchen, a sink and a shower – not necessarily a WC) costs between €350 and €550 on average.  The nice thing is, because I get paid such a paltry sum, the government wants to help me! If I fill out a whole bunch of paperwork (here’s that word again), I can apply for an aide du logement through CAF, basically, welfare.  But the amount of money I get back is based on the type of place I’m renting (size, furnished/not, etc.), its cost, my income and the income of my roommates, if any.  And the predictor online is a) hard to understand and b) not very accurate.

And then there’s the whole bit about looking for a place that’s a couple thousand miles away.  I may not have apartment-hunted before, but even I know that you shouldn’t sign on for a place if you haven’t seen it.  And odds are, the French landlord won’t rent it out unless they’ve got proof I’m paying: I’ve been told I’ll need a garant, or co-signer, on some places (but not on others…which ones don’t need one I have no idea).

And if that’s not enough, I have to decide what kind of place I want to stay in: a studette? a studio (slightly larger than the former)? an apartment with a couple of roommates? rent a room from a family? a foyer (dorm-room-esque)?  One of my friends who did the whole teach-English-in-France gig a while back said I should make a decision quick, so that I can narrow my search.  I’m thinking my order of preference is as follows:

  1. A room with a family. This will hopefully allow me to better my French.  And I’d be happy to give English lessons to the kids or baby-sit for a night or two in exchange for a reduced rental rate.
  2. An apartment with roommates.  If they’re French roommates, it’d be nice to improve my French.  However, there are a couple of American assistant(e)s that will be living in Paris, so that would work as well.
  3. A room in a foyer.  I hear it’s the cheapest, and gets you the most money back on your aide du logement. And ideally, I won’t be spending much time in my room that isn’t spent on sleeping or cooking a quick meal, because I’ll be out exploring!

I suppose the best I can do from the US is ask around if anyone is renting a room, and work via references (that way I don’t get a super sketch landlord and a shoddy apartment that I’m sharing with Ratatouille and his family – though come to think of it, if the critter wants to cook me a pasta dinner, I wouldn’t protest) – and maybe check out the foyer.  But I’m hesitant to book an apartment without seeing it, or meeting my potential roomates.

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