Is it a sink or is it a shower? A bed or a desk chair? And is the window even capable of closing?
Ahh, I see, you’re living in a chambre de bonne.
The “joys” of Parisian living, right?
Or more accurately, the joys of Parisian living in your 20’s. Once you’ve found your apartment, you need to learn to live in it.
Just think of your time in La Ville Lumière as a lesson in space management. If you’re looking to move to Paris, this is just a sampling of what you may come to expect.
1. I took the occasional what I like to call “sink shower”
When you live in a chambre de bonne, the most common Parisian apartment option, shower sinks are not as uncommon as you might believe. Now, some apartments come with their own shower. Do not be surprised, however, if you’re expected to share with others on your floor. Fortunately, most of your neighbors will be young like yourself, which somehow feels less awkward and more like you’ve stepped back into your freshman dorm. A little piece of advice though? Buy a robe. I spent all year walking around in my towel, too frugal to bother purchasing a robe. Not until spring when the construction workers arrived at 8 am every morning did I finally second-guess this decision, and by then, I felt unjustified spending the money right before leaving. So many regrets.
Back to the sink shower. Say you’re running late for work, as was never (ahem) the case with me, and you’re in desperate need of a shower, but one of your neighbors has snagged it first. What do you do? What else but a refreshing sink shower?
Let’s get to the shower itself, shall we? You start off with 10 trickles of cold water. Just wait though, it will get hot, guaranteed, if you’re okay with being the bitch who hogs the shower for an extra ten minutes. It took a while but over time, I grew more comfortable being that bitch. I routinely turned it on, waited ten minutes for the cold trickles to pass, and then finally: a hot shower. Use it wisely and quickly because this will soon become three trickles of scalding burn-your-face-off water. For about five minutes though, it’s perfect.
2. Sharing a toilet
Again, some apartments have their own toilet. Most likely though, you will share with your neighbors. Now, this is virtually a non-issue–much less so than the shower, anyways. However. If la guardienne changes the locks and neglects to inform you, and you spend 20 minutes trying to get it open to no avail, you must either pray for nice neighbors, or walk the four blocks to the nearest Starbucks. So. Then there’s that.
3. On to the spatial issues
Just…don’t host parties. I mean, you can, but if you’re living in a chambre de bonne, you might have a couple chairs and a bed. Once those two chairs are snagged, you’re all going to get pretty cozy on your bed, and unless you’re looking for that kind of party, I’d suggest a common meeting place. Like a bar. Or a park. Really, just anywhere other than your bedroom/kitchen/laundry room/closet.
One night, while Skyping my family, my brother made a rare appearance. Rather than sitting with my back to the wall as I usually did, I sat at my desk chair with my back to my shelves of clothes. “Why are you sitting in your closet?” my brother asked.
“I’m not, this is just my apartment…” I blushed.
With nine meters squared, a closet is all you have.
Fortunately, I had the floor space for one guest (if they didn’t mind sleeping beside my shoe collection). Constantly maneuvering around another person in a room smaller than The Cupboard Under the Stairs builds agility. And honestly, if I haven’t learned how to be space efficient by now, I’m hopeless.
Oh, and please don’t try Pilates. The injuries aren’t worth it. Trust me.
4. The bed, or lack thereof
Some of my friends had comfortable beds. Some had bricks. It’s really a toss-up. I spent the first few months with an odd wooden plank sticking into my back, after which I accidentally broke my bed. The Americans blamed me for eating too many baguettes and the French snickered about me having too much sex. All erroneous! What was the real cause? The world may never know. I can tell you the frame was old and nearly broken when I moved in, so sleeping on the mattress on my floor actually proved more comfortable for a time. Eventually, the mattress began to flatten and I could feel the floor beneath me but that took a few months of wear and tear.
5. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the kitchen
Just remember: when your hot plate short circuits your power for the fifteenth time and a pigeon flies into your bedroom because your window won’t close, take solace in the fact that we’ve all been there. You’re in good company.
Of course, at the end of the day, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Despite the showers, the odd wooden plank in my bed, or my inability to cook all year, I saw this beauty from my bedroom window every night, which made everything worth it.
Bonne chance, mes amis!