As some of you will know, finding accommodation abroad can be the biggest headache of them all. Not only is it imperative for one’s mental well-being to have affordable, well-located lodgings where one can sleep, leave one’s stuff and generally feel at ease, it also happens to be a complete fucking nightmare to do. Lamentably, I can confirm that my experience in Rennes has brought about the worst accommodation woes I have experienced. As we now enter the chilly month of November, my quest to find permanent accommodation remains painfully unresolved, and this post will explain why.
Having thought that my university might have considered arranging some form of at least temporary accommodation for their rosbif lecteur, an imminent arrival with no contacts and no experience of living in France, my hopes were dashed, upon being informed that, my quest for a home was to be undertaken solo. Concerned, but not averse to such a challenge, I began frantically investigating online, and sending a good thirty emails to potential landlords, requesting information, all to no avail. The lack of response was somewhat alarming, and I resigned myself to the fact that flat-hunting in Rennes was going to be best accomplished sur place. Not a stranger to the world of hostelling, I contacted Rennes’ infamous auberge de jeunesse and got myself booked in for a cheeky séjour of three nights, which promised to be ample time to make phonecalls via Skype to various landlords and make visits. It seemed to be such an easy process, after all, I had the name of a few popular websites used to advertise property, as well as the local newspaper listings, and there were plenty of options. Oh, the naivety! At this point, my only real fear was message getting lost in translation – not just because housing vocabulary is tricky at the best of times; but also because the French like to employ a somewhat confusing system to accommodation, where they label properties based on the number of rooms that it has (e.g. T2 or T3). But by the way, the kitchen doesn’t count as a room. Oh, and neither does the bathroom. I mean, duh, like, why would you think otherwise?
Accommodation-hunting took a bit of a hit when my hostel fell painfully internet-less during my entire time there. Fortunately, I could get online at my shiny new office (which isn’t so shiny), and I even landed a landline with which to make phone calls. By this point, the other lecteur, Wes, also from Southampton (represent!) had touched down in Rennes town, and we got down to investigating the petites annonces. We were, however, dismayed to find, that the majority of options available to us were unfurnished. That’s right – we were facing the prospect of the world’s most expensive Ikea jaunt. Relentless, we were determined to find somewhere that at least had a cuisine équipée (i.e. a fridge and a stove, etc.) The search limped along fairly tediously for a fortnight, and it’s fair to say we both got pretty sick of it. Wes stayed on the sofa of a friend of a friend, before moving into the internet-less hostel, whilst I fine-tined my musical beds prowess, leaving the hostel, to stay at my boss’ house, and then back to the hostel, before a weird hotelesque health school residence, then back to my boss’ house again before a third stay at the hostel – now internet-ful! (all the while maintaining the university office as a storage centre for our suitcases). I even spent six nights couch-surfing with a guy called Seb, who although perfectly amicable, had a worryingly-shaky grasp on personal cleanliness.
By this point, it was nearly October. Classes were well under way, and we were getting desperate. The only half-suitable places we’d visited had been seen by twenty people before us, and as such, were subject to an arbitrary selection process based on the landlord’s personal preference. Even letting agencies didn’t have anything appropriate. Word on the street was that this year there was an increase of 6,000 in the number of students in the city, and of course, they all needed somewhere to go. And it wasn’t even a matter of beggars being choosers, we were not being picky. Anyway, our desperation led to crazy talk: we discussed the possibility of buying furniture, shipping furniture from England, looking for property in another city and commuting, and even renting a six-bedroom mansion in the middle of a field and then finding four randomers to come and join us. Thank God there were two of us to keep the other person sane. This woe was even bigger when added to the fact that we were trying to sign contracts for work, sort out bank accounts, IT accounts and mobile phones, speak and understand French, plan lessons, learn students’ names, and had already spent hundreds of euros eating in creperies daily due to lack of facilities to make meals ourselves. To be perfectly honest, we were both just a couple of days away from throwing the towel in and going home. Having tried all avenues (both figuratively and literally), we were left baffled as to how anyone in this city ever finds anywhere to live.
It was then that things began to look up. Wes was accepted into a Foyer de jeunes travailleurs, a kind of residence that rents out individual studios for young workers. There are five in Rennes, and all had been, in typical Rennes fuck-you fashion, fully occupied when we arrived. Meanwhile, our “boss” and general source of all assistance and wisdom, Elaine, had managed to secure me a temporary place in a residence for university personnel. The only catch was that there was a time-limit on my staying there – and it would give me until the end of December to find somewhere else. Nonetheless we were both over the moon to actually have somewhere to move our suitcases to, to feel a little less vagrant-like, and to be able to spend our days doing something other than frantically searching leboncoin or Ouest-France for a home.
A month on, and Wes is still in his foyer, and seems fairly content, having had internet installed and having given the place a few personal touches. Lamentably, my experience during the second half of October has been a trifle more complicated. Come back next time as I will regale you with stories about my amazing university studio which I left two months early, only to move into an apartment with a deranged psychopath, and the story of how I got locked out of said apartment the second day that I was there, leading to my first ever encounter with a French serrurier (locksmith). It’ll be a good ‘un.
P.S. Don’t worry – I am not homeless, and have managed to move back into the university studio, where I write this post now. Spirits are, however, lamentably low.