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So You Want to Live in Paris?

Arnie Greenberg

How many have you have dreamed about sporting a beret and living like an expatriate in the most cultural city in Europe? Have you dreamt of that garret in Paris with a loaf of bread, work clothes and a laptop?

Have your read Adam Gopnik’s, Paris To The Moon and said, “I can do that.” Well, it’s possible but not as easy as it sounds.

I found it easy since my wife and I speak French. Your first problem is language. As they say, ‘It ain’t easy’.

I enjoyed Gopnik’s book. But I’ve been here countless times because of my work and interest. I knew the places he referred to and the annoyances he encountered. Still, I decided to find an apartment and discover what living here was like. We also had the advantage of not traveling with a child. I also know the city better than most people.

When I was teaching, I taught a course that dealt with Paris in the Twenties. I know exactly where most expatriate artists and writers lived, worked and frolicked.

Let’s get to the problem of finding what we wanted and what we wanted to spend.

First, we had to find the right apartment in the right area for us. Hotels for long stays are for the rich and unless you have to do your own shopping and find the newspapers, markets and Metro stops, you are not living here. You’re only on a stopover, a visitor for a few days. Living here means cooking, shopping, laundries, and just adjusting to a smaller space and the day-to-day getting things done. It can be exciting but it could be daunting.

Take cooking, for instance. Does the apartment have all the cooking facilities? Do I have to buy staples I’ll never use up? Will I leave them here or cart them home? How often will I actually cook in the apartment? Eating out all the time can be boring and expensive. Yes, these are basic questions but you have to plan in advance. For example, how are you going to spend your time? Being a tourist for two or three days is easy. Keeping occupied for a month or two can be more complicated. Then there’s the question of location. How well do you know the city to know how to get around and what to see? In our case we had all that figured out. Paris was well known to us.

Our visit here started with the web. I had to find a logis; a rental. I knew approximately where I wanted to be and how much I could afford for rent. I also had an idea of how much space we would need. I was in for some surprises.

There were many rentals available in or near Paris. I wanted to be as close to the center as possible. As I said, knowing the city helps a lot. I zeroed in on the 5th and 6th arrondissements which meant in the center of the city near KM zero, in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. As luck would have it, there was a studio on a tiny street that I knew well, away from the traffic. When I saw the price I was very excited. Even in Canadian dollars 250 Euros a week was a bargain.  (Three star hotels in Paris can cost 200 Euros a night.) I calculated that as $1500 Canadian a month ($1000 US). So far I had gotten two of the three things I wanted. The question was size. How big would a studio be and what was the configuration. I settled immediately when I discovered the following. While the studio was only 17 X 17 it did have a loft platform with a double bed. I assumed 17 X 17 was the main room. So I wrote to the agency who said the apartment was available. They also told me it was on the third floor without elevator. Third floor apartments are four flights up as the main floor is floor one. That was a negative I’d have to get used to. When they told me that there were two 12 foot windows facing the street I was thrilled. I was ready to sign but the landlord had to OK the lease. This happened three days later with a note asking if I knew the apartment was small. By then I was so keyed up I went around measuring the rooms in my Montreal home to compare sizes.

I assumed that the apartment was the same size as my living room in Montreal, plus the loft, plus the bathroom.

The landlady insisted on a month’s deposit plus the rent in advance. I wasn’t thrilled. The agency also asked for 250 Euros as their finder’s fee. But I had made so many plans by then and my wife was so excited about the prospects of a month in Paris, that we went ahead, bought airlines tickets and began listing the things we’d see and do.

We arrived on Monday the 11th of November. We didn’t know that it was a holiday to commemorate Armistice Day. At first I thought Paris was simply empty since it wasn’t the tourist season. We took the empty train from the airport and pulled our luggage two short blocks from the St. Michel metro station. We lugged our baggage up the four flights to find the door open and the landlady waiting. I walked in to what would be my home for the next month. I was surprised that it was brighter and looked out on one of the most lovely street corners in Paris. It was clean and had beamed ceilings. The downside was the size. It was 17 X 17.5 INCLUDING the loft bed, kitchen and bathroom. We paid our rent, got the key and closed the door, finally.

We’ve been here now for just over two weeks. We are used to the apartment and its size. True, I wish it was larger but we have a nice sitting room with sofa, table and two chairs. Included is a closet, dresser and bookshelf. Once we unpacked, we began to feel at home.

We live at #5 rue de La Bucherie. Une buche is a log and I imagine, years ago, they cut wood along this narrow street. The sidewalk is not wide and there is no parking on either side. It is one-way, sens unique, and room only for the smallest cars. It’s a curved street with a tiny square at the corner and a little clump of dainty trees just outside our window. They clean the street daily and wash it down almost every night. Small green trucks arrive every morning to automatically pick up the fallen leaves. I’ve never seen such a clean area.

If you are looking for it on a map, it would face the south Rose Window of the Notre Dame Cathedral, but there are apartments across the street that block that view. (All people in the center of Paris live in apartments.) These buildings are partly covered with ivy that is turning red and orange as I write. The leaves have started to fall, but it is almost December. Being one street from the Seine, it’s romantic, peaceful and close enough to the hustle bustle that is Paris. We are only yards from KM zero which is not only the center of the city but also the center of France. All measurements are from the tiny Km-0 plaque in front of Notre Dame. After the Eiffel Tower, it’s the most recognized landmark.

Notre Dame was built on Ile De La Cité, which is where the original settlement was started. The river gave it protection but not enough to stop the Romans. We live on the left bank just outside the original wall.

It is less than 300 yds from a wonderful bakery. It is my job to get the bread (baguette) every morning. It’s a pleasurable task and I often bring home a French or English newspaper or fresh flowers, as there’s a market around the corner every other day.

We are now residents, of sorts.  People get to know us in the neighborhood and we get to know where to buy one thing or another, where to get the best pastry, where to buy books, have tea or eat a meal. We don’t have to pack and unpack. We do our laundry at the corner Laundromat and we have a multi hour membership at the Internet café up the street. They know me there now and I’m greeted with a smile.

I can read, put my feet up, have a drink in a warm setting and learn more French by reading French newspapers and watching French television. I may even take in a play, in French. I did attend a concert but that doesn’t count. Or does it?

Our Apt. is three floors up with no elevator. At home I’d balk. Here I accept it as part of the scene. It consists of a fair sized sitting room with couch, T.V., table & chairs, cupboards and small dresser. The bedroom is more of a loft. The kitchen barely holds two people at a time and the bathroom is modern enough for Paris. It is all carpeted and has two twelve foot windows bringing in the light. It’s charming and on the best street for my tastes. While it is not large, I would come back any time. I did the best I could. Perhaps I could have done better. Actually, I think I did very well.

We have walked to most places like the Bastille, The Marais and Place des Vosges, the Picasso Museum, the modern Pompidou Center, Ile St Louis, The Conciergerie, Ste. Chapelle, the Pantheon, Arche de Triomphe, Louvre and the Luxembourg Gardens. We even walked to Montparnasse and along Blvd St Germaine. We’ve taken the Metro to The Museum of Modern Art, near the Eiffel Tower, the beginning of the Champs Elysées, to Montmartre and a flea market at the northern end of town. We’ve been to a number of museums and the concert was at Notre Dame. Yesterday we visited the old opera house, which is one of the most beautiful theatres I’ve ever seen. It has a Chagall painting on the main theatre ceiling. It is difficult to believe that a thirty-five year old architect designed it.

 We eat out almost every evening in different types of restaurants from Swiss fondue spots to, Italian, Indian, Iranian and, of course the local brasseries. Even the Chinese, Thai or Japanese places are good. Today we had lunch in the Marais area, in a neighborhood restaurant without tourists. You could cut the atmosphere with a blunt knife.

Each morning, as I said, I walk to the corner for a fresh baguette. Bakeries are an institution in this cosmopolitan city. We have hot coffee and baguette in our charming apartment every day. No, it’s not as large as my home but it’s a place to stay for a month. It’s clean, warm and even better than I imagined. I would gladly do it all over again. It’s the perfect holiday for us. Aside from the internet, we have a telephone so we are not out of touch with family and friends.

There are less and less apartments available in Paris each year so the price goes up. But Paris need not be an expensive city and you do not need a car. Come in the off-season. It’s more fun to move about freely.

While there’s some rain, I find this season most enjoyable. Summers here can be very hot. Now, we walk around with hats and a raincoat in a city that is getting ready for Christmas. The decorations are unlike those in North America. The Champs Elysée is lined with lights and the Galleries Lafayette, known for its decorations, looks like it’s  wrapped in snowflakes of light. By the way, we noticed that store trees and those sold to passers-by are mostly covered with some white material. That’s because there is no snow here. That’s certainly a change for this Canadian writer.

If you want to benefit from my research and knowledge of the city, I’d be happy to help you. Send your needs to me and I’ll try to find you something special. I can at least help you select a good area. Being within walking distance of the main areas is beneficial and often practical.

I can be reached at                      

End of part 1

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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