Le Petit Bretagne studio, is located on the quiet courtyard of a very charming 18th-century building in the heart of Le Marais. There isn't an apartment in Paris more charming and cheerful...ask all who have had the pleasure of staying here. It is completely equipped in spite of its size with a queen size bed that converts to twin beds, a washer/dryer, espresso maker, microwave, toaster-oven, two-burner ceramic stove, refrigerator, high speed Internet with WiFi, flat screen TV, DVD player, stereo, free(!) long distance phone service and more!
Last week we encountered a situation that sparked me to revisit an article written many moons ago and one that is posted on our site for all future apartment renters to read titled "Know Before You Go." It's targeted to renters of apartments in France, because as managers or owners of these apartments, you are sure to encounter visitors who have unrealistic expectations and therefore you as an owner or manager can never satisfy them.
We posted the article earlier this week as a special mailing, but I am posting it again now because we can't drive this home enough. We got a lot of response to that mailing, but there was one which was very disturbing. He wrote: "Only someone who has never traveled outside the USA should be sent this article. Insult to my intelligence and condescending to boot."
A response like this fascinates me because I wondered what on earth could trigger a response like this and there is only one answer: a bruised ego. He must travel often and perhaps is more clued in than the average tourist, but clearly he is not in the business dealing with the kinds of issues we face when trying to bridge the cultural gap.
The issue we had that triggered the article, although it's been on our Web site for all to read since about 2007, was a woman traveling with twin babies and an elderly mother. She comes to France often and should already aware of what she can expect, but it was still a shock and therefore created shockwaves that reverberated to the point of a big loss in time and money for the agency as well as for the owner, not to mention stress and havoc for the renter and her mother. It was an unpleasant situation for everyone involved that was totally unnecessary.
Strollers for her twins didn't fit into the usual tiny French elevator, causing her undo stress. She blamed us for not understanding her needs well enough. She assumed that because I personally was aware of her twins, that somehow that would magically translate to the booking agent with all the unspoken expectations of needing access for all of the equipment she might have with her to manage the babies, as if we knew what that was! I would also add that anyone traveling with young children, or an elderly parent, must understand that it's going to be a challenge, particularly in this environment.
We, as agency or owner, are not mind readers! Our booking agent would have done all he could to accommodate her and her brood if he had only known and fully understood those needs. So, to you renters, I also recommend that if there is something very particular to your needs, that you let them be known so that we or the owners can accommodate you in the best way possible, or we can alert you to what you can realistically expect, or we can tell you that we are unable to fulfill those requests. One way or another, everyone would be better prepared.
In my presentation at Parler Paris Après Midi on Wednesday, I imparted some philosophies of life that have served me well. Two that fit this situation appropriately are:
* Remove your ego from the situation. You don’t have to always be right. When you take the ego out, and let others have their egos, you actually empower yourself. “There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position -- a perspective, an opinion, a judgement, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, as so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right.” Eckhart Tolle
* Never have expectations, high nor low. An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or be the case. Change this for hope. Hope for something, but never expect it – and you will never have disappointments. Just take this word (expectation) out of your vocabulary, period. You'll be surprised how much happier, more content and fulfilled you will be.
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.
In my own world, I have learned to have no expectations whatsoever and then it is a blessing as I never have disappointments! Once you master this, you may never return to the lesser sane way of living...but I don't expect you (ha!) to have this same philosophy...at least not just yet!
Therefore, here are a few things to keep in mind:
When you rent an apartment in Paris (or anywhere for that matter), 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 an appartment on a lower floor or one on a high floor in a building 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 discouraging the use of cars -- fewer parking spots, narrower streets and wider 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 duel-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!
P.S. Next week I'll be in Nice working on my memoir "Viager with a View" and while I'm buried in nostalgia, you will receive rerun articles that were poignant in the past and poignant still! Hope you enjoy them.
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