How to Move to Paris // The Insanity of Finding an Apartment

Behold the beginning of a new series:  How to Move to Paris.  It sounds romantic enough! Postponing the chaotic stress of full-time university studies for a year of linguistic and artistic inspiration in the City of Light, City of Love, whatever you wish to call it.  Ideal images certainly come to mind – riding a bicycle to language courses across the river from Notre-Dame, buying fresh bread from local boulangeries, walking home at night under the sparkle of the Eiffel Tower.  Imagine living in a charming, antique apartment with a sweeping view of skyline scenery, filled with glowing sunlight in the late afternoons.

As great as that all sounds, it seems that the more economically-minded of us have a lot of hurdles to jump if we wish to acquire, say, any living arrangement whatsoever in the City of Light.  After months of searching websites like Craigslist and Pap.Fr, with no results, I decided my only realistic option was to simply book a hostel and begin the search in person as soon as I stepped off the train.  After a grueling night spent on the floor of the train station in Geneva, I rolled into Paris in the early morning, exhausted and overwhelmed – but set out, nonetheless, to immediately begin viewing apartments that very morning.  And… well… mon Dieu!

(Symmetry on the train).

True, this time of the year is the worst possible period in which to be searching for housing, and yes, I had read horror stories, but I didn’t think it could really be that bad.  The first apartment I visited was located close to the Latin Quarter and looked good from the photos, but never can I imagine living there.  No space for anything, dirty floor, dirty walls, moldy bathroom, uncomfortable bed… not going to happen.  As soon as I made my way to the next one, the chaos began.  After making agreements with landlords to come and meet them personally, it was a surprise to arrive half an hour early to see a line of 20 desperate-looking individuals already clustering around the door, every one of them clutching enormous stacks of documents and looking, well, more qualified than I was.

With limited French and no guarantors or co-signers actually living in France, my first impression was that I was basically doomed to homelessness.  However, that’s no way to think, and for three days my life was a blur of sprinting from metro to metro, viewing to viewing, eagerly presenting my clumsy portfolio of legal documents (at which most Francophone landlords simply raised their eyebrows in confusion), and crashing at a youth hostel every night.  I started feeling unsure about living here, so far away from the glorious nature I’m accustomed to, trapped in a neverending ocean of flat concrete and building after building after building.  Where are the mountains, where is the ocean, where is the crisp freshness of the seaside air and the nostalgic smell of the northern plants beginning to turn color?  Far, far away, that’s for sure.

Cloud over Paris

(A cloud over Paris).

After getting some rest and buying myself real meals (instead of snacking constantly on fruit and crackers to keep myself alive), I felt better about my choice and reminded myself that the huge differences between Paris and Alaska/Norway/Switzerland are, in  fact, why I am here. I’m here to experience something different, something challenging, something completely out of my usual comfort zone.  And with this realization came progress.

My dad had told me that he believed I could find a place to live within four days, and I focused all my energy on this belief.  Voila, four days into my search, I got a phone call from an apartment owner I had met in Montrouge, a community just south of Paris, still easily accessible by metro.  Although the location could be seen by some as inconvenient, seeing as it’s not in the middle of everything, that’s precisely why I like it:  It’s not in the middle of everything.  It’s quieter, residential, away from the constant, refrigerator-like hum of the city.  I’ll have a clean, bright room, a clean bathroom, and a comfortable bed.  I’ll be able to see plants from my window.  It’s not “perfect”, but it’s perfect for me.

And now, some photos from the last few days (it’s been unbearably hot).

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