We’ve found a (mostly) perfect Toulousain apartment and are getting used to our new neighborhood, new french friends and new french customs. We started our apartment search hoping that stories of guarantors (someone promising to pay your rent if you don’t) and paying one year’s rent in advance were not true. But put yourself in a landlord’s chaussures – given the choice between a local French citizen with a long work history and an unknown American fresh off the boat, who would you choose?
We started our search at Leboncoin, the French version of Craigslist, hoping we would have more luck with an individual than a real estate brokerage. We were right, our lucky streak continues! After seeing several apartments and pondering several incomprehensible French voicemails (over and over again) we hit pay-dirt on Avenue Crampel where we’ve basically been adopted by a young French family.
This couple and their two young boys have been incredibly generous and welcoming. The apartment itself is also quite unique. Our place (chez nous) is above the landlord’s garage which is only used for storage. We have no party-walls and are surrounded by a lovely garden.
The only glitch has been the climatisation (AC). We spotted a split system in the apartment when we first visited but found out later that it wasn’t working. Late June and early July are the hottest months here and the forecast is for weeks of temperatures over 90 degrees. Oops.
Which brings us to an acclimation challenge, acclimation to the lack of climatisation. Apparently the French do not consider AC a necessity. I’m fairly certain that AC is as necessary for a functioning civilization as agriculture, law and art. But maybe I’m being a little dramatic… I’m pretty sure they would enjoy AC if they could just allow themselves to. I know they’re hot, I smell it on the metro.
The root of the French anti-AC sentiment seems to be one of conservation. Most homes have exterior shutters and walls with heavy thermal mass. Evenings are generally cool and most of the time interiors remain comfortable throughout the day. AC is considered just plain indulgent.
We’ve also been getting used to all the kissing. The french call it faire la bise (doing the kiss). I couldn’t explain it any better than this bizarre video:
We were invited to a recent party and experienced our first group faire la bise. No, France has not turned us into swingers, it’s a simple greeting and about as sexy as a handshake. At a party in the U.S. you might find your host and say hello. In France you find EVERYONE and faire la bise. By the time you’ve found and kissed everyone it’s probably time to go home.
Children carry out this custom with particular zeal. Tiny little faces with puckered lips came rushing at us from every angle when we arrived. I panicked and tried to simultaneously shake hands, hug, and pat the head of one young man while he bobbed his pucker around trying to land a kiss and get it over with.
Along with the smooching has been a lot of shopping. In our neighborhood so far we have found a delicious Boulanger (bakery) , a wine shop, a small grocery store that is open on Sunday (most are not) and an Irish pub. On Friday mornings there is a farmer’s market nearby with fruits and veggies, cheese, meat, bread, artisanal foods, coffee, and mattresses. Yes, between the fresh squeezed orange juice and the fresh made pasta there is always a mattress for sale, I have no explanation for this.
Probably the best thing about the market is the singing roasted-chicken man. Clad in a white T-shirt and up to his elbows in chicken juice, he sings to Diane whenever he sees her. Based on the shocked looks on the faces of other women at the market, it’s probably good that we have no idea what he is singing.
Our landlord dropped off a portable AC unit yesterday and let us know that he found a repairman for the split system. Now that we are out of mortal danger we will continue to indulge in our neighborhood and our new friends. More to come!