Friday, September 5, 2014

I shan't be homeless (I think)

"So what are you doing after you graduate?"
"I'm going to France for a year to teach English through a program called TAPIF"
"Oh yeah? That's awesome. So do they, like, give you an apartment or something?"'re asking me if a program run by the French government would ever make anything easy? Hah, good one. Next you'll ask me if it's possible to go vegan over there (hint: it's not). 

One of, if not the most, stressful things for a TAPIF-er is the inevitable task of finding housing. Read any old TAPIF blog and you see it again and again: the horror of looking for housing in France where landlords seldom answer emails and most places require you to have a bank account (which requires an address, which requires a bank account, which requires an address... you get it). Besides a few tips in our intro packets, we're basically left on our own to make sure we aren't homeless for the next 8 months. 

For me the search started a while ago. I considered being brave and waiting until I got there to find a place. You can actually see the place before you commit, and French renters are way more responsive to calls and direct visits. But then I remembered how I deal with stress (if you don't know me...I don't deal with it very well). Having to live out of a suitcase on the creaky bed of a hostel for a week while desperately trying to simultaneously open a bank account, visit my schools, get a new phone plan, and look for housing really didn't sound like the best route to go for someone prone to anxiety. 

And so the search began. I remember I spent eight hours one day making profiles on every housing website I could find:,,,,,, etc. 

I scoured the listings, I wrote messages to people and heard back from almost no one. I looked into staying in student dorms (a possibility in France even if you are not a student, cheap but crappy), I asked people who had lived in Grenoble, then I messaged their friends, and their friends' friends, I messaged people in the Grenoble TAPIF Facebook group. I did everything. I got so sick of it at one point that I had to rip myself away from my computer for a day to keep from going crazy. 

Then I had some luck. Another fellow assistant who had spent the whole summer in Grenoble with a host family gave me the contact information of a woman who was also looking to host a foreigner. I emailed her, sent her my picture, and heard back almost immediately. The place seemed really nice, in the center of Grenoble. The only problem was that it was pretty expensive, and my commute to work would have been long.  

At the same time another woman reached out to me on one of the housing websites. According to her profile she was also looking for une étrangère to rent a room in her apartment. She lived 5 minutes away from one of my schools in Echirolles, and the rent was really low. Almost too low. I was skeptical. Echirolles isn't the nicest of place. It's one thing to work in a ghetto, and another thing to live there. After a nervous Skype meeting with her (During which I absolutely butchered the French language), I decided she seemed  nice, but I would prefer to live in the city. I was basically ready to send the other woman an email asking her where to send the deposit. 

But then she emailed me: "I'm sorry, but the room has been rented. Bonne journée." I almost crapped myself. And then I sat stunned for a while. I had spent the last few weeks carefully writing overly-polite, grammatically-correct emails, to this woman and she hadn't even told me that I had competition. 

And so, I thought, I guess I'll look for something else, if all else fails I can always take the other place. Literally 10 minutes later the other woman messaged me on Skype, letting me know she had other people interested in the apartment and needed an answer in 24 hours. I swear, it was like they were working together to give me a heart-attack. They almost succeeded: hands-down that was the most stressful day of the entire summer. At the time it seemed like an impossible decision: commit to living 8 months in what seemed to be an overcrowded apartment I had never seen in the ghetto with a lady I had never actually met, or let go of the only housing option I had and deal with the stress of looking again (or possibly not having a place until I got there) in hopes of finding a better place in the city. 

In the end, I ended up spending the rest of the day in a detached, stressed-out haze while mulling over the decision, and then spending three hours constructing an email, basically begging her to let me commit to two months, pay a little more, and decide 100% if I wanted to stay there until May after I came. And she agreed. I don't think she was too happy about it, though, and at one point I thought she was going to change her mind and give it to someone else, which thankfully she didn't.

So I have housing. Seeing the comments of the other stressed-out assistants desperately paying insane amounts for agencies to find them a place to live (or opting for waiting until they get there), I'm glad I did it. It's such a weight off my shoulders knowing that at least I'll have a bed to call my own once I land, instead of lugging my suitcases around a hostel.  

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