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Posts Tagged ‘housing’

August 2010

8/15: After having sent a frantic email out to all the language assistants, I find two or three who are willing to room with me in Martigues. One of them says “I’m not racist but…” and one lives far away and wants to live in her town. The third is Austrian Christina. We agree to look for a place to live together.

September 2010

9/22: I arrive in France, and immediately begin looking for an apartment in Martigues. They are all old, unfurnished and overpriced.

9/23: I see a few more apartments, but not very many, because everyone is on strike.

9/24: I meet up with Austrian Christina, we walk around aimlessly looking for low-cost housing options. Everyone tells us we should go to the Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs for an inexpensive option. We go, they are closed.

9/27: I go back to the Foyer, and they agree to rent me a room. I take a tour, and it is kind of crappy, but I’m okay with it, and agree to move in on Oct 1. I take the rest of the week off. (more…)

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In the continued saga that is my search for a home/living place/bed for the next seven months, there have been a lot of ups and downs and ridiculous encounters with various people who either want way too much money or who are trying to get rid of super crappy apartments. This is boring. I am not going to tell all those little stories because they are terrible and will make you never want to move to France, and above all they make me very very angry.

However, today was a first. While I searched frantically for accommodation in Martigues and also in neighboring Marseille, I was the intended victim of a fairly classic scam, and quite frankly it added a bit of spice to the supremely boring and frustrating task that is finding an apartment for such a short period of time. Thus I will share it with you.

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In the still-elusive search for an apartment, yesterday was, in an almost comical fashion, an unmitigated disaster. I won’t dwell on it for long, because not only do I have better things to talk about, but it also still makes me kind of angry to think about.

Having met up with my roommate, Christina, I set out on a cross-town trek to find affordable housing in Martigues. I had made a few calls to individuals renting apartments, but despite my pestering, none of them had called me back, so other options had to be exercised.

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The countless employee handbooks, pamphlets and brochures the French ministry of education has sent me over the past three months have all aimed to drive home a single, solitary point: you’re on your own.

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the dilemma surrounding my lodgings when I arrive to France. To clarify: I do not have them. I will not have them until after I arrive, and even then it might be days or weeks before I even have an idea of where I’ll be living for the next seven months. I am assured that this is not out of the ordinary, that hundreds of assistants arrive every year in the same situation, that it would be silly to sign a lease before I’ve seen the apartment or its neighborhood.

True though it may be, none of this is comforting for someone who will be arriving in an unfamiliar town with, oh I don’t know, about seven months worth of luggage.  And as a technology-addicted twenty-something, I am having a hard time coping with the fact that rural French villages do not, in fact, have an active presence on Craigslist. If you Google search “Martigues Craigslist,” the only results are real estate listings on Martigues Drive in Orlando, Florida. Although I have sent several inquiry emails to large real estate companies operating in the area, my best bet is almost certainly going to be to show up in person at a real estate agency in Martigues and request an appointment. Which is where the real fun begins.

As I learned from my six months in Paris, the French still possess a remarkable affinity for human interaction.  While charming in some ways, it is downright infuriating in others.  American services like Peapod or Fresh Direct would be inconceivable to the average French person, who knows his or her baker, butcher, grocer, sommelier and cheese expert personally. Sure. I’m on board with that.

There is no such thing as a toll-free number. If you are having trouble setting up your WiFi network, you have pay €0.40/minute for the privilege of customer service. Not so awesome.

When you open a bank account, you have to do so at a specific bank branch, and, if you ever need to make any changes to your account, you have to return to that specific branch to speak to the bank manager. Not so bad when you are a permanent resident of a place, but when you don’t yet know where you’ll be living, picking a conveniently-located bank branch can be tricky. Oh, and they won’t let you open a bank account without an address. Which wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that most landlords will not rent you an apartment without a French bank account. You see my dilemma.

None of this, however, is news. I was warned about the never-ending loop that is French real estate, and, like a fool, believed that I had outsmarted it.  I contacted my school district, who graciously offered to open me a bank account before my arrival. All I had to do was sign some papers when I got there and everything would be set. Just got an email from them a few days ago, congratulating me, welcoming me, and casually mentioning that I could sign my bank documents and receive my essential account information at the training session in mid-October.

Um.

Now I must rely on the magic of wire transfers/traveler’s checks/my Austrian roommate’s European bank account to secure housing. I’m not sure if the latter trusts me, but she just broke her leg (falling off her moto while reading a Twilight novel in German, I imagine), so since she can’t come apartment-hunting with me anyway she’ll just have to accept it.

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