Day 2 of homelessness, or How I didn’t know Jimmy Hendrix was black

So it’s day 2. And I’m still homeless and in a classy but hella expensive hotel room. I planned to wake up at 7:00 am today, but unsurprisingly woke up at 9:35, merely 25 minutes before the hotel breakfast I paid for ended. I suppose I can’t really blame myself, as I didn’t have an alarm clock to wake up to and was still supremely jetlagged, but bet your bottom dollar I washed up quick to make it for the last 5 minutes of that continental breakfast, and remained sipping my thé à la menthe even whilst the clean-up crew removed the early birds’ dirty dishes.

Afterwards, I called the 6 contacts that M. Paté, a free housing searcher, gave me. ALL of them had rented their apartments to somebody already. One of them said that they’d given their place to “une étudiante américaine, comme vous.” Great.

Since my appointment to meet with the realtor was at 5, I decided to make a quick grocery stop first, then meet with another language assistant later on because it was on the way. The hotel person at the front desk gave me a map and pointed out where the closet grocery store was, and I was on my way! I hopped on the trolley with my fare in hand, but learned the hard way that in Orléans, you don’t pay your tram fare in the trolley. You insert your coins in a machine at the tram stop.

While I was on the trolley, frantically searching for a coin slot to push my change in, I asked a heavily made-up girl where I was supposed to pay. She replied that I needed to have bought a card first. And then an Indian man with a bushy mustache and a shiny badge intervened.

In America, when you don’t pay the bus fare and you try to sneak in the side door, the bus driver yells at you. In France, they have the controllers. Suited men with hard faces and empty eyes, who ascend upon a bus or tram from random stops, and freeze the population within the bus. No one can get off, no one can get on. For 5, 10, 15 minutes, everyone is immobile. The controllers walk up and down every aisle, checking bus tickets, making sure passes aren’t expired, scrutinizing tram tickets. If you were an obedient citizen, the most you will feel is the chill when the controller grabs your card from your hand and intensely reads the timestamp. If not, you are humiliated in front of everyone for not having paid the 1€40 fare, led off the bus, and written up for a 25€ fine…or more, depending on the transgression.

Twice I have escaped the wrath of the controllers. The first time, I was in Poitiers, and using a 50-minute outdated bus pass. Then the controllers hopped on. Three of them. They were joking among themselves at the bus stop, but once they saw our bus roll in, they put their stony faces on. The guard who approached me took my ticket, looked at it, and thrusted it back at me. You cannot believe my relief when he moved on to the next girl! Maybe his eyesight was poor. Maybe he thought I got on a train stop further away to account for the stall in time. Maybe he just didn’t care. But whatever the case, I got off home free! The second time? I hadn’t paid my fare at all. I was at the train station with other students from my school, preparing for a drive from Poitiers to Menton. But I forgot my camera at home. So I hopped on a local bus with some friends, hoping to dash home real quick and pick it up before riding the 7 hours south. Well. At the third stop, 2 controllers rolled on up in the bus. And only ONE of the four on my group of friends had paid the fair. It was impossible to get out of this. I hadn’t paid my fare. Laura hadn’t paid her fare. Carla? Ditto. We shrunk in our seats as they walked down the aisles of the nearly-empty bus. And then, they came across their real targets- 2 African men without French green cards. They called them off the bus and started giving them a lecture. As the bus drove off, I felt my heartbeat gradually slowing down from a raging gallop. While in my room, I made sure to find the right amount of change to ride the bus back.

When the Indian man with the controller badge approached me today, all I could think of was, “Alright..this is it!! This is it!!” Thankfully, he realized that I was foreign (accent) and that I was willing to pay (had the exact amount of change in my hand). When we got off at the next stop, he pointed out to me the machine that I was supposed to use. Even though everyone else on the bus heard him shouting out the directions to me (sigh), I was glad I didn’t have a 50€ fine to pay.

After navigating my way through that process and finding the groceries, I got home…er to the hotel…and fixed myself some lunch. And then visited, Meg, another American language assistant that I had met through email and facebook. She was really friendly and her studio was so cute, I couldn’t help but feel a few prickles of envy that I hadn’t found my own crash pad yet. But I left her place with the fierce, guileless hope, that the realtor I would later meet was surely going to help me find a home. And for cheap.

I was wrong.

The places she showed me were beautiful, if unfurnished, and I absolutely adored the one with an elevator. In my last place in France, I had to walk up two flights with my bags of groceries, and three to four flights up from the basement laundromat with my clothes. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to do this anymore. And then reality hit when we went back to her office. I had to either have my parents open a bank account with 10,000€ in France OR have a person in France who could vouch for me who made a monthly salary of 6 times the price of the 380€ rent. Ridiculous. It was not enough for my parents to simply sign a paper stating that they would vouch for me, or send in their W2 forms. I left the place in a daze. What if all the realtor places where like this??? I thought to myself. What if I can’t even find a private landlord who will accept me? Now to be fair, the realtor was really nice- she spoke to me in English and told me about her times in Chicago as an au pair. She was truthful about the places she showed me (“That green carpet is horrible! Ask the landlord to take it out.”), and she was funny and seemed like a really pleasant person. But the things she was asking for? Not possible. I kind of wish I met her in a different setting, so we could be friends. I help her with English, she helps me with French. But we could neverrr be business partners.

I returned to my room and cooked dinner, and called another private landlord that M. Paté emailed me today. She set up an appointment for Saturday, so we’ll see what comes out of this. I wish we could have met Thursday, but whatever. Guess I’ll have to extend my hotel stay…sigh

Anyway, on to the fun stuff!

I hung out tonight with some other language assistants, Wall Street English teachers (who were ironically British…), and Erasmus students at a bar called Hendrix. I got a few contacts there for private landlords who aren’t as despotic as the agencies, so knock on wood that something works for me! But onto the matter at hand- Who knew Jimmy Hendrix was black??! I sure didn’t. I mean I knew he was some rocker dude or something like that from hearing his name around, but I never actually knew who he was. Goes to show how weak my popular culture references are. I’ve confused Samuel Jackson with Clint Eastwood before. Yeah. I’m going to have to read this Hendrix guy’s wikipedia page now, to find out who the heck he is.

You know, whoever said the children of immigrants assimilate into their birth country’s culture more easily was wrong, just wrong. In fact, we feel even worse when we don’t know what references are because we purportedly have “no excuse” (despite the fact that our whole childhood we instead listened to Mighty Sparrow, Baron, and Square One mix tapes).

But anyways, I digress. And now I’m going to bed.

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About Jul

just a girl exploring the world

6 comments

  1. Claire

    wooow this sounds like SUCH an intense experience already. good luck finding housing for a legit price!!

  2. Claire

    ps i can’t believe you didn’t know who jimi hendrix was.

  3. thanks claire!! 🙂 i hope i find something soon. it seems like a lot of people searched for about a week before finding anything, too. a few new friends have offered to let me stay in their rooms while i look, but i feel bad bc their studios would be cramped with not only their suitcases, but mine too. & i dont want to break friendships before they even start properly! lol. (tho i may not have a chance if i dont find sth soon…)

    yeah….the jimi hendrix thing is borderline i’ve been living under a rock. i feel like i need a factsheet of all the things i need to know so that when people make cultural references, i know what they’re talking about hahaha

  4. Deion

    Haha, I only just discovered he was black a few years ago. Every time that I go to the Tombs is a huge culture shock for me, haha. But in any case, courage! Something will work out for you!

  5. Meg

    “In my last place in France, I had to walk up two flights with my bags of groceries, and three to four flights up from the basement laundromat with my clothes.”

    Yea, cuz doing laundry in the sink is SO much better! 😉 hahaha

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