Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Trickle down effects of la Crise

I live in the 5th, one of the yuppie, pricier neighborhoods of Paris. My particular part of the neighborhood is filled with mothers who lunch and who yoga while their foreign nannies take care of children with nicer clothes than my own. The building I live in has 7 floors, with a family owning each of the floors, plus at least two chambres de bonne on the 8th floor.

As you all know, that's where I live. And up until now (minus the shower-peeing neighbor), it's been really quiet and peaceful up here. Maybe five out of the other 20 or so rooms had occupants. Besides me and the nanny next door, the others were all children of families living in the building. There are at least two families here with 8 children each, so it must be nice to be able to put the older ones somewhere and give them some space of their own at the same time.

However in the past few months, that's all changed. There has a been a flurry of workman going in and out on a regular basis. (And unfortunately these workmen have a penchant for starting work while I'm still asleep). But there have been at least five other rooms that have been done completely up and will now be rented out, which I take as a sign that belts are being tightened for a lot of these families, who up until now used them as storage rooms. They don't have showers, so they will likely be rented out for about 400€ per month - which can be a nice extra chunk of change at the end of each month. As a side note, it's funny to think how 400€ per month can get you a decent house in certain parts of France, but yet in Paris, it'll only get you a tiny room with no toilet or shower.

The other thing that struck me was talking with the guardien about some of the future inhabitants of those rooms. One of them is an older Russian woman, who was so grateful to have found that room. He said she was almost crying when she saw it and that couldn't believe how "big" it was. And that she was going on and on about how much nicer it was than anything she had in her country. It's funny isn't it, how it's all about perspective? My mother and brother really want to come over, but I've been putting it off because I don't want them to see where I live. I know they'd freak out and think I was living dans la misère. They wouldn't understand that it was a choice I made in order to put money aside for a down payment on something much nicer. But yet what they would consider awful living conditions seems like almost a dream to this poor Russian woman.

It's a strange world we live in. It reminds me of the first time I actually realized how lucky I was to have been born in the US (which, coincidentally enough, happened during a trip to Russia). It's all luck of the draw - we have no say in where we are born. And while my family was definitely not rich by American standards, we had it pretty good compared a lot of other families out there in the world. And I'm glad I'm reminded of that every once in a while - it helps me keep everything in perspective and reminds me to be grateful for what I do have and everything I've been able to do.

Which is a good thing, especially as I try to psyche myself up to pack my suitcase for yet another work trip to Bretagne with my condescending co-worker.



Blogger La Framéricaine said...

As you said, the value of any given abode is what you have to compare it to in your own past experience.

I have made Le Framéricain live in a 9' x 35' beat up old trailer for almost 3.5 years in the name of finance and a "cultural" experience. I didn't feel that he should leave France without living in a trailer!

I hope that you let your family come to visit you soon. They might visit your home once out of curiosity but once they climb the stairs to the 8th floor, unless they are Olympians, I bet they will be happy to meet you at their hotel!

Your post is very interesting concerning the ways in which the current economic climate is playing itself out on the ground.

Have a really nice business trip. I hope your condescending colleague will have la grippe.

April 18, 2009 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger La Framéricaine said...

I meant, of course, to say "leave the USA without living in a trailer."

It's still early here, for me!

April 18, 2009 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Ksam said...

Your husband is an understanding man! Fab tried to convince me to live in a trailer on the farm and I wasn't having any of it!

And I'm lucky - there is an elevator in the building, so I don't end up walking up all those stairs - though I probably wouldn't need a gym membership if that was the case!! lol

April 18, 2009 at 6:01 PM  
OpenID pinklea said...

It IS all about perspective, isn't it?
When I travel in Europe, some of the places I stay would be considered absolute slums back home in Canada, but I find them charming and real slice-of-life places. Even going down the hall to the toilet and shower doesn't phase me in the least. But at home - forget it! Those 5th floor walkups that only have room for a bed and maybe (maybe!) room for the door to open fully just aren't even on my radar!

April 18, 2009 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger Habebi said...

Fantastic post. I don't think there's much I can add- just that perspective is vital in understand your life and the people you encounter in it.

April 18, 2009 at 6:31 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I had a weird moment of perspective--but in the other direction. We're still thrilled with our new big apartment! And then I had my grandmother on the phone after my parents came to visit: "Your mother tells me your new home is cute but tiny!" Eek!!

April 18, 2009 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger Ken Broadhurst said...

The more I live here, the more I think the U.S. has gone way to far in the other direction. The newly built houses are often monstrosities in size. The U.S. standard of living is unsustainably expensive. Imagine having to heat all that space. Often 2 people live in a 300 sq. meter house. What a waste.

At the same time, many Americans don't live any better that people in chambres de bonne in Paris do. And they don't get to live in the heart of Paris, but out on a dirt road in a trailer or shack, among the skunks, opossums, and snakes. So yes, it is all perspective.

April 19, 2009 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

Great post Sam !
I did the same than you, almost 15 years ago when I got my first job. My mom couldn't undestand why I didn't want to stay at home, 45 minutes from Paris, in a nice suburb. I wanted to be in Paris and on my own. I had only 15 square meters with toilets and shower across the hall. My neigbors were lasy and not helpful with the cleaning and we had an invasion of cockroaches but still...I was on my own, in Paris.
And I like how you feel about it !
Perspective, it's really important.

April 22, 2009 at 7:13 PM  

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