The Search for Chez Lee

Moving to another country has it’s complications, even if you have a passport that allows you to work and live there. In Paris, legislation strongly supports the tenant’s rights, so landlords are justifiably nervous about leasing their property. It can take a year or in some cases even longer to evict a non-paying tenant, so you must prove that you have an income that will finance your rent. You need excellent references.

You also need a French bank account.

To get a French bank account, you must have an address in France…chicken and egg kind of problem here. How do you get the one without first having the other?

My Husband’s work recommended a couple of relocation agents to us. Their services are not cheap, typically costing around €2200-€2500 but we’d really no other option. Basically, they can somehow circumnavigate the “chicken and egg – bank and address” thing and help you to open an account, help you find an apartment and act as translator while all the paperwork is processed. And, oh boy, is there paperwork!

We chose to go with a company called Sofime, headed up by the lovely Sophie Girault. She was simply brilliant. Her English was perfect, she was super organized, and really knowledgeable of the process we’d be facing. She had Skyped us while we were still in California. After listening to us describe our situation, our location and style of housing preferences, and hearing My Husband’s employment set up and salary, she was able to tell us that we’d only qualify for furnished apartments.

This suited us. “Furnished” in Paris means that practically everything is provided – even bed linens and towels. Less stuff for us to ship to or buy in France.

She also told us that here was a cap on the price you were allowed to spend on rent based on your monthly salary! Your rent could not be more than a third of your income. A sensible law in my opinion but it still felt very constrictive. 

With all this thrashed out ahead of time, Sophie had us primed to hit the ground running. On our second day in Paris, (yep – after that one nights sleep-of-the-dead) she met us at the bank at 8.45 am.

By 10.30am we had a French bank account and were on our way to meet Sophie’s associate, whom I’ll refer to as our Belle Nouvelle Amie (since her name doesn’t appear on Sophie’s website, and I haven’t checked with her if I can use her real name – plus I liked the sound of her pseudo-name!)
Our Belle Nouvelle Amie had scoured the rental companies at the beginning of the week and set up 9 appointments for us to view . She told us that  places go fast and that we’d probably have to make the decision that same day. I was glad on one hand – we’d have it sported all the sooner and be out of the “Les Mis” style AirBnB, but what if we didn’t see one we liked? 

The first apartment was nice, quite modern and spacious, but it was in the 16th Arrondisment, too far away from My Husbands work and the center of Paris. When we first decided to move we promised ourselves we’d live right in the city center, no more suburbia for us.

The next four apartments were extremely disheartening. Despite costing a fortune, they reminded me of the student flats that I’d seen in Belfast when I went to university there. Many of them were in gracious old building that had been chopped up and subdivided so badly that the flow of the rooms often made no sense. There was one that might have been okay, over looking the Seine…of you stood on tiptoes to peer past the huge construction site just below the window…

I tried not to think of the view from our our house in the way that one pokes around the edges of a scabby wound to test if it is healing or not. I’d tried to prepare myself for these moments, yet images of the rolling golden hills lingered in my minds eye. 

Deep breath… 1… 2… 3…

We had a break for lunch in a charming brasserie. Our Belle Nouvelle Ami was surprised when I recognized an item on the menu – Black pudding! It’s made from pigs blood and is one of my favorite foods, despite how gross it sounds. I had that on a big pile of buttery mash potatoes, and it put my world back to rights! We were jet lagged, tired and weary with huge gaping holes in our view of the immediate future. But we’d get through it. 

As our Belle Nouvelle Ami took us to the sixth apartment, I saw what looked like a man standing at the top of a high tower. It seemed to be a statue, but was odd because it was not balanced-out by a  figure on the other side. Where was the symmetry? With that fuzzy head you get with jet lag, I wondered was I seeing things? My hear rate accelerated as I remembered first a story my sister told me about seeing ghosts in Prague, then a story my Mum had told me about being first on the scene of someone who’d jumped/fallen from a high building.

“Can you see a man at the top of that tower?” I asked our Belle Nouvelle Ami.

“Mais, non,” she said. 

My heart stopped. I was sure I could see it.

“Really?” There may have been a edge of panic in my voice.

“I see a statue, but no man…”

Phew! She’d been taking me literally. I later learned that it was Saint-Jacques Tower – a Gothic tower and the only remaining part of a 16th-century church that was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Jacques Tower

Equilibrium restored, we looked at the sixth apartment just around the corner from this tower. We were nearly late for the appointment, but the rental company guy was very patient and waited for us. 

It was on the fourth floor, but had a glass elevator (very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!) As soon as I  walked in, I loved it. When My Husband stood in front of the mantelpiece and said with great enthusiasm and gesturing with his arms, “The speakers could go right here!” I knew he wanted it too!

It was spacious and bright, with understated decor. It just felt right. We had two more places to look at, but they weren’t a patch on this one. I was terrified we’d lose it to the next couple about to view it.

Having viewed all nine, we confidently told our Belle Nouvelle Ami we’d made our decision. She agreed it was a good spot and she called the Rental Agency right away. 

That was on a Thursday evening. 

On Friday she got back to us and said that the Rental Agency would know by Monday. We spent the weekend praying! Monday wasn’t too long a wait considering that nothing happens fast in France. I’m working on being okay with that. I mean, why rush when  there’s all those delicious croissants to eat and cheeses to sample, not to mention the vin to drink while you’re waiting? Patience is not a virtue I possess, so this is just something I have to suck up and get through.

We caught up on much needed sleep that first weekend, knowing that we’d have lots of time and opportunities to explore Paris. We even grew used to the cramped conditions of our “Les Mis” AirBnB. Even so, we were overjoyed when Sophie from Sofime called to tell us that we’d been accepted for the apartment we wanted.

We were so relieved. Yes, it is less than half the size of our house in California. It has no garden – though it does have a nice balcony. I wasn’t sure if I’d cope with the noise from a busy street below us… but a year is not so very long…

We moved in the following Friday. The traffic from below us sounded loud but reminded me of listening to waves on the seashore. There were lots of people on the streets too. Were we 20 years too old for this place? Had we made a mistake? By Saturday morning I knew it would be find. Sure we’d heard people partying on the street below in the wee hours, but it had not kept me awake. In fact the noise of the traffic had lulled me to sleep. I’d even enjoyed hearing the revelers – happy noises of people having fun and me tucking up in a cozy bed sharing a sliver of the experience, yet glad not to be down there. Like when you’re all cozy in bed and listening to the rain outside. I might at some stage miss the yipping of the coyotes or the gobbles of the wild turkeys we’d listened to in the past, but for now I liked this change. We could do this.

The very next evening we had our first visitors. What joy it is to host friends (and family) here. A short walk to the end of the street and I found my favorite night-time spot in Paris.

To the right, you can see the Eiffel Tower twinkling over the streets of Paris.

And to the left, Notre Dame Cathedral peeks out.

In the days that followed, I had to buy some things for the apartment even though it was furnished. I discovered that a shop I was familiar with from home – “Habitat” – was on the Rue Boucher which made me smile because they used to have one on the Boucher Road in Belfast too.


It was a slow process finding the right shops to get those last few bits and pieces. My Mum asked me at that point did I miss anything from the USA.

“I’d do anything for a Bed, Bath and Beyond right now,” I told her. But I only half meant it. When I first landed in the USA, I’d had the exact same problem. In time my explorations will lead me to the shops I need and more. I was confident of that.

I’d  like to thank Sophie Girault and the team at Sofime, especially our Belle Nouvelle Ami who has been a wonderful help and continues to follow up every detail to help with our relocation. I honestly don’t know what we’d have done without them…. 

Maybe without them, I’d be sitting at that 5th floor window in the AirBnB singing “I dreamed a dream…

Byddi Lee

4 replies to The Search for Chez Lee

  1. Congrats on your new digs. Photos are coming, I hope. Laura B did a MG class on succulents today and the upcoming new class reception followed. Lots of good people.

  2. Thanks Bracey. So much to blog about! I find myself walking past shops selling plants and telling myself not to even look… I'm trying to hold out until the spring before I buy anything for the balcony, and also until we decide if we will stay in these digs for more than one year. Hate the thought of moving pot plants and breaking them etc. But now you have me thinking about some succulents…just one or two (yeah right!) Good luck with the new class.

  3. It was great to hear all about your adventure!

  4. Thanks Laura. Hope alls well with you and your garden is getting plenty of rain.

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