May 9th, 2009 09th

2

French TV: First Impression

I have a nice setup in my room here in Paris. My roommate Saam is away for a couple of weeks, so I’ve taken the router into my room and have everything connected here.

So first of all, there’s the N9uf ADSL router bringing high-speed internet. Then I have 3 ethernet cables coming out of it: one for the Mac Mini (I can do wifi, but it’s a lot faster with the cable, when this should NOT be the case), another for the Iomega multimedia HD hard drive (1 TB), where I have all of the entertainment and backup stored (whenever I download anything, I move it to the hard disk via the network), and finally, the TV box provided by N9uf that brings a whole range of channels.

The TV box is connected to my 22″ LCD via an HDMI cable, because, believe it or not, there are a number of channels that are broadcasted in HD! Then I have regular speakers connected via a Y cable to get the sound out of the computer and the TV box at the same time.

So if you haven’t noticed, I’m very excited about the setup, but I’m equally excited about getting to now French TV. I’ve been flipping through the channels lately, and I’m generally not a TV guy at all, so everything to me seems to be happening really fast, and nothing really gets my attention. But for the sake of learning the language, I try to follow the programs and pick up on the tone of voice and context.

From what I’ve seen, the French seem to really enjoy game shows, I’ve seen a dozen already! That’s good because a lot of them are based on general knowledge questions. So not only do I get to learn the language, but I also get to learn about interesting facts of life.

LOTS of commercials, or as they introduce them, PUB. I’ve noticed many of the commercials are selling cream and beauty products, what’s up with that? And even though they stuff quite a number of commercials repeatedly, they announce them right before starting, and right after they’re over.

I’ve personally been enjoying the “boring” documentaries. Programs talking about “Seafood in Japan”, or “Life in Brazil” are ideal for me. Firstly, they seem to be targeting the elders, because they talk rather slow and the shots are all calm, so it allows me to follow. Secondly, I find these kind of topics a lot more interesting than all the other junk on TV. Most importantly, you can join in half way through the documentary and not worry too much, as oppose to your average daily program that has you completely lost if you’re not paying attention from the first minute.

It’s rather gloomy outside, so today might be a good chance for me to take the learning “inside”.

April 30th, 2009 30th

1

Staying In, At Home

My financial situation has been a disgrace as of late, which has had its own influence on the Parisian experience.

Yesterday, for example, I stayed in the entire day, and only stepped out at around midnight for about 15 minutes to buy some bread and withdraw cash from the ATM. However, it was quite a productive day, as far as my freelance work is concerned.

Today wasn’t very different; besides the 3-hour French class downtown, I have spent the entire day at home, between the different projects, emails, to-dos. And even though the weather is currently competing with exotic England, you cannot help but feel bad for not spending more time out in the streets of Paris. But the truth is that part of settling in, and making yourself at home, is getting on with your daily tasks and routine.

On Tuesday night, I went to an Irish bar downtown with a bunch of Catalans to watch Barcelona FC fail to score for the first time this season again a stubborn Chelsea side in the semi-final of the Champions League. While it seems like a simple get-together to watch the game at a local bar, I burnt over 20 Euros in the process (I swear to God this city has a miraculous ability of sucking money out of you). And even though last night it was my team Arsenal against a far superior Manchester United, I refused to go anywhere (and thankfully wasn’t tempted by anyone) and stayed in to watch the game perfectly illegally over the internet.

It is just not possible to spend everyday out in the streets of the Capital.

As far as the French course is concerned, I have decided to continue with the extensive track (thanks to ALL of the people who voted in my poll to help me decide, all four of you!), as oppose to switching to the daily intensive one. There are many reasons behind the decision, but the two points that standout are the difference in price, and the time required to work on the different freelance and personal projects. Therefore my schedule will continue as is: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursday from 13:30 – 16:30. This way I’ll have more time for my projects, as well as the freedom and flexibility to roam the city (and perhaps if the money starts flowing, the country) and engage on a cultural level.

My apartment is a comfortable place to spend time in. My windows overlooks the street Simplon; quiet and calm, and only 50 meters from all the action and noise:

outsideview

I also get to watch some French TV, and have downloaded a lot of French movies to watch in the near future. Next step: infiltrating the rigid social circles and become friends with Frenchies and Parisions.

April 18th, 2009 18th

2

How To Find An Apartment In Paris

The Capital Of Romance quickly becomes hell on Earth when you’re hunting for decent shelter, it’s not a cup of tea for anyone – regardless of your length of stay, budget and requirements. For me, it wasn’t any different. However, I did manage to secure a room in an apartment just three days after arriving in Paris, and I’ve decided to share my success story to my fellow strugglers.

I was looking for a room in an apartment with one or two (at most) people in a spacious apartment in a cool where I had my own room and didn’t have to spend much to make it feel like home. My budget was 600 Euros. and my stay is about four months. So if you’re on a higher budget and are planning to stay longer, your techniques and strategies might be different than mine, but I hope you find this post useful nonetheless.

Let’s get started with 5 points you need to keep in mind before you start scavenging for your place:

  1. Be realistic: 400 Euros won’t get you anything decent here, unless you want to be taking the regional rail for 45 minutes before hoping on the metro, or long for being imprisoned in a 1.5m squared kiosk miraculously converted to a “fully-furnished, spacious studio in strategic location”.
  2. Be prepared: It’s always going to take time. Make sure you find a place to stay with someone your comfortable with so that you don’t feel pressured or rushed into leaving. You should know that it’ll probably take you a week to 10 days to move in, and another 5 days to get settled. And forget about meeting anyone while you’re searching for a place, unless it’s after 10pm and not for long, so that you can get up early the following morning.
  3. Be flexible: Out of the 20 arrondissments that make up Paris, you can knock out 2 or 3 at most as places you wouldn’t consider. Anymore and you’re risking depression. You need to be willing to live anywhere that’s decent.
  4. Know you limits: What’s the most you’re willing to pay? How many people are you willing to share a bathroom with (if any)? How small of a room can you sleep in? As long as you stick to point number 1, setting limits will save you time and help you make decisions.
  5. Stay positive, and don’t give up: You’ll probably reach low-points you didn’t even know you were capably of reaching, hang in there, and everything will be just fine in no time.

In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to start searching for an apartment, studio, or your room in a shared flat until you’ve arrived in Paris. Having said that, the following is my suggested order of actions that you should be taking:

  1. Get your French cell phone
    Come with a phone that will accept a sim card from here. Don’t try to make the dramatic sacrifice of roaming until you have the time to pick up a phone – people might not pick up, and they’re probably not going to take you seriously, besides the fact that they won’t have a way to get in touch with you. Getting a phone is as easy as walking into a store (any day but Sunday) paying the money and placing the new sim card in your phone. There are various operators. I personally used Orange, and haven’t had problem with them so far. They have an offer where if you get 100 Euros of credit, they’ll give you 150, so given that you can control your calls, it’s a steal.
  2. Forget the papers, use the website
    You need to be somewhere with free wifi and use your laptop, or spend a lot of time at a cheap cyber cafe. Buying the papers is a waste of money and time. There are two websites in particular to stick with:

    • Appartager – http://www.appartager.com/: The design is ghetto, it gives you the impression that is was built in the 90s and hasn’t been updated since, but it’s the best website out there to find a studio or a room in a shared apartment. Sign up for a premium account (20 Euros for 10 days) so that you can see the full contact information. And beware of scams, but don’t worry, they’re easy to spot. Anyone offering you a palace in the middle of Paris for 200 Euros and asking you to deposit the money in his or her account before hand isn’t trying to make this world a better place
    • De Particulier A Particulier – http://www.pap.fr/: This one’s free and has a simple design that makes it easy to use. These are actually the same offers that are published in the papers. If there’s an offer that’s 5 days old, don’t bother calling – it’s either already taken, or unbearable for any human being
  3. Prepare your French
    You hear all the time that Parisians are not the friendliest of peops, I’m yet to confirm that stereotype, but I can confirm that they’re not willing to bend backwards on the phone for you. Prepare everything you’re going to say, you have 30 seconds of fame and you have to impress. Don’t hesitate and speak with confidence, anyone who’s being a complete moron on the first conversation isn’t really worthy of being your landlord or roommate
  4. Get ahead of the pack
    This is the most important step of the process. To start with, very few landlords are willing to pick up the phone, so they usually leave their voicemail on and listen to a bunch of the messages at the end of the day to chose the lucky winner who might just receive a phone call. What you need to do is the following:

    • Send an email through the website if the option is available
    • Call and leave the message you were working on earlier
    • Send a pre-written SMS from your cell phone with a nice intro for them to call you
    • Repeat the process with at least 20 apartments, before you can take a break for a Grec (Doner Kebab)
  5. Visit apartments
    When you get a call from anyone, or actually have someone pick (uncommon), try to get an instantaneous appointment to go visit the apartment. If it’s good, it’ll probably be taken if you wait more than an hour to visit. Get there a little early, dress smart (not formal, but smart), and make it seem like you would like to stay there, but you’re not dying for the apartment because you can afford better.
  6. Give’em the OK
    After five to eight visits, you will have found the suitable place. Give the landlord the firm OK so that they don’t consider giving it to anyone else, but make sure you ask all of the questions in the world before you do so. Hopefully you’ll be able to move in the next day, and when you do so, make sure you remove your info from the websites and send an SMS so all of the landlords you were in touch with telling them that you found a place, or else they’ll keep calling you.

And that’s it! You’ve found a place to stay in Paris! Now invite all of your friends and family to come over and stay for a couple of nights. I found my place in the most amazing area (in my opinion), near metro Simplon towards the north of the city with an awesome roommate, and a clean spacious room for 600 Euros a month in as little as three days. I consider myself lucky, and I hope you all get even luckier.