Settling in

It’s October! We’ve been here for a month now and I think this blog, like our French adventure is coming to an end.

We’ve unpacked our boxes and assembled all the furniture. We even built a house from two of the boxes and had the triplets over to decorate it. And eat cake inside it. In short: we are settling in.

Before decoration

We’ve had adults over as well and had real sit down dinners with real chairs and everything. Yesterday some of Gergö’s family came by for a visit. Gergö asked them to bring the boxes we had stowed away in the cellar. We didn’t remember how many there were. I thought maybe two boxes, so realistically four because that’s how my brain works.

In the end there were four boxes of mostly books, but surprisingly also clip on cat ears, plastic elf ears and my CueCat as well as a few pictures and a box of postcards and photos I apparently had wanted to keep. I also found a ziplock bag of cash – some Forint and 10 British Pounds, a Barbados Dollar and some old Slovakian currency that is no longer valid.

Now I really need to finish painting the Billy shelf that I got from my mum. It was a bit yellowed, so I thought I’d spruce it up a bit with some colour. I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos of cheerful people painting old furniture and then sanding it to make it look vintage. I have no intention of making Billy look more vintage than it is, I just found out that chalk paint is really easy to handle and even sticks to the plastic veneer. And while browsing in the hardware store I also bought chalkboard paint and metallic paint that makes magnets stick to the painted surface.

So far I’ve only painted the boards, not the rest.

We’ve started getting back in touch with friends in Vienna and already are regulars at a Thursday night pub quiz. We suck at music round, but won the quiz twice and somehow scored a ticket to the Austrian pub quiz championship.

Now that I have time to catch up with friends and family I get asked a lot what has changed and what stayed the same and what do I miss.

A weird thing I noticed is that I still have the impulse to get my ticket out of my bag whenever I get on a bus or metro. And boarding a bus via the back door seems wrong to me. I still have the urge to greet the bus or tram driver whenever I board. I had to get used to saying “Bonjour” all the time to everybody, now it’s difficult to stop.

There still are a lot of places where you can smoke in Vienna and it never stops to surprise me. The café in the shopping mall where we do our weekly food shopping has a smoking section. The Serbian restaurant that does delicious Pljeskavica has a smoking section and the one time Gergö and I had lunch there we were the only people in the non-smoking section. We were also the only people not saying “Dobar dan” when we arrived. I also was alone in the non smoking section of a coffee house on the green market that sells everything by the kilo. This week there’s a petition to sign at the magistrate asking to finally ban smoking in all cafés, restaurants and bars and I’ll certainly sign it.


Le 4ème déménagement en 3 ans

Today I hired a cab to transport an old Billy shelf, plants and my big red chair from my mum’s place home. I planned it badly, though, for the middle of the afternoon, when Gergö is at work. He started his new job on September 3 and will work from home. For the time being, he works at the office. His desk and chair are assembled now, but he is still waiting for his work laptop to show up, so he is using a desktop machine at the office.

I figured I only need to take out the shelves and carry the empty corpus (that’s what Ikea calls it) to the elevator with my mum. Turns it was about 1 cm too high to fit into the elevator. I really really didn’t want to carry a Billy down four flights of stairs with my mum. And the cab I’d hired explicitly said they only do transports from sidewalk to sidewalk, so I resigned myself to not being able to get this done today.

I had forgotten about the casual sexism of men used to doing heavy lifting. They showed up on time, wouldn’t let me load the car and when I said that the Billy didn’t fit into the elevator one of the guys carried it downstairs alone. I’m a feminist, but I will let strong men unload heavy things from the car and carry them much further than contractually agreed upon.

I paid them and even gave a big tip. The joke’s on me though, because I sent them away saying that I can get the shelf out of the lift and the 2 metres to my front door alone. I couldn’t. Not because it was too heavy, but because the wall on the 5th floor is lower than on the ground floor and blocks me from getting the shelf out from the elevator. I ended up taking it out on the 4th floor and sticking a note on it saying “Sorry, I will carry this upstairs later”.

I got lucky in most other aspects of the transport, though – the casual racism was minor and I managed to change the topic quickly and hear about the cab drivers side business as vegan pastry chef instead. And it only started pouring down once I had everything safely inside the apartment (or well, on the 4th floor of the building).

The last two weeks were exhausting. I knew that I hated moving apartments. After all, I’ve done it four times in three years. But I had, as usual, underestimated the amount of work that goes into filling an apartment with furniture. When we left Vienna three years ago we didn’t take any furniture with us. We sold, threw away, gifted and donated all of our furniture and most of our other belongings. And the last three apartments (Palaiseau, Paris Bercy, Paris Clignancourt) were furnished.

We still managed to accumulate a lot of things while living in France. We asked three moving companies how much it would cost to transport our stuff to Austria. The estimates were 2 000 € upwards, so we decided to move by post. One package of up to 30 kilos cost 59 €. Gergö estimated that we would need 10 boxes, I thought 3. We donated a lot of household things to Emmaüs (it’s a lot like Caritas).

We posted 7 boxes of clothes, personal belongings, favourite mugs and documents to Austria. The 6th one I called box of shame, because frankly, it consisted mainly of things I should have let go of but couldn’t. The 7th box consisted of things I had forgotten about. If it had been a word document I’d have called it “box_last_last_final_2.docx”.

We took it to the post office on Wednesday, our very last day in Paris. I was nervous about returning the apartment because our landlords were extremely thorough when we moved in. They basically counted every tea spoon and pillow case. So I reckoned that would happen again. Instead they did a cursory tour of the apartment, offered to write a cheque for the deposit but agreed to do a transfer instead. 30 minutes later we were in a cab on our way to the airport. Way too early, but there really wasn’t anything left to do in Paris.

I said something like “I was nervous, but I think I handled that pretty well. I didn’t freak out and I didn’t even cry once.” Gergö said he thought that I was indeed calm, but he thought that I was catatonic, sitting on the sofa, reading on my phone. And I was trying very hard to distract myself with funny gifs and uplifting buzzfeed listicles on home improvement. I even mostly stopped reading my twitter feed for the last two weeks in Paris because I felt I couldn’t handle any more terrible news from all over the world.

We arrived in Vienna fairly late. My dad picked us up and had an inflatable mattress, blankets and pillows borrowed from my sister and my mum in his trunk. We spent our first night on the inflatable mattress in an otherwise empty apartment.

I slept badly, but I think it was mostly the adrenaline wearing off.

Our fancy new mattress was delivered on the first day. The delivery people brought them up and put them on the floor of the living room. I asked if I needed to sign anything. “One second, there’s more”, they said and brought in two large boxes. I was surprised because I hadn’t ordered anything else. But I signed the papers, they left and I lifted the boxes. They were very light. I opened them and they were empty. There was absolutely nothing in it. I have no idea who messed up and how, but for some reason our mattress delivery came with two boxes of air.

They ended up coming in handy for collecting all the cardboard we accumulated.

The first two days we spent without anything to sit on, except a hand crocheted carpet I had insisted on bringing. My sister and my mum brought over the triplets for a picknick on the carpet and jumping on the inflatable mattress. Since then we have been to Ikea twice and had a large delivery by them as well. The apartment has filled up with Ikea flatpacks, empty cartons, assembled furniture and the detritus that comes with all of this. I borrowed my sister’s orange cart (the one that fits three sitting three year olds) to bring a cartload of carton and plastic to the Mistplatz (the place you take the recycling that’s too big for the bins or for which there are no bins).

We got back Miriam, our sour cherry tree that had been at my sister’s place and also a giant ficus benjamini

We are slowly getting there…

Au revoir Bercy, bonjour Clignancourt

The move went as well as could be expected.

As per usual I underestimated the amount of stuff we had. But that soon became evident when I couldn’t fit all my clothes into my large suitcase even after I opened the zip that expands it by about 20 cm.

We discussed when the taxi van would come to pick us up (13:40) and then, on the Saturday of the big move, I suddenly misremembered the time as 13:20 and insisted to be downstairs with all our luggage at 1pm. I’m still surprised gergö agreed to it without arguing. We only cleared up the mistake once we had 9 pieces of luggage downstairs.

On the plus side that left us enough time to get lunch from the food truck that is in the park on Saturdays. I’d seen it once before but wasn’t hungry at the time. Of course I had to try the home made pickled veggies. The veggie burger was delicious as well.

It would be a lie to say I was getting nervous by the time it was 13:30, because I had already been very nervous for the entire day. Every time a taxi drove past I indignantly said “That’s not a van!”. When the car arrived it was a very big van. The driver helped with luggage tetris and we easily fit all the suitcases and boxes into the trunk and only had to take two medium sized bags to the sitting area – which was no biggie, as it had room for 6 people facing each other.

The plan was to unpack the two big suitcases and the small ones and return to Bercy with them. Maybe bring another bag or two. I was proud that I fit all my clothes into the wardrobe until I realised that a whole lot of them are still in various bags of dirty laundry and some additional boxes when I ran out of space.

After the first run.

When we arrived back in Bercy for the second tour it was evident that there was a concert – there were large groups of people everywhere. I sometimes try to guess the artist or music style based on the crowd. It was fairly easy for Metallica – I’d never seen so many middle aged men wearing metal shirts in one place. It was more difficult for Celine Dion – lots of women but not exclusively, all age groups. It was impossible for Phil Collins – what are elderly British couples doing here?

The crowd for the concert on Saturday was almost exclusively black. It was a different crowd than for Drake, though. There were vendors selling beignets (fried food, can be sweet like donuts, but I’ve also seen it salty) and drinks. There were women dressed in evening gowns who I suspect left their coats in the car, wearing extremely high heels. I saw someone wrapped in a flag, but I didn’t recognise it. It was only halfway to our apartment that I saw that it was a concert by Youssou N’dour. I know the name because of a song in the nineties he did with Neneh Cherry. Turns out he is not just a musician but also a Senegalese politician and he draws quite the crowd.

We returned to the apartment and did some more packing. Gergö really wanted to take at least his large suitcase back to the new apartment by metro. He was concerned that we wouldn’t fit everything into the van on the next day. I only took a small suitcase and our fresh food. I thought at 9 pm the concert would be in full swing and there’d be no more crowd outside the metro stop, and said something to that effect. Gergö finally stopped the tolerant boyfriend act he’d been keeping up all day and snapped at me “You are overthinking this, Verena!”.

Well, I wasn’t. The place was just as busy as before. I don’t think there was anybody trying to sell or buy tickets anymore, but there were people chatting and eating and arriving and leaving and just standing around. I bumped into about 20 of them with my suitcase and promptly lost Gergö on the way.

He wanted to use the elevator, but while it looked like it worked, it never moved. In order to get from our old apartment to the new one you need to change metros at châtelet. It’s the stop that most lines call “Châtelet/Les Halles”, except for the few metro lines that stop at both châtelet and les halles, like the 4. The change over from 4 to 14 isn’t so bad, as they are right beside each other and you don’t have to walk along endless underground tunnels for hours.

That was one of the reasons Gergö originally wanted to do the move by public transport – only two metros with an easy change over. So it was very gratifying when most of the elevators and escalators weren’t working – my decision to spend about 70 € on taxi vans was the right one. I’m sure even Gergö agreed as he was dragging the large suitcase upstairs at châtelet station. So yeah, I hate moving apartments, but I do get a kick out of being right twice in one day. Almost worth the move. Almost.

The second day the taxi van was smaller and the driver didn’t help much with the luggage. During the ride he listened to Radio Africa 1 and sang along and we even heard a song by Youssou N’dour. We successfully transported the rest of our belongings to our new place in Clignancourt. I was wrong when I said we’d be moving to Montmartre. We are in the ugly little sibling quartier of Clignancourt.

I’m glad I took photos before we moved our things, so I can show the apartment without having to tidy up the incredible mess.

The new place is slowly taking shape. The bed turned out to be far too soft, but before we buy a new mattress Gergö wants to try sleeping on the floor with just the mattress. For that we need to make enough room in the apartment to put the bed frame somewhere. For that I needed to go to the laundromat once more for the giant bag of bed linen and towels that needed washing.

You can tell that Clignancourt is less fancy than Bercy because there are more laundromats and they are busier. There are about 10 laundromats on my way to work. The closest is literally around the corner. I filled a 14 kilo machine easily and then hoped one of the 8 giant tumble driers would free up in time. We are looking at a manageable amount of laundry for the first time in months.

For the first week of his new commute Gergö sent me daily texts how long it took to get to work. It’s about 45 minutes and he didn’t yet have to commute in the warm embrace of a complete stranger while people try to shove their way onto an overly full train, so I think it’s a win. I’m not sure he agrees. I really enjoy walking to work – 2 kilometers which take 22 minutes. I hatch a Pokemon egg every other day. It’s definitely an improvement over métro 13.


old sign advertising electricity, showers and phones in hotel Frochot

Encore un déménagement

We found a new apartment and will hopefully sign a new lease on Thursday. It’s closer to my work this time (2 km or 20 minutes by bus) and Gergö will have to take the metro to work instead of walking. It’s small, no surprise there, 39m2. It has a separate small bedroom with some closet space. The sitting room and kitchen are separated by a bar. The kitchen seems pretty fancy and has 2 gas hubs and two regular ones.

We’ll no longer have a fold out couch. The couch is definitely too small to sleep on, though I’ll probably still fall asleep on it and later regret it. We’ll keep the single inflatable mattress, for visitors, but it won’t be the same as our current couch.

our sofa with an ugly pattern of green, mustard and brownish orange

The loudest sofa in the world

The apartment is technically in Montmartre, I think – but in reality it’s a 20 minute walk to the back of the hill. So it’s not the romantic area of Amélie, don’t get your hopes up. It’s located between M4 Simplon and M12 Jules Joffrin. And it’s a little cheaper than our current apartment. The downside of the apartment is that we will rent it only until August 2018. The landlady’s son will return from his studies abroad and she’ll need the place back then. So I’m hoping he is one of the many, many exchange students who fall in love and stay in their host country ;-)

There’s a small supermarket in our building and a post office across the street. A little further down the road is a tea salon / patissier with nice street art.

 a collage of a rat wearing armour made from small lego pieces and spikes on its back street art of a bird with patterned feathers

During this move I’m working full time, as is Gergö, so we won’t be moving by public transport like last time. I just ordered a taxi van online for Saturday. We’ve only been in the apartment since mid-February. So, like last time, I’m hoping against all evidence that we don’t have that much stuff, really.

Gergö had a beer subscription for the last months. Every month there’s a box of 6 different fancy beers in the mail. So we should have at least 6 boxes we can fill with our stuff. Plus the two big suitcases and two small ones.

Like the two apartments before, we found the new one via science accueil. The process is to email them your requirements (how many rooms, which arrondissements) and then you get a list of apartments. They say it takes up to two weeks to get a response, so Gergö prepared me for the wait. I still got nervous about the fact that we didn’t receive any feedback and hadn’t even started looking at other ways to find apartments yet. And what if we didn’t find anything with science accueil, what would we do then? “It’s only been ten days! We discussed this, Verena, we don’t freak out before the 2 weeks are over!”, Gergö said, as if he never met me before.

While I was busy coming up with worst case scenarios of homelessness in Paris, Gergö also looked at another agency, renting out furnished apartments. My personal highlight was a 14sqm apartment in Montmartre on the 7th floor without elevator for 800 €.

Before we decided on the apartment we also looked at one other place – an apartment hotel across the street from Gergö’s workplace. I expected a soulless depressing place, but it was actually not so bad. It didn’t have any storage space though and not a single book shelf. Gergö didn’t like the tiny little kitchen – only two burners.

I was tempted, because it had a laundry with really big washers and driers and access to a gym room. Also the linen and towels are changed every two weeks and the room is cleaned as well. Weirdly, for Paris, we didn’t have to decide right away. The apartment hotel is very new and they could only build it because they agreed to accept researchers as permanent residents for a special reduced price. And they don’t have the right to say no to them. It’s good to know there’s an expensive but doable option for us in Paris, as long as Gergö is a researcher.

Because our week isn’t going to be stressful enough as it is, our washing machine broke. It had been acting weirdly for the last couple of months, occasionally forgetting the program or restarting itself. Now it’s completely broken and has started to smell bad. I was ready to face two weeks without laundry, I have a lot of clothes. But I also have an inexplicable affection for large washing machines. So on Thursday I trekked to a launderette. It was everything I hoped for: 13 kilo machines and even two for 15 kilos! I only had enough laundry for a regular sized machine, though.

I sadly didn’t have any more battery left to take a picture of the enormous driers. I could probably fit in there as a whole. I didn’t have time for another visit to the launderette but I’m already wondering if it’s not really time to wash all of our blankets and pillows.

Shortly before the place closed, somebody came in and opened the drawers of all the washing machines poured water into them and scrubbed half heartedly with a toothbrush. I was a bit disappointed that I had to leave before he got to the driers. I would so have loved to see if he opens up all the driers every day and gets out all the drier lint. I realise it’s weird, but at 3.50 a pop, launderettes and giant washing machines are a fairly harmless fascination/obsession.

Just to cut down a little on the amount of stuff to move, I went to a bookshop on Sunday – a second hand bookshop called San Francisco Book Company. They also buy English books or take them on credit and I figured I could get rid of the English mystery novels I bought in a moment of weakness coupled with my new disposable income. I got 17 € in credit which I will not spend before we didn’t move all our crap across town. I love the idea of having book credit in a cramped little bookshop with piles of books on the floor.

Today we visited our cellar for the second time since we moved here. We retrieved the two boxes of inferior French cooking pots we put there to make room for Gergö’s superior Austrian ones. We also spent 5 minutes trying to figure out how to deflate the inflatable mattress, pushing and pulling on the valve to no avail. I even googled the mattress name and found that another person asked the same question on amazon. The response was to put in the deflate nozzle. Ours didn’t come with a deflate nozzle, but I hope I can work the expression into a conversation soon! In the end I used a pen to open the valve, we won’t have to explain to a taxi driver why were transporting an inflated mattress.

Wish us luck!

Enfin à Paris

We’ve been staying in Paris since Thursday. And every day we have been going back and forth between Palaiseau and Paris to move our stuff. By train and metro.

Somehow Gergö was convinced having a fixed date where everything needed to be packed and ready to go would be more stressful than going to Palaiseau with two empty suitcases everyday. I went along with it, still convinced against all evidence that we don’t have that much stuff.

On the streets of Palaiseau

All in all we made the trip Palaiseau to Paris with two suitcases and two backpacks 7 times. We only moved 18 months ago. It remains a mystery how we could have accumulated so many things in the meantime. The first few trips I neatly unpacked my bags and filled up the wardrobe. Since Sunday it’s mostly just dumping stuff on any available surface, so the suitcase will be empty for the next trip.

I found out that I have a lot of socks, far more than I was aware of. I might be needing them in the future, though, we don’t have heated floors anymore. The new apartment doesn’t have a thermostat either. We have to switch the electric heaters on and off individually. So far we haven’t dared use the washing machine, yet. It’s a fancy American top loader that is somehow connected to the giant boiler. It doesn’t heat up its own water but takes the hot water from the boiler.

Off peak electricity is cheaper, so the boiler is programmed to only heat up water during the night. If we want to wash during the day we have to switch the boiler to the night setting and then turn it back off again afterwards.

Right now we are in the empty apartment in Palaiseau, waiting for our former landlady to show up and do the “état des lieux”.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the evil geese. I went in close to get a good last look before saying goodbye. They hissed at me but didn’t outright attack, I think because they were hoping for food and realise they won’t get any if they kill me.

The upstairs neighbour is playing music too loudly again. He has been becoming more and more erratic lately. He has always thrown empty beer cans through the metal rubbish chute but now he also occasionally shouts and screams and plays music so loudly he doesn’t hear the other neighbours knocking on his door.

This all makes us appreciate our new apartment even more. So far it has been a quiet place, even the train station isn’t loud. Only on Sunday night, after a hockey game at the nearby arena there was a lot of honking from the inevitable traffic jam of large events.

I had a little walk around the park of Bercy and I already saw a heron.

It’s promising to be a good area.

When we signed the contract, our landlady mentioned that we will need to introduce ourselves to the gardienne after she’s back from the holiday. I had no idea that was necessary and tried to ask for more info, but she didn’t elaborate. She also briefly mentioned that some people apparently tip her, but she doesn’t think it’s necessary. It’s their job, after all. I wanted to ask all about that as well! Tipping in France remains a mystery and responses from French people about tipping vary greatly. These small cultural differences interest me the most, but I couldn’t convey this, it seems. While she explained how to work the shower controls at length (it’s a regular tap), she wouldn’t elaborate on gardien etiquette at all.

Les environs

Gergö already showed you a few photos of the apartment. Even before we got the key we explored the neighbourhood a little and I took lots of photos, as usual.

I didn’t want to jynx the whole thing even after they said yes, because there were was so much information and documentation to supply. I was worried something would go wrong. We had to show: last year’s tax return for both of us, proof we paid our rent for the current apartment, Gergö’s work contract, the last three pay slips, a form we had to fill out and sign, copies of our ids. It’s apparently a completely normal process. Landlords can demand all of these documents.

On the other hand they have to supply the information of the apartments energy class, a document of what needs to replaced by the proprietor and what by the renters and they can’t ask for more than 2 months rent as caution / security. The contract is for one year and extends automatically for another year. We have one month’s notice, they have three.

We also had visitors again this last week. There was a lot of food! Our guests love cheese as much as we do, so we bought a lot of it, tasted it and learned a bit about cheese in the process. Mimolette, for example, is a hard cheese, dark yellow and looks like little insects ate holes into the rind because mites are used to age it and they eat little holes into the rind.

Of course we also went to our neighbourhood alpine chateau. Yes, it’s just outside Paris, but it stil has elks, edelweiß and skiing decoration everywhere. They serve about 17 different ways to prepare potatoes and cheese. Awesome, in one word.

The restaurant is so close to the Yvette that it was very much affected by last spring’s flood. They were closed for all of summer for repairs. It was the first time we went again after the reopening and I was worried that they had changed the decor into something more subdued. It wasnT the case at all. On the contrary, if it’s possible there was even more alpine kitsch everywhere. And they had added little cabanas in the courtyard.

We also went for the fanciest éclairs of Paris, had a wander around the Marais and visited the Museum of Magic. It’s located in the cellar of de Sade’s former town house. Gergö was most impressed by the underground well. I had mixed feelings about the magic show that was part of the ticket – I was amazed and impressed by the magic and terrified of being called onto the stage as an assistant. Luckily the magician mostly chose children, but I still rehearsed the names of playing card colors in my mind (cœur, carreau, trèfle, pique) and was a little grateful there are only low numbers involved.

We also had excellent Moroccan food. In France couscous is used as the name for the whole dish. What we call couscous in German and English is just semoule in French (semolina in English / Grieß in German). When you order a couscous dish you get a big bowl of semoule, an equally big bowl of vegetables. And if you ordered a non-vegetarian version the meat is served on your plate and you add the grain and veg to taste.


La recherche d’un logement

Gergö will start a new job in Paris in March and our rental agreement expires by the end of February. So in the next 6 weeks we should find a place to live, ideally in Paris in the South-East.

When we looked for a place to live in 2015 we sent a couple of emails to estate agents asking about apartments and never heard back from any of them. In the end we used the help of science accueil, an organisation that supports incoming researchers. They had a list of apartments, we sent emails directly to proprietors et voilà, un appartement.

When we started looking again this time, we tried the traditional way again: sending emails to people who advertise their apartments online. We’ve learned in the meantime that you don’t just express an interest in the apartment and ask to view it.

No, you have to introduce yourself, tell them your income and your situation, and then ask if it’s possible to view the apartment. Websites that explain the apartment hunting process in Paris to foreigners explain that and also list details of what you can be asked to provide as proof of income and solvency and what isn’t allowed. These websites also say that proprietors will ask for a garant, a security or guarantor, Bürge in German, if you earn less than 3 times the monthly rent.

What we found is that they demand you earn 3 times the monthly rent and still want a garant plus proof of your income (the last three pay slips), and proof that you paid your last rent on time (you get a quittance every month, I always wondered what that was for). They can’t lawfully reject a garant who isn’t French. But the person is required to be present and sign paperwork when the rental agreement is signed plus also provide proof of income.

It seems incredibly unfair. Not only are rents ridiculously high in Paris, and apartments tiny, they are also impossible to get if you aren’t well connected. And I’m speaking from a position of relative privilege – we can proove our income and it isn’t that low. We might even be able to pay for an apartment that isn’t a “studio with american kitchen”, i.e. one room with a fold out couch, a microwave oven and two hotplates in the corner.

We ended up viewing one apartment in a very nice quarter close to the Bastille and an open market. It was January 1st and icy. It had even snowed in Palaiseau.

When we arrived at the house we discovered it was a group viewing and the landlord discovered he didn’t have the right access code. A lot of houses in Paris don’t have door bells. They just have a number pad and you have to know the code to get in. Apparently this one had been changed since his last visit. So we stood around for 15 minutes in the freezing cold waiting for someone to leave the house at 10 am on New Year’s Day.

The apartment itself was unfurnished and had individual electric heaters. The building was ancient, too with a tiny little staircase.


It also had those old fashioned china door handles and an ancient yellow monster of a couch that I failed to photograph. Gergö wanted out immediately but I wanted to hang around and see how other people handled the situation. Some people left right away, others stayed around and presented their “dossier” to the landlord. They had all their papers with them, some in copies to leave with the proprietor.

After that rather pointless viewing and three or four fights about the way to proceed we ended up back at one of those organisations that help incoming scientist.

The absolute highlight of that excursion were the two black swans I saw in the park opposite Cité Universitaire.

I mean, the trip also potentially helped us find an apartment in Paris without tearing each others heads off. But I’ll hold off on that judgement until we actually sign anything. Acc&ss, as they are called, referred us back to science accueil. Since then Gergö has been emailing back and forth with them filling out forms, explaining that he has already filled out this other form, etc.

But we also got a list of aparthotels (extremely expensive) and websites that cater to foreigners who want to rent short and medium term. I’m not fond of moving house but I keep telling myself that it’s much easier now, without furniture. And it’s simply good to know that there are options in case we don’t find anything before the end February. Which is soon!


Une oie m’attaquée

Last week, as I was walking to the supermarket, I came past the geese who live by the Yvette. Normally they are by or in the little creek, but on that day they were grazing in the park on the other side. I was walking in their direction when one got curious and came in my directin. I thought it expected to be fed – a lot of people bring old baguette and lettuce to them.

I held out my hand to show the goose that I didn’t have any food. Turns out it didn’t want food. Instead it attacked me. I had no idea they are as aggressive as swans. Luckily, they are smaller than swans, so when the goose came at me, it only pecked my foot and bit my ankle. I was wearing my Waldviertler boots, so I barely felt it. It was scary and funny at the same time. I retreated and took a different path through the park, while the goose waddled back to its grazing place, hissing. I didn’t even think I was close to them, but apparently the goose didn’t share my assessment.

On another day this week, my upstairs neighbour had locked himself out of his apartment. When I got home he and his mum were standing by the entrance and asking me if I knew if the gardien (janitor) could help. I didn’t know, but at least I could tell them his name and phone number. A few minutes later I was sitting on my couch, probably on my computer, when I heard a noise from outside. As I looked out the balcony window I saw the janitor climb up and past my apartment. Good to know, that unlike janitors in American cop shows, our janitor apparently doesn’t have keys to the apartments. But he is a good climber, and pretty helpful at that. And now I also know how loud it is if someone climbs up the façade of our building.

In class this week we talked about Easter traditions. My teacher said that she heard that in Austria and Germany the Easter Bunny brings the eggs. “Of course it does! Who else would?”, I said, because I wasn’t aware that it doesn’t in France. It’s not that they don’t have an Easter Bunny, but apparently it (he?) doesn’t bring the eggs in France.

I also learned that France also has Easter fires, but they happen in front of churches, and are not a thing people do in their own yards. On Sunday we were invited to a meal at Gergö’s colleague’s. They live in the west of Paris, close to the bois de bologne. We had a little walk in the park after lunch but got caught in the rain that we waited out under a canopy with some German tourists.

The Bois de Bologne also reminded me of my first French lesson. I remember that in chapter one of our book, Emily (?) and Thierry meet and talk. The first sentence is “Il y a une grève!”, which means “There is a strike!”. At the age of 15 I couldn’t appreciate how very French this sentence is. I vaguely remember the story being about Emily being stranded because of the Metro strike, seeing Thierry and they talk. He is on a bike and a smug prick about it and he says he likes to cycle in the bois du bologne. She likes to dance. I disliked Thierry from the beginning. He was a condescending twat in bicycle gear.

I’m always surprised about the things I remember and not remember about my French class. I have a vague memory of a chapter being about a VHS recorder and how the different parts are called, which I found bizarre, even in 1996. Another one was about a girl wanting to be a mannequin. It all seems to weird. I’d really like to know how much of my memory is accurate. (And if it’s inaccurate, how the false memories end up being so weird). But I can’t for the life of me remember what the book was called or what it looked like. I just googled and looked on amazon, but none of the covers that come up ring a bell. I think maybe my sister had the same book and remembers the title.

Le chauffage

When we arrived in France in August and first saw the apartment in person, we didn’t notice that there are no radiators. In fairness, it was very hot and heating the place was the last thing on my mind. I noticed the absence of radiators soon, though. Then I had a good look around the place and couldn’t find any thermostat or or any kind of control, either.

I got a little worried about the heating situation. But the landlady said everything is included in the rent, electricity, heating, internet, everything. Then Gergö saw a small building on the estate that says “chaufferie”, which means boiler room / Kesselraum. So I thought we’ll be fine, come winter.

As it got a little cooler at night in September and there was still no heating, I expected it would be turned on in October. On October 1, there was still no heating and I was getting nervous. We discussed what to do – we both hate writing french emails and I felt extremely silly asking somebody, “So, uh, how do I heat this place?”. We ended up looking up the apartment listing again and checked the contract for the wording. The listing just said individual heating and contract didn’t say anything.

We weren’t happy about the prospect of electric radiators, but at least we knew what to expect. So we contacted the landlady asking if she had any radiators for the apartment. She replied that the building has a communal heating system. She wasn’t sure when it would be switched on, but we could just ask the janitor.

The thing is, we can’t agree on how to do that (because we are both a little afraid of talking to strangers in strange languages). Gergö wants to go over to his apartment and ring the door bell and talk to him. We tried that two times and he wasn’t home (or hiding from the lunatic Austrian couple). My suggestion was to text him – we have his cell phone number.

When there was a problem with our names on our mailbox, I did just that and received a very short reply: “This doesn’t concern me”. First, I wasn’t sure if that was just a polite french way to say: “go fuck yourself”. Then we checked the weekend-duty list of janitors posted in the hallway and saw that we have a different number for him. Gergö looked more closely and saw that this list contains two versions of his number, with the last two digits switched.

In a very adult fashion we ended up not doing anything about our lack of heating, except buy a cheap space heater to tide us over. Earlier this week a notice appeared on the entrance door. It warned us that the hot water would be switched off on Thursday all day. I expected that the heating would work after that, but no luck.

This weekend our landlady wrote that she heard that there are problems with the heating – some buildings have 25 degrees while others have no heating at all, like ours.

I’m just glad I brought my plush onesie while I wait how this plays out!

Edited to add: We woke up to the heating working. The floor isn’t cold anymore! Whee!

Nous sommes arrivés

Yesterday, we arrived in our new hometown for the next 18 months, Palaiseau.

Despite giving selling, giving away, donating, and throwing away most of our stuff, we still had 2 bags each and I had three boxes I wanted to send by mail (thanks, mum!). In a last minute struggle to remain under the 23 kilo baggage limit and my discovery of a few more dresses and bags hidden behind a door we never close we ended up with two more boxes to send (thanks, dad!).

The flight and train ride was mostly uneventful but very sweaty. I enjoyed being welcomed by this ad in France, though:


Arriving in Palaiseau-Villebon, Gergö made his first ever phone call in French. It went well, at least I think so, because our landlady came to pick us up. Gergö ended up walking, though, because her car wasn’t big enough to fit the luggage AND two people. The apartment is very close to and all downhill from the train station.


When we first saw photos of the apartment, we said “grandma died, and all this stuff is still good”. It has old, dark wooded furniture, with the occasional IKEA item thrown in, like the new bed and a fold out sofa. It also has wooden floors, a nice little balcony, a small pantry, two secretary desks, another small storage room, a walk-in closet in the bedroom and pretty eccentric wiring. One of the first things we tried, of course, was the internet connection. Gergö couldn’t get it to work and thought the extension cord is broken. It turns out, the modem/wireless router works just fine, but only when the living room light is turned on.

So far, the biggest mystery of this apartment is the complete absence of radiators and a thermostat. We don’t know if that means we have heated floors or that our landlady will bring in an electrical radiator when it gets cold. Gergö saw a small building called Chaufferie, so there’s still hope. We won’t find out about it for a while, though, as our landlady went on holiday today.

So did apparently everyone else here, including the caretaker, the bakery, the museum, and several shops and restaurants in town. Those that remain open have mediterranean opening hours with a lunch break from 12:00 to 15:00.

I’ll post pictures from the walk along Yvette and from town tomorrow.