Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Moving Home Part 2

It’s one thing to think you have found something you want to live in but quite another to get through the process of moving with minimal hassle. I didn’t accomplish the later. Some of the subsequent difficulties were predictable. Others were much worse than I could have imagined.

I found an apartment in another town. It is even smaller than Cafeolait and until a few months ago I knew nothing about it. The town was one of the locations which I had visited the most often in my search for somewhere to live because it had a train station that could connect with  a line to Paris. It was a little more affordable but required money and time for travelling to and from work. In a way that wasn’t such a bad thing. Sometimes it’s good to leave the work place well behind one at the end of the day, drive through the French countryside or take trains and arrive home in a completely different environment.

The apartment has two small bedrooms and a big balcony and is full of light. I found it on the internet and needed to deal directly with the owner so no agency fees were involved. Jean- Claude helped with the details and my dossier was accepted immediately. I had only to wait until the apartment was available but for a while at least I would have to pay rent for two apartments as I was required to give my boss two months notice. Quite a financial stretch for me but this is normal in France. Other ‘normal’ things in France were more challenging and this is where this Kiwi found the cultural differences tough.

For starters, the apartment had no storage. Not one cupboard or shelf anywhere. Look around your home. How would you manage with nothing like that at all ? This is standard here. There are usually no built-in wardrobes or vanities or medicine cabinets or kitchen cupboards or linen cupboards in hallways. The three consequences of this are as follows: 1. You must buy all of this yourself and install it, on top of the expense of moving, 2. Everything you install reduces your habitable space so what may have looked workable becomes cramped and uncomfortable, 3. When you move you must either leave it all there for the lucky landlord or next tenant or remove it and hope it will fit exactly into your next place (unlikely) or try to find a buyer at a time when you are up to your ears in shifting.

This meant I had to consider EVERYTHING. I had to ensure I budgeted for each of these items on top of trying to find money for essential things like a bed, a table and chairs, a fridge, an electric jug etc. I had to research on the internet what was available and how to order it, all in a foreign language. This was quite a challenge for me. I ordered some curtains which have not arrived a month later, some bedlinen I ordered was only partially correct but the vacuum cleaner and fridge I ordered via the internet arrived perfectly and function very well. Small successes such as these proved important as the rest of the process was arduous and stressful.

I couldn’t afford to hire a man with a van to move everything at once (very expensive here) so many trips by car after work and in the weekends were the norm. In the meantime Jean-Claude put his handyman skills to good use and built some little shelves in the entranceway for me to arrange my DVDS. He used the materials from an old vanity to build something under the sink in the bathroom and built some open shelves and somewhere to hang my coat and put my muddy boots in the hot water cylinder cupboard. Fortunately I’d had the chance to mention to the owner that I was disappointed not to see any storage in the kitchen and so was told two cupboards and a small bench top would be installed. I was grateful to have that small amount but there was no work space on the small bench in the kitchen so JC made a little table to lift up my microwave to give room for plates underneath.

Speaking of kitchens- it is usual to discover you have only a sink. That constitutes a kitchen in a flat in France. This is a severe culture shock for a Kiwi. In NZ you could expect an oven and cooktop, kitchen cupboards above and underneath some sort of work bench. You may or may not have a dishwasher but you could at least put food and plates somewhere and cook a meal. So, in France you need to supply your own kitchen, you only rent the space. The landlords want to maximise the rent from habitable space so they rent out empty rooms. If they don’t supply something they are then not liable to maintain it so there are no light fittings or cooking facilities or appliances. In some contracts if you make a hole in a wall to hang a picture or for any other reason you will be charged 10 euros per hole. My rental contract says nothing about this but it is constantly in my mind when I think of what I need to do to create a home for myself. Absolutely nothing about this moving experience has been like all my previous ones. The smallest arrangements are fraught with uncertainty and unwelcome surprises which are too numerous to mention but I will mention one aspect of my move that was particularly gruelling.

I needed to order some furniture. Normally this would be rather exciting and a great creative exercise. I was interested to discover what is available in France, how one orders, what are the sizes. I discovered that when one orders furniture it is not automatically delivered and it is NOT in a state immediately usable. In my price range (that of most French people who don’t have much money) it’s all flat-pack. You have to put it all together yourself. I can do a small table or a small desk but that’s it. I gave away all my tools when I left NZ. All I have is a measuring tape and a hammer I bought here. Putting together free-standing bookshelves with glass doors, free-standing wardrobes, a bed, table, even chairs was beyond me so I had to pay to have it all delivered flat-pack and to have guys assemble it. That made me very nervous, and rightly so because you cannot be sure what you will end up with. Two guys arrived to unload the van and one was left behind to assemble all the furniture. That in itself was ridiculous, it was also dangerous.

He started in the bedroom, always good practice to get the bedroom sorted first, and I thought that after a while I could head off to Cafeolait and collect some more of my belongings because today was my moving day. He had difficulties working out things from the instruction booklet and trying to construct an armoire single-handed was much too heavy for one man. There was a crash right in front of me. He was on his hands and knees with his hands on his head looking in horror at the splintered base of my armoire. It wasn’t a hopeless case but it was damaged and so was he, on his arm where the base hand fallen. He refused my ministrations and stoically tried to carry on, hiding the splintered section of the armoire under the next layer of construction, but one of the doors to the armoire couldn’t function because the wood was bowed. There were pieces missing from a handle on the chest of drawers and one drawer was too tight for a female to open and close. The bedside cabinet door wouldn’t open or close because the key couldn’t open it. The bed could not be erected because one side had been mysteriously broken. There was no piece of furniture in my bedroom which could function correctly and some was unusable.

The two glass-fronted display/library units I ordered for the living room seemed to have problems with doors not lining up and the back panel was so thin it was like paper. Most of the chairs rocked around markedly on the floor as none of the legs seemed in sync with each other. The side buffet had doors that didn’t hang on too well. The only piece of furniture I had bought that was in a decent state to function was my dining table. Everything else had defects or pieces missing. It was a nightmare trying to sort out my belongings as I didn’t have anywhere to put them away. Moving was very delayed. I had to wait two days to have each piece unpacked and discover parts missing or damaged. This being the French summer I would have to wait until sometime in September to have things corrected.

What really upset me were the gouges in my bedroom wall. A brand new wall already marked and I hadn’t slept a night there yet. Marks from packing materials smudged the other wall. There was nothing I could do about either but It did spoil what should have been an exciting experience. JC and I had to go to the main distribution warehouse at Chartres to speak to the foreman there and go through every set of assembly instructions to identify each defective or missing part. Luckily for me JC is a very competent handyman or I’d have been sunk. One and half hours of our time were spent doing this.

Days later when the guys from France Telecom came to give me a phone/internet/TV connection they found they couldn’t give me any TV service ; maybe the trouble was the decoder, I’d have to look into it myself (even though I’d had to pay for the installation that was incomplete). Gritting my teeth I took off with JC for a few days at his father’s place in Brittany.

I will have a lovely place eventually but the persistence and expense required to move myself forward in any way is exhausting and disappointing. Oh well, life’s like that. So far this year I have found a car and a home. Not so bad. Though I’ve visited my new home frequently, I still haven’t lived there. I look around at the completely new environment. I’m starting over again but it will take time for it to feel like ‘me’. Once I sleep there and have some hotplates for cooking that will help me bond with my new home. I’m looking forward to that and to exploring my new town.


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