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Our life in France – apartment

December 27, 2009
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(Please note that this post reflects our experience in the early 1990’s – I can’t speak for what anyone would experience today.)

When we moved to Ste-Foy, we rented what was considered a luxury apartment.  (This picture was taken when we first moved in and the grounds were landscaped later.  If you look closely, you can see Vance on our balcony.)  It was considered luxury because it had closets and cheap, industrial wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms.  What we didn’t realize at the time was that every household has to pay an annual habitation tax – it’s based on the number of rooms in your dwelling – and closets count as rooms.  Our apartment had a kitchen, family room, three small bedrooms, a water closet (toilet room), two bathrooms and five closets!  Our apartment was on what the French consider the premier étage (first floor) but we call the second floor.  If you needed light in the corridors or stairwells you had to switch them on and they were controlled by a timer.

There were three apartment buildings in our complex.  The whole complex was gated and you had to have a key for one of the two walk-through gates or an opener for the drive through gate.  There was an underground parking area and each apartment had a garage (but no garage door opener) and a cave (storage space).

Our apartment featured roll up shutters (which I loved!) but there were no screens on the windows.  The door had four or five deadbolts and you couldn’t leave it unlocked.  The doors to each apartment were inside the building and no one could get into the building unless they had a key or were buzzed in.  It was like living in Fort Knox.

When we rented the apartment the only thing in the kitchen was a sink.  That’s right, we had to buy cabinets, appliances and light fixtures (there were no light fixtures in the apartment anywhere).  Electricity was very expensive, so the only appliances we bought were a stove, a refrigerator, a washing machine and a microwave oven.  All of the appliances were small by American standards.  The washing machine had to be placed directly next to the sink, because I had to place a drain hose in the sink whenever I used it.  We did go with an electric stove, even though many people in France used propane gas stoves because of frequent electric strikes.  (We lived through many strikes – postal, truckers, mass transit, etc. –  but, luckily, never had to survive an electric strike.)

We had one telephone in our apartment and we were careful with our usage of it, too.  We were charged by the second for all calls – even local calls.

One of our bathrooms contained a bathtub and sink and the other contained a shower and a sink.  The shower head was very low and had very little water pressure so we rarely used it.  One overnight guest remarked that he “had to run around in the shower to get wet.”

Since our apartment did not have air conditioning, I insisted on getting ceiling fans so we would be able to survive the summer.  We never turned them on.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think we ever wore shorts while we live in France.

When we left France, we sold our appliances, light fixtures, cabinets, etc.  (People would take their trees and shrubbery when they moved, but of course, we didn’t have any of those.)  The one item that we could have sold over and over again, was our television.  You see, there was an annual tax for owning a television and our television was unregistered – but don’t tell anyone.

52 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2009 6:45 am

    I enjoy this series of yours so much that I hope it never ends!

  2. December 27, 2009 7:22 am

    What an adventure you had! Who would have thought that a closet would be considered a taxable room!

    I too love this series and look forward to each weekly posting.

  3. Kaye permalink
    December 27, 2009 7:27 am

    An unregistered tv? I am shocked to the core! Lol,

    sounds like they would tax you for the air you breathed if they could. It’s amazing that people would take their trees and shrubs. It certainly was a different lifestyle than today.

  4. December 27, 2009 8:18 am

    That is so fascinating. I can’t believe you had to buy your own cabinets! What an enjoyable story! (of course we’ll each be forwarding it to the authorities so they learn about the tv business!)

  5. December 27, 2009 8:22 am

    OMG…I guess we are really lucky compared to the way life in France was in the early 90’s. This is such a wonderful reading experience Kathy –love it.

    BTW: I’m sure you probably mentioned it, but what brought you to France? Was you husband going to school there? How long did you live there again?

  6. December 27, 2009 8:42 am

    I knew you were a rebel, Kathy! LOL! How interesting. I couldn’t imagine renting an apartment or buying a house without cabinets, especially something considered luxury. The next time I feel too taxed, I’ll think back on this post. To my knowledge, my closets are tax free. 🙂

  7. December 27, 2009 8:44 am

    Well at least all those expenses forced one to be very green, whether they wanted to or not!

    To funny that the closets counted as rooms.

    I do remember that using the phone was expensive in Guernsey too (1984).

  8. December 27, 2009 9:04 am

    oh. my.

    how fun to take this stroll back in time with you.

  9. December 27, 2009 9:43 am

    No wonder it’s so expensive to live in France, holy smokes! It sounds like you had a lovely place to live while you were there. It looks like a super swank and modern complex 🙂

  10. December 27, 2009 9:51 am

    Nice post, Kathy… I’m going to have to look for the rest of ’em. =)

    I can imagine renting an empty place–sometimes it’s how it works at home, too. No wonder IKEA is so popular in Europe & Asia, eh?

  11. December 27, 2009 10:08 am

    Geez. They didn’t tax you extra for Vance? Actually, alot of this sounds like Poland. Especially the roll-up shutters, no screens, and the two billions locks on a door. Plus I’ve never seen closets in Poland, rather they have bureaus. I guess people get used to being restricted like this, but I think it might cramp my style to know I was being taxed every time I turned something on!

  12. December 27, 2009 10:18 am

    Love this post! I just love finding out how other places do things.

  13. December 27, 2009 10:22 am

    I enjoyed this the best!

    France really is expensive and I would never live there though I would love to visit. Of all those things mentioned, taxing the closet is the most absurd and I have never heard anything like it. Do they need money that much?

    The last part was funny. The shower and the TV. I am laughing my heart out with your poor guest.

    Is there more Kathy? I can’t wait!

  14. December 27, 2009 10:44 am

    LOL on the unregistered TV! I find these posts so fascinating. Apartment living is so much different here.

    –Anna

  15. December 27, 2009 11:27 am

    Hi Kathy,
    First HAPPY NEW YEAR hope all your wishes come true in 2010.
    I am French and I recognize a lot about apartment renting. However it might change from area to area.
    I lived in Villefranche s/mer about 20 mn from Monaco where my parents lived. As a young married couple we rented a home which was built in 1600, the interior was completely redone and our kitchen came with cabinets and stove, we had 1 deadbolt and a halway we shared with 1 other tenant and his family and of course a concierge. It was an upscale Villa (La Roche Fleurie, “the flowering rock”) We only payed rent, electric and lived through many “greves”. Those were a nuisance.
    I will follow your journey through France, I had no idea you had lived there 😀

  16. December 27, 2009 12:04 pm

    Tax for television. Seriously ? 🙂 I love this series of posts Kathy.

  17. December 27, 2009 12:26 pm

    I love this! It’s always fascinating to me to read about others’ experiences living abroad. I’ve never done it myself, but despite the hiccups and little things that seem odd to us in everyday life, it sounds wonderful.

  18. December 27, 2009 12:36 pm

    I love reading this series. Thanks for writing it. Wow apartments where closets are considered rooms? Strange but interesting to see how others live.

  19. December 27, 2009 12:58 pm

    An unregistered tv? *gasp* You rebels.

    I can’t believe all of the taxes and surcharges on things!

  20. December 27, 2009 1:55 pm

    I’m amazed at the taxes! It doesn’t sound like it was very luxurious for a “luxury” apartment, but it does sound like it was nice. 🙂

  21. December 27, 2009 2:12 pm

    Tax on tvs and closets, yikes!

    Tho up here in New England many towns have a “view tax.” If you have any sort of nice view from your house, they add a view tax to your property tax bill!

  22. December 27, 2009 2:31 pm

    I so enjoy these series of posts with corresponding photographs. Please keep them coming, Kathy. I learn something new with each one. TVs in France needed to be registered — who knew?!

  23. December 27, 2009 2:37 pm

    I didn’t realise you had lived in France. I must have missed the other posts. Why did you leave?

  24. December 27, 2009 3:29 pm

    Interesting! I’m still trying to adjust to living in Mississippi compared to Georgia. I’m not too sure I could make it in a foreign country!

  25. December 27, 2009 3:38 pm

    Fascinating post! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Looking forward to more postings!

  26. December 27, 2009 3:53 pm

    I always romanticize what it would be like to live abroad. This brought me back down to earth and fast. So neat though! Thanks for sharing.

  27. December 27, 2009 6:24 pm

    Kathy I was surprised to read you did something illegal. LOL

    I guess you never realize how other places run such as charging per number of rooms/closets tv. I think you take it for granted until you are in that situation.

    You mentioned never wearing shorts in France why was that?

  28. December 27, 2009 6:49 pm

    I’m shocked that you had an unregistered TV! How did you sleep at night?!

  29. December 27, 2009 8:02 pm

    The apartment building looks quite modern from the outside. I got a peek at Vance on the balcony..cute! My cousin lives in Germany and it’s similar there with buying your own kitchen cabinets. She has had to buy a kitchen unit often when she moves as they don’t always fit the next place. It does look very nice and built in like here.
    It’s amazing how much they tax there. I’m looking forward to your Life in France series weekly now! Nothing like a bit of pressure?!

  30. December 27, 2009 8:36 pm

    and i thought living in new jersey was expensive! what a great experience to live abroad…minus the tax! as for the unregistered television–a scandal!

  31. December 27, 2009 8:44 pm

    I find these posts to be so interesting. I am amazed by how different it is here. I will also try to stop taking so much for granted!

  32. December 27, 2009 8:56 pm

    I think I say this every time but I LOVE reading this series. Now this is one area where I don’t think I would want to try living in France!!! Sounds like a major pain re: the appliances. And that you were renting but had to buy your own cabinets and appliances seems nuts. And that it was a luxury apartment but had no cabinets or appliances seems like an oxymoron!

  33. December 27, 2009 9:33 pm

    I can not believe all of the different TAXES that governments can dream up!!! This was a very interesting post Kathy!!

  34. December 27, 2009 9:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I sometimes watch a international real estate TV show. I know that most people in France bring their entire kitchen with them when they move. I would think that would be more hassle than it is worth, but what do I know? LOL!

  35. December 27, 2009 10:35 pm

    I can’t even imagine living that way. You see, I have never lived outside of the U.S. so this sounds so bizarre to me!

  36. December 27, 2009 10:54 pm

    I love reading these stories. I chuckled a little too loudly when I read that you guest had to “run around in the shower to get wet.” My sister is in the same room as I am, so she turned around and asked me what was so funny.

    Living in France sounds costly. Thank you for sharing your stories! =)

  37. December 27, 2009 11:07 pm

    I loved hearing about your life in France. It’s interesting how different things can be from what we’re used to. I lived in Europe as a girl and I loved it. We’re a little spoiled with everything we take for granted here in North America. A fun post, thanks.

  38. December 27, 2009 11:35 pm

    Kathy, I love reading about your adventures in France. Thanks for continuing these posts. 🙂

  39. December 28, 2009 12:40 am

    I think we had to register our television too, but we haven’t, I mean really, who charges for the Telly?

    Fun post, it’s nice to know how life in France was.

  40. December 28, 2009 12:48 am

    What a great glimpse into your live in France. I look forward to living in a few different places (somewhere in Europe will be one of them) once my son graduates high school and I love your stories about France. It’s interesting to see how things we take for granted here in the States were considered extras for you.

  41. December 28, 2009 8:34 am

    Fascinating post! I love hearing about life in other countries. I should show this to my son who lives in Manhattan, b/c it sounds like the cost of living is way more expensive than NYC. Thanks for sharing!

  42. December 28, 2009 12:13 pm

    What a wonderful experience to actually live in another country and experience what it’s like to be a native there. Great memories, I’m sure.

  43. December 28, 2009 1:13 pm

    Wow, that makes life here sound like a piece of cake!

  44. December 28, 2009 3:20 pm

    I’m loving this series of posts about your experiences in France. So many little things we take for granted in North America are just not so little in Europe. Fascinating – thank you for taking the time to share them.

  45. December 28, 2009 4:59 pm

    Wow, your time in France sounds unbelievably expensive! I’m amused that they even taxed closets. I can’t help but wonder if it’s still like that now.

  46. December 28, 2009 10:44 pm

    Yes, I had a friend who had to buy cabinets for her kitchen when living in Europe; I think it’s one reason for the popularity of Ikea…Love the contraband TV. And yes, please do keep this series going! The details are fascinating!

  47. December 28, 2009 10:48 pm

    LOVE this post. Thanks for sharing. I really had no idea. Keep em coming!!

  48. December 29, 2009 12:31 am

    So many opportunities for culture shock in one small apartment! If I had to buy my own cabinets for an apartment, I’d probably end up living out of milk crates.

  49. December 29, 2009 8:46 am

    That must have been a luxury apartment with all those rooms; I mean closets! Wow, a tax on television! Crazy. Was there a lot of nudity on the television; I’ve always heard that the laws are much freer in France when it comes to television content.

    Wow, electric strikes, etc. That must have been crazy.

  50. December 29, 2009 11:55 am

    A tax on television! I can’t imagine things like electric strikes either. I really had no idea things were like that in France; very surprising. These are great posts Kathy.

  51. December 29, 2009 3:56 pm

    Reading about your experiences in France is just so interesting to me. There is so much that is different about your living experience that it must have been really strange for you at first. I can’t believe that there was a tax on the living spaces and that you had to register a television set! I really find all this fascinating. I don’t know much about France, but I have thought of visiting!

  52. stacybuckeye permalink
    December 29, 2009 8:50 pm

    What an interesting post, Kathy. I think I would lead a much more productive life without a tv, but cannot even imagine giving it up!
    I do think that we could all use smaller appliances and be just as happy, though.
    LOL about the 5 taxed closets! I hope they were worth it!

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