I am taking a few minutes of “repose” to admire my new ceiling with all its ornate mouldings and ornamental detail, the intricate cast iron “guard-coeur” that prevents me from toppling out of my 4th floor french windows, whilst resting my feet on the honey coloured parquet that runs throughout this apartment. The christmas cards are on the mantle of the marble fireplace and the tree, whilst starting to wilt, is a reminder that the new year has arrived – and with it so have I, to the centre of the city. For the first time I have moved to the heart beat of Rouen and I am ready for new experiences.
A move of house, anywhere in the world is of course a major experience. It is best done, of course when you are fluent in the language of the host town. I, of course am not. We actually only had to move about 6 kilometers from suburbia to the pulse of the city, but we have always managed to make a meal of things, and this was to be no exception.
The first downside was that we were obliged to move. I like the word obliged, it works in both languages and people instantly understand why you are mad enough to leave a house with an enormous garden for an apartment which doesn’t even possess a balcony. The truth is though that the French system stinks when you are on the wrong side of it, and that’s exactly where we were.
Firstly, French rental contracts require a three month advice of termination. The trick is to find a new rental property which has only just been put onto the letting market, or not move at all. If, as we experienced, the only property suitable is actually vacant NOW, the horrible truth is that you will end up paying “double loyer”, that is, double the rent, as no landlord with an empty property is happy to leave it vacant. It becomes a game of bluff, and double bluff – and he will always have another interested party, and you will never quite know if it is the truth!
So there we were with the days ticking by, unable to find a house or flat that could accomodate our large family, and yet be close to school, when as luck would have it one popped up on the internet as we were brousing. One of our vital criteria was storage in the form of a garage as our suburban house was a furniture depository by way of a garage, and that was not going to disappear overnight. Having viewed the apartment we were delighted that it ticked 9/10th of the boxes; location, bedrooms, garage and charm!
The first step in any house rental process is to provide a dossier. This contains identity, evidence of salary and references. As this lay at our fingertips, stage one was to visit the Agence Immobilier, in this case, the Agence du Hussier (a crucial detail) to register our interest. Evidently this was all going too smoothly and a snag was due. My husband returned home ashen faced an hour later.
For those who don’t know, and I didn’t, a Hussier is a loan shark, and here-in lay the crucial point of conflict – he wanted money. When my husband placed his dossier on the table at the agence, the agent raised the rent by 200 euros per month. Outraged my husband left, not without haggling, but the hussier was not going to budge. The following day I arrived at the agence ready for a fight, and convinced of my chances of success, for in my hand I was waving a full page computer printout including the original rental price, address and photos of the same. It dawned on me that things were not going well when the word “erreur” cropped up several times, and I faced total humiliation as he flung out the phrase “ce n’est pas Bagdad” before turning on his heel and disappearing into his office, the door closing with a sharp snap!
A month later, eating humble pie we shook hands with the hussier and accepted the inflated rental, having found nothing comparable. After a delay of several weeks we finally signed the Baille (tenancy agreement) and met with the hussier, Monsieur Ploux, whose name was religeously pronounced with a letter missing thereafter. We were now the locateurs of an Apartment with garage in the centre of the city.
The final stage in the process was to visit the appartment for the inventory in company with Monsieur Ploux. As we gathered in the courtyard I enquired which was to be our garage from the row of four. There was an awkward silence and a shuffle of feet before our incompetent agent declared, somewhat shiftily, “il y a un erreur” (again that word)” il n’y a pas un garage”. Looking incredulously at the signed document in our hand which clearly stated “apartment and garage”, we looked to Ploux for an explanation, which wasn’t forthcoming. Clearly he believed that a second parking place would adequately make up for the missing garage, and for the same price! As tempers began to fray and Monsieur Ploux began to breathe his wine sozzled breath over us, we made clear our objections and the invalidity of the contract. Monsieur Ploux reached for his mobile from the depths of his pocket, and called the owner of the building stating that we were clearly difficult and unsuitable tenants.
A week later, and after some serious negotiation,( during which I was tempted to remark that we’d finally arrived in Bagdad), the price was finally dropped and we took ownership of the keys. We still had three weeks remaining to find storage for our furniture and the move was set for the week before christmas.
Moving overseas with an oversized removal van is one thing – when passing from one house to another, but moving from a house to an apartment is quite another. Firstly we had never had to consider the size of any of the ground floor furniture, and we have some seriously bulky stuff! We came to learn about an ingenious little invention called the “monte-meuble“. This handy piece of equipment is rather like a vertical escalator with a steel platform attached which is parked on a pavement and fastened to the window, onto which furniture is loaded and lifted mechanically into the building. Various French friends warned about unscrupulous removal companies who, to save time failed to strap on furniture – with devastating consequences!
As luck would have it, our “demenageur” let us down two days before the move and consequently we were left with precious little choice over who eventually moved us. I sat in pure frozen anquish as I watched item after item pass up the monte-meuble with not a strap or rope in sight! Included in this list was a precious antique gilt mirror, which miraculously arrived safely at the sittingroom window, only to refuse to fit past the “guard-coeur” and have to be sent back down again! But bless those hard-working guys as they solemnly carried the mirror four floors up via a spiral staircase!
A word of warning to all “would-be” movers! The cost of changing lodgings in France is exceptionally expensive, each individual takes his cut. In our case we were loath to pay the hussier the 1000 euro “frais d’agence” for his shoddy misleading service, but had no option! Added to that were the” double loyer”, deposit and removal fees, none of which came to less than 1300 euros each. No, moving in france is not to be taken lightly nor on a whim!