It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman who has moved to Paris for work must be in search of a flat. Or a studio apartment, or a room in an apartment. Basically any sort of accommodation that burns the smallest hole in your pocket, because burn it will, unless you’re Beyoncé and can afford digs for US$10,000 a night. I mean did you SEE that pool?
But I digress.
This time last year, I was frantically planning my move to Paris for a work stint.
That the task of finding affordable housing in Paris is as easy as asking a leopard to change his spots is a fact well known. I joined innumerable Facebook groups (of the ‘Flatmates wanted’ variety), trawled Paris-centric housing websites, reached out to that one cousin of a friend of a friend of my sister who is a Parisian (lucky bastard) who could be of possible guidance.
Nothing worked out, as I found myself delving deeper into the miasma of flat finding in this French city.
During this time, I was on tenterhooks 24/7 – when will my visa arrive, when will I find a flat, will I like my flat mates, what will I cook? (The last one being the most important, because good food = a happy me.)
Today is the anniversary of me finding what I called home for almost a year. I write this post as I look back and remember all the idiosyncrasies I encountered while finding a place to live there.
Dossiers, Deposits and Dinghy Dwellings
Most French landlords, god bless their souls, insist on getting ‘dossiers’ from potential tenants. My French colleagues told me that putting it together is an absolute headache, since no amount of information can be enough. Now what is in this dossier, I wondered.
Imagine if the combined might of the CIA, MI6 and BND is put behind you to extract every bit of information about your life. That resultant information would be compiled in your ‘dossier’ – your basic credentials, education and employment history, income, parents’ income, credit score, most preferred cheese and wine pairing etc.
The French love paperwork as much as the next Indian government servant – be it for visa applications, driver’s license, VAT refunds or finding a house. I had to submit no less than 18 different documents for my visa extension there, after I had already applied for and got a visa via the French embassy at New Delhi.
Rents in Paris are so exorbitant, I have started to identify with the guy who commutes to London from Barcelona every single day. It supposedly works out to be cheaper than living in Londrés!
At times you may be lucky enough to find a flat that is sans agencie (without brokers). If that happens, and the flat fits your criteria, just drop whatever you are doing and call the listing’s owner, immédiatement !
Agency fee usually equals the rent of 1 month, which in itself is enough to drive you to farthest depths of despair, not counting the additional security deposit and moving expenses that you also have to fork out.
It is a common misconception in India that “all Europeans are rich” because they earn more. I am not an economist but from my experience, that is simply not true – sure, you may earn more but your expenses are also that much higher. Example: I paid €3.10 for a kilo of arhar daal, €2.20 per kg for tomatoes! (€1 = INR 74, do the maths).
During my first few days in Paris, with the aid of a helpful colleague, we called multitudinous listings. I leapt at every appartement that was meublé, cuisine équipée, ascenseur etc. (furnished, had an equipped kitchen, building with elevator.)
I visited one such flat that was a short walking distance away from my place of work. Everything seemed good on paper. The owner, a French lady who seemed fit as a fiddle, took me inside.
The building had no elevator, and a wide, winding staircase. The flat, which was on the fifth floor, made a shady Paharganj hotel room seem 5-star in comparison. I ran away as fast as I could.
Home Sweet Home at Last
Eventually, I did find a super place to stay. Fully furnished, close to work and the kindest landlady (who lived on the floor above) one could hope for. I even grew to like the 6 furry felines that were part of the household. Not for a moment, however, did I like the cat hair that seemed to engulf my clothes from top to bottom!
My little flat was on the ground floor of a relatively quiet residential street, barring the odd plumber, photo-framing and florist shop. Right across the road was a small park which, after 5.00 pm, became abuzz with the cacophony of small kids playing on the swings.
My bathroom was ginormous, even by Indian standards. It had beautiful powder blue tiles and, much to my delight, Villeroy & Boch fittings.
Supermarkets within walking distance. The nearest metro was a 5-minute walk. The nearest Velib station, Paris’s famous public-sharing bicycle network, was also right there. Did I tell you I biked to work every morning? I felt so ‘French.’
My Kitchen Chronicles
The flat had a kitchenette, where I had many firsts – in cooking, that is, a field that was hitherto unbeknownst to me. I made my first arhar ki daal here in a shiny new Vinod stainless steel pressure cooker, aloo paranthas, rajma chawal, chhole chawal, Thai red curry, bhindi, matar subzi, upma and what not.
I regularly FaceTimed with mum, asking for recipes and how to preserve lemons. Oh my god, French lemons. They were so big, juicy and tasty! Just applying a small amount of pressure would ooze out so much juice that I could run through a whole week on a single lemon. Except that once cut, lemons don’t stay fresh beyond 2-3 days – a fact I discovered once I started cooking real food (laugh at me if you must). Once, Carrefour was running a promo on lemons: 5 for €2.20 or something. Since I usually paid about €0.80 a lemon, I obviously fell for it. I spent a happy week making lots of lemonade and putting lemon juice on everything from bhelpuri to daal to lemon and butter fettuccine.
I had never imagined that I would have such strong feelings about lemons.
It’s been a few weeks since I have been back. As my mother would not fail to point out, I have made her proud by refusing to cook any of these dishes here.
To be honest, I do feel like cooking at times (at times being the key words here, mum, if you are reading). But when I look at the produce – dull red tomatoes that taste like dust, malnourished garlic, washed out ‘buttons’ masquerading as mushrooms, and don’t even get me started on lemons – I just don’t feel like it!
Before I am accused of being a ‘firangi’ let me just say that I know I live here now, this is the food I have eaten for 95% of my life etc.; but then I did not know then such delicious, top-quality produce even existed. I do make the occasional journey to INA Market or Foodhall if I am looking for something very specific, but I miss the ease of buying such good vegetables at my local grocery store.
Till then, I am hoping Indian agriculture undergoes a revolution and I can have my fill of juicy lemons whenever I want, from the comfort of my home that I did not have to hunt for.