Living in Paris is a dream come true for many students. What’s not so dreamy is the typical Parisian apartment Americans students will stay in during their time abroad. It is important to understand that Paris is a very old city with very old buildings. Updating and modernizing these buildings while still preserving their historical attributes is not easy. Let’s take a look at what it’s like to live in a French apartment.
Americans are used to big appliances in our kitchens and our homes. This is not the case in Paris. Being an American, you almost have a toy dollhouse effect with Parisian apartment living as everything has been reduced in size and is crammed in less space. The typical Parisian apartment does not have: a clothes dryer, a dishwasher, an oven, a fire extinguisher, a smoke detector, a fire escape, an enclosed standing shower, or ample closet space. What it does include is a bathtub, toilet, sink, kitchen sink, small electric range or portable electric range and washer. If you are renting a studio in Paris, you will not have a bedroom and will most likely not have a washer.
The typical French apartment has a foyer, a WC (water closet), a bathroom, a kitchen, a living area, and bedroom(s). Each of these rooms will be small, especially the kitchen. If your living arrangement has an open floor plan where the kitchen flows into the main living area, this is called une cuisine américaine or an American kitchen. This open floor plan is typical of studios or smaller apartments. Radiators will also be throughout the apartment in bathrooms, main living spaces and bedrooms. Please be careful not to have anything touching them as they do get really hot in the winter and can be a fire hazard. Remember that most Parisian apartments do not have central heat or central air.
French plumbing is a mystery so much so that it deserves its own section. Don’t forget that in France you go to the bathroom to take a shower but go to the WC to use the toilet or bidet. Most likely, your Parisian apartment will not have a bidet and the toilet will be in the same room as the shower. In my Parisian studio, I had a very tiny bathroom and what looked to be a door to a small linen closet in it. This small linen closet was the WC. Even in such a small space, the bathroom was still separated from the WC. Another interesting aspect of my Parisian studio was the shower, or lack thereof. As I mentioned above French apartments typically don’t have standing showers. Instead, they have a bathtub with the optional shower curtain. I say optional as sometimes the bathtub does not have the shower curtain. The studio bathroom did not and I could’ve bought a rod and shower curtain to convert the tub into a shower but it did not occur to me at the time. I was so used to having an actual shower that I couldn’t believe someone would design a bathroom without one. Another thing to look out for with French showers is the water heater. The studio’s tub had a large water heater over it and the first few attempts at showering, I hit my head on it. I’m lucky I had no concussions but be aware this may be an engineering design you may have to work around.
With apartment living comes neighbors. Since you will be spending most of your time in class and exploringParis, you probably won’t be home long enough to experience noisy neighbors but they do exist. My immediate neighbor in the apartment building was a married couple who would argue every day around dinner time. It would get distracting when I was trying to do homework but thankfully it never lasted really long. If this happens to you, I suggest re-adjusting your homework schedule so that you don’t have the distraction. It is hard enough to talk to your neighbor about a noise problem in English and doing it in French can be very tricky. If you cannot re-arrange your schedule, you can always talk to le gardien who is essentially the land lord. Many Parisian apartment buildings have landlords living in the first floor apartment. This is a good person to know. They will sign for packages for you, can help with neighbors or can be a great guide to the city. Make sure to ask if you have a landlord and be sure to introduce yourself.
Living in Paris is not always as glamorous as the idea but it is well worth it. You will find many daily inconveniences in your housing arrangement that will make for funny stories and memories. Just remember you are still living in Paris and this is the price everyone pays for living in the most beautiful city in the world. Be sure to read some of the StudentUniverse travel guide’s on France!
Andrea Bouchaud is the author of e-book, Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris, available at Amazon.com. You can follow her at @twentyinparis and twentyinparis.tumblr.com