Welcome to France

November 4, 2008By Nick WoodsTales of la Ville

Welcome to France

Be careful what you put on your toothbrush.

For years the same dream: driving over a gigantic cross-Channel bridge and landing in a stylish, open air café in a square in Montmartre. After years of stalling, British-born journalist Nick Woods finally made it to Paris at the age of 37. In a regular column for Paris Update, his Parisian dream comes face to face with reality.

I knew it was going to be one of those weeks when I woke up on the Monday, stumbled to the bathroom and squeezed hemorrhoid cream onto the toothbrush. Luckily, I realized that something was wrong before trying to shrink my teeth with whatever chemical goes into the cream. My memory was a half-hour ahead of me and was suitably awake to remind me that I was currently using Perlweiss teeth-whitening toothpaste from a triangular dispenser, rather than a tube of toothpaste from the travel bag.

I don’t normally use a travel bag in the bathroom when not traveling, of course, but I have only just moved to Paris from Berlin and I am still very much at sea: there are boxes all over the place and although most of their content is now strewn across the floor I still can’t find anything. I can’t buy any of the major items (bed, washing machine, sofa, etc.) until the money for them has been transferred over from Germany. It all seems to be moving painfully slowly forward.

I suppose these are the problems of moving into an unfurnished property. I say unfurnished, but of course every property one moves to always has ice cube trays in the kitchen cupboard. I am not sure why. They are hardly very housewarming and I don’t think I have used one for years, but for some reason it seems irreligious to get rid of them, so they will remain where they are as a gift for the next tenant, just to be safe.

I was immensely lucky to get this flat in the first place and it didn’t come easy. I was determined to live in the 11th arrondissement near my yoga and dance schools – my borders were set. But then so are the borders of the French flat-hunting system, whose Checkpoint Charlie is the caution (deposit, usually the equivalent of three months’ rent). I had been warned about having to find someone to act as guarantor by French friends in Berlin but thought my ability to stand on my own two feet as a freelancer would get me through. No such luck. Landlords here seem to relish the power of being able to think of themselves as feudal lords and demand encylopedia-thick dossiers of paperwork and guarantees from eager would-be tenants.

The entire system is shamefully provincial, not to mention humiliating for someone proud to stand on his own two feet. It is also self-defeating – I know people who forged documents just to get through the red tape. I wouldn’t normally agree with forgery, but in this instance I am happy for arrogant Parisian landlords to receive a well-deserved slap in the face.

Anyway, after much wrangling and many charm offensives, I found a way to circumvent the system with a foreign landlord who was happy to strike a deal whereby I paid more deposit and we forget the need for a guarantor. Et voilà. Here I am, but at least you now understand the reasons for the hemorrhoid cream.

Nick Woods


© 2008 Paris Update

Reader Mary Beth Dietrick writes: The intro to Nick Woods’ article immediately reminded me of Marianne Faithfull’s song “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” in which “at the age of 37, she realized she’d never run through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair”!

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