Housing related advertisements in the French capital are full of strange expressions, here’s a short guide.”
In a scene of the movie “An American in Paris“, the protagonist, interpreted by Gene Kelly, wakes up in his cramped bohemian room: a typical studio flat where the bed is hanging down from the ceiling to make space for the breakfast table. Of course, it’s a folding table like all the rest of the furniture in that peculiar flat. The scene is paradoxical and hilarious. Anyway, many students and people living in Paris, for a short or long term, have experienced the mission to fit all objects of daily life into such tiny spaces.
In Paris, one of the most densely populated city in Europe, the hunt for some square metres turns into a hand-to-hand combat.
In the most populated areas, living spaces are microscopic, so, landlords and tenants have managed to find ingenious solutions to guarantee the basic functions of a real house.
This is the reason why advertising is full of strange phrases that can be understood only after being trained long enough as a flat seeker in Paris.
We selected some of the most peculiar features of accommodation in Paris for you. This list will help you save yourself from some shocking moments when visiting flats. In case you’re not so fluent in French yet, it will also help you decipher useful terms to figure out the challenges you will face living in a typical Parisian flat.
1. Espaces atypiques
I.e. atypical spaces. This means that you might have to do the dishes tilting the head sideways, or even forward or back, because of the slanted ceiling in the kitchen. This expression can also reveal that the architectural geometry of the specific flat was probably inspired by the pictures of Escher or the movies of David Lynch. Maybe you will be forced to crawl on all fours to go from the bedroom to the bathroom.
2. Lo studio
This is the typical, and so special, Parisian studio flat, whose size varies from 9 m2 (yes 9!) to 20/25 m2. The term appartement (flat) used in the advertisements to define this kind of accommodation sounds a bit daring.
3. 6ème étage, sans ascenseur
“6th floor, without lift”. This is another expression to be afraid of while reading advertisements in Paris. The big advantage is the low rent and furthermore you’ll save on the gym! These flats are usually on the top floor of an old building, cold in winter and hot in summer.
4. The scary corridor
The studio flats are often in dark narrow corridors with dirty carpets, even on walls, which might evoke your worst nightmare.
5. La chambre de bonne
This is a variant of the studio flat, whose peculiarity hides already in the name: the maid’s room. In fact, you will live in former servants’ quarters. The funny thing is that these wretched rooms are mostly in luxury buildings of rich districts. But you won’t use the main entrance, you will have your separate door and stairs, namely the servant’s entrance. What’s the difference between the maid’s room and the studio flat? Basically the fact that the toilet is rarely inside the flat (but on the landing) and that sometimes you’ll go to bed feeling like an outcast.
6. WC séparés
Ecco un’altra autentica bizzarria delle case parigine: il wc separato dal lavandino. In molti appartamenti, nonostante gli spazi esigui che non incoraggerebbero alla costruzione di inutili pareti divisorie, persiste invece la separazione in stanze diverse (les toilettes et la cosiddetta salle d’eaux) di oggetti che normalmente (per ragioni anche igieniche che è superfluo specificare nel dettaglio) dovrebbero stare vicini.
7. Wc sur palier
“Toilet on the landing”. In fact, in Paris the doormat is not always the only accessory you will leave outside. In this case, let’s hope that the toilet is at least private. See post below.
8. Wc privatif
This means that you are the only one who has the key of the toilet. The other option is to share it with ten more tenants on the same floor, with all related inconveniences you can imagine.
9. Shower in the bedroom or in the kitchen
The concentration in the same room of different objects with different functions, without consideration of hygienic and logical aspects, is pretty common in Parisian houses.
10. Réferences/garant demandés
Oh yes, to rent a flat in Paris you need a certain pedigree. In most advertisements a guarantor is wanted, i.e. a person working or paying taxes in France and with a sufficient income to refund your rent if one day you disappear. So, check your family tree and try to find a branch living in France. If this is not the case, good luck.
But you shouldn’t be surprised after all- This is the price you have to pay to make your dream of living in Paris come true! Forget about it, just go out and take a walk on the Champs Élysées, enjoying all those tidy square metres full of glamour. Or you can go to the Louvre and run along the corridors, from one room to another, like the characters of Band of Outsiders. : something you won’t be able to do once back home, in your romantic studio.
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