When I visited France during The Exposition, it was on a very truncated schedule so I talked to anyone I could, bar owners, cab drivers, store clerks, everyone. Given that my method of selecting potential cities was the equivalent of Pin the tail on the donkey, this part of the process was quite important. Although I wouldn’t call myself an introvert, I’ve never been overly comfortable talking to strangers. It’s a skill set I was forced to develop as a result of owning my own business and after 18+ years, I still suck at it.
One evening, I was having dinner at a restaurant in Chartres while messaging with one of my friends online. There were two young ladies sitting next to me having a delightful conversation in French. (Not that I could understand what they were saying precisely but they looked like it was a great conversation) I wanted to go over and say ‘Hi.’ They seemed so nice and since I knew no one…But who does that? How do you walk up to a complete stranger and introduce yourself? I didn’t have the nerve. I went back to chatting on Facebook and bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have the balls to say hello. When they got up to leave, my reticence was no longer an option. It was now or never. I summoned up some courage, walked over to them and introduced myself. In French. I explained where I was from and why I was in Chartres. I basically said “I have no friends here would you be my friend?” To my amazement, they were completely open to talking to me. They even invited me to go to the movies with them later that evening. I politely declined. I wanted to go but the movie would have been in French and I would have been lost. But we did exchange email addresses and phone numbers and Audrey and I stayed in touch after I returned to the states.
So when I found the apartment, I reached out to her:
Me: Coucou Audrey! J’ai une appartement! Je vais demain pour faire le bail.
Me: Travaille-tu dans le matin? J’ai besoin campagnon.
(Audrey! I have an apartment! I go tomorrow to sign the bail. Are you working in the morning? I could use some company.)
Audrey: Yes! Of course …
I had not seen her since that first time we met in the restaurant 6 months earlier. When I arrived at the building, Audrey was walking down the street. We greeted each another like long lost friends. Patrick joined us inside. I walked her around the apartment and Patrick explained the details of my lease. Audrey approved and made sure I didn’t miss anything in translation. (Which in itself is odd because she doesn’t speak English. But somehow it was easier to communicate through her.)
The apartment was completely empty. I had to furnish the kitchen (not uncommon in France) so a fridge, stove and washing machine were on the list. I knew this was a possibility with any rental property but there was something inherently annoying about having to buy a stove. The good news was that those things cost MUCH less in France than in the states.
My apartment was in the back of a very quiet complex. Awesome. I hate noise. With no siblings, the commotion you often find in a house full of children was absent in mine. My mother was extremely soft spoken and our house was a paragon of tranquility. Mornings were meant for solitude and reflection. So much of who I am was formed by my childhood, my likes and dislikes, my quirks and eccentricities and my disdain for all things noisy.
There were a number of things to be addressed before I left with the keys. The most important was the wifi. Patrick knew I would need help in setting up all my services and he patiently went through them one by one. He even managed to get them to agree to setup the cable in record time.
As long as I didn’t have wifi in the apartment, I couldn’t move in. Furniture and appliances aside, without wifi I was cutoff from the world and more importantly my business. That wasn’t an option so I planned to remain at Virginie’s while I was getting everything set-up.
We left the apartment with keys in hand. We drove to a commercial area with dozens of stores selling everything from housewares to furniture to clothing. It was noon and most of the stores were closed so we went to a cute mall and had lunch. After, we went shopping for appliances. We figured out what I had to have and what I could live without. (FYI – a clothes dryer didn’t make the cut – a decision I’m still on the fence about. I don’t love the whole hanging my clothes on a line to dry thing and I currently have unresolved issues with the over abundance of cat hair everywhere.) I took photos of everything for comparison shopping later and we were off to finalize my cable setup and get my new French phone number.
It was by all accounts an extremely successful day. I had been in France for only 3 days and I already had an apartment. Things were going so much better than I could have hoped. Audrey left me at the apartment and I promised to have her over for coffee when the apartment was ready for guests. In case you were wondering how long it takes to start anew, as of this writing, Audrey hasn’t been over yet. (I know, I know. I was embarrassed to even write that down.)
I spent the next week and a half shopping and arranging for deliveries. There was a lot of running back and forth between the two apartments. Once the wifi was installed and most of the deliveries had been made, it was time to bring the cats over and officially begin my new life in France.