French Property Insider Volume XII, Issue 38 Thursday, September 25, 2014 • Paris, France
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See Adrian Leeds and French Property Consultation on House Hunters International!
NEW EPISODE! "Finding Happiness in Paris" - Episode HHINT-6802H
Air dates/times: October 3, 2014 at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. E/P
For Lisa Anselmo, visiting Paris has always felt like home away from home. So when her mother passed away she looked to France for rejuvenation. Now, she's convinced that finding the perfect apartment in her favorite arrondissement could bring her some needed joy. She's seeking la vie en rose but Parisian prices could put a damper on her dream. With space coming at a premium price, Lisa will have to find the sweet spot between size and location when House Hunters International goes to Paris, France.
Out of curiosity I performed an Internet search on comments in various forums about rental apartment stays in Paris, and of course in particular, our own. It was very enlightening, to say the least.
One thing that repeated itself over and over again were the positive comments about a select few of the agencies, including ours and others with whom I have worked and known for many years. The agencies that are considered 'reputable' and which provide the best quality properties and best service are inexplicably those that are managed by Americans.
Without sounding 'prejudiced,' there is a rational and logical reason for this. Americans know what Americans want, expect and feel entitled to. There is no cultural divide with which to cross. In a fascinating conversation recently with a French woman who has a professional concierge service in Nice and who once worked for hospitality companies such as Marriott and Sofitel, she was well-informed and experienced in dealing with Americans. What she learned about them during her years managing them as guests in these establishments are what we don't need to learn, because WE ARE THOSE PEOPLE!
Americans live with a very high standard of living. Generally, those who travel have enough money to travel well and have come to expect a certain level of comfort equivalent with what they know at home. One may consider them 'spoiled,' but no doubt they have clear expectations and often a true sense of entitlement. For non-American managers, this may be difficult to understand and even more difficult to satisfy.
When Americans' expectations are not met, they immediately assume there is financial recourse based on their experience with the American idea "customer is king." For example, when they don't like their restaurant meal, they send it back and expect it to be taken off the bill. When a seam opens in a newly purchased dress, they return it to the store even if it's been worn and expect the store to give them at least a credit, if not a total refund. They expect that the management will want to keep them as a customer, even if it means a financial loss for the establishment on the one sale.
My French concierge friend joked that at the end of a stay, an American guest might sing the praises of a property and her service, then later send a letter explaining that something didn't meet their expectations and demand a refund of some sort. Of course, all of us who have American clients have been on the 'short end of that stick!'
As an American, you might say, "Of course!" -- while in France, this attitude is not at all the case. Money is not the 'bottom line' and retail establishments do not automatically assume the customer is always right. From an administrative perspective, no provisions for such satisfied-customer actions may have even been considered by the retailer's management! Their point of view is that everyone must assume a certain level of responsibility for their actions -- so the customer must admit he was 50% of the equation -- he made the decision to purchase that product or contract that service, for good or bad, and will have to live with that!
Yesterday in Parler Paris, I wrote about the cultural clash the Chinese tourists are experiencing here in Paris (adrianleeds.com/parler-paris/parler-paris-nouvellettre/). In response, one of our apartment owners who is Taiwanese born was very critical of the Chinese based on her own personal experiences and sent me photos showing overcrowded beaches to make a point about their lifestyle and culture. Clearly, an American owner or agent wouldn't be able to accommodate Chinese guests as well as the Chinese could themselves, for the very same reason -- the cultural divide.
As one who welcomes American guests, we could give advice to both the guests and to those who service the hospitality industry to make everyone's experience better. If you are an owner of a rental apartment or an occasional guest in one, then this might interest you. On our Web site is a link titled "Expectations" that really every traveler renting an apartment, ours or any other, should read first.
Here's your chance to read it now:
Know Before You Go
It's natural to have hopes and certain expectations of your upcoming stay in France. You've likely been planning it for weeks or months and certainly dreaming about all the things you're going to do while you're in the City of Light, on the Riviera or wherever your travels take you in this beautiful and ancient land. But be prepared -- and know before you go, what you can expect, and what not.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
When you rent an apartment in Paris, the first thing to understand is that the apartment is not a hotel, it's someone's home. You can't expect a home to behave like a hotel with daily maid service and furnishings built to take abuse. The owner expects you to enjoy their Paris home, but please take care and respect the apartment and its furnishings.
Space in Paris is at a premium and costs dearly. Parisians are accustomed to living in much smaller spaces than North Americans, so an apartment suitable for four people in Paris will be quite a bit smaller than a North American home for four.
STAIRS AND ELEVATORS
Apartment buildings older than 100 years, which comprises most of central Paris, are unlikely to have elevators. If it does, it's been wedged into a tiny shaft and may not accommodate more than two or three people, much less lots of luggage! Therefore, a description of an apartment that does not mention "elevator" likely doesn't have one at all -- so don't expect to have 20th-century amenities in 17th, 18th or 19th-century Paris buildings.
Even stairwells can be very narrow and steep. The European method of naming floor levels starts with zero, then one, two, three, etc. -- so a second level apartment means two flights of stairs. Buildings can go as high as five or six flights, although we don't represent apartments any higher than three flights ("troisième étage"). Even so, some ceiling heights are higher than others, and what counts really are the number of stairs and the height of the rise -- as many low-rise stairs are easier to mount than fewer high-rise stairs!
If you choose an elevator-equipped building, be forewarned that the elevators often are out-of-order and that means you'll be climbing stairs for a while, so either choose a building on a low floor or one on a high floor with two elevators (very rare) in case one is non-functioning.
If you travel with rolling suitcases, you'll find they mount and descend the stairs easily by rolling them up and down -- placing little strain or needing much strength. Once they're up, they're up, so carrying the luggage up shouldn't be a consideration for choosing one apartment over another, but do consider your comfort mounting stairs and be sure to ask about the level and the number of stairs, if this is of concern.
Keep in mind that the higher you go, the more light you may have, particularly on narrow streets or small courtyards (if that's important to you), so you may find mounting stairs a big plus!
No matter how beautifully renovated an apartment is, the owner is at the mercy of the collective ownership of the building to maintain the common areas. This means that the standards of the common areas -- the entry, stairwell, elevator, courtyard, etc.) in such old buildings may not fit your idea of "Paris perfect." Don't let a first impression color your experience of the stay in a luxury newly renovated Paris "pied-à-terre."
There is lots of renovation taking place in these old buildings. By law, construction can take place and noise can be made from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Expect to encounter noise and dust as the cities are always gentrifying and improving! And there is absolutely nothing the owner nor the agency can do about this and rarely are there advance warnings.
Walls and ceilings may be a bit thin, so it's also not at all unusual to hear noise from your neighbors or from people on the street. An apartment on a well-trafficked street will hear the noise from the cars, buses, motorbikes and even the daily trash collectors! It's the city with lots of life, so if you're sensitive to noise, opt for an apartment on the courtyard or bring ear plugs! But don't expect the sounds of birds chirping like you might in the countryside.
Making noise is still frowned upon, so remember that in all apartments, you're a temporary resident among permanent residents, so please respect the decorum when ascending and descending either in the elevator or on the stairs and within the walls of the apartment, too. (Take notice that loud speaking in any public place is considered impolite.)
Most buildings in Paris didn't have plumbing until relatively recently, so consider how modern bathroom facilities have to fit in to the floor plan of a modern apartment. If it uses a hot water tank instead of a "chaudière" (gas-heated instant hot water), the tank may not be large enough to accommodate many long, hot showers coming from modern rain shower heads!
Toilets are often separate from the tub/shower and sink. Consider this an advantage as more than one person can use the facilities at one time. This small room may not have a sink in which to wash your hands. A tub may have a hand-held shower, but no shower curtain nor hook on which to prop the shower head. This is not true for any of the apartments we represent, but it's not unusual as the Parisians have different habits and are comfortable without these conveniences.
DRIVING AND PARKING
Paris is trying to reduce the number of vehicles in the city by discourage the use of cars -- fewer parking spots, narrower streets or pedestrian areas, etc., so don't expect it to be easy to have a car within the "périphérique." Parking in a lot is possible, but not always convenient and definitely expensive. Also, French driving rules are quite different than North American regulations and signage may not be familiar. It's best to leave your car behind and plan on taking public transportation or taxis -- few cities in the world can top the quality of Paris' public transportation system!
ELECTRICITY AND LIGHTING
Electrical current and appliances differ in France from North America. If your apparatus is not dual-voltage, don't bother bringing it. Plugging in a 110-volt hair dryer into a 220-volt plug is sure to blow out even the strongest electrical system and could easily cause a fire. Well-equipped apartments will have plug adapters for American-style plugs and provide the necessary appliances so you can leave your hair dryer at home, but bring your computer or iPad!
Lighting in common areas is normally set on a timer for economical reasons -- just push the button to light the hallway. Then, be conscious of your usage in the apartment -- please turn off lights (and other electricity-consuming devices) in the apartment when not in use.
Don't expect Paris to be like any other city you've ever visited or lived in. You will encounter cultural differences you never dreamed of or perhaps don't even understand, but remember, no way is right or wrong, just different than your own. If you leave your 'expectations' behind, you will not have any disappointments and fall in love with the City of Light, just like all the rest of us!
*One personal note: Years ago I adopted Eckhart Tolle's http://eckharttolle.com/ vision on "expectations" and as a result became a much happier person with virtually no disappointments. He wrote:
The second half of this change is just as small, but just as important: dropping expectations. Not lowering expectations, but eliminating them.
Think about it: when we have expectations, and things don’t go the way we expect (which happens quite often, as we’re not good prognosticators), we are disappointed, frustrated. It’s our expectations that force us to judge whether something is good or bad.
When you expect something of a friend, co-worker, family member, spouse, and they don’t live up to that expectation, then you are upset with them, or disappointed. It causes anger. But what if you had no expectations — then their actions would be neither good nor bad, just actions. You could accept them without frustration, anger, sadness.
What if you went on vacation, to a place you had high expectations of, and it wasn’t what you thought it’d be? You’d be bitterly disappointed, even though it’s not the fault of that place — that’s just how the place is. It’s your expectations that are at fault.
When people disappoint you, it’s not their fault. They’re just being who they are. Your expectations are at fault."
P.S. Own a fraction of an elegant studio on Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris."Le Notre Dame" has been entirely restored to include its original centuries-old wood beams, fireplace and antique touches. There are only a few shares left -- visit Le Notre Dame for more information.
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