It has been exactly one year since France went into the first COVID-19 lockdown. One year since everything in Paris closed and we were all ordered to stay at home. One year of lockdowns, curfews, and mask mandates. In some ways, Macron’s speech announcing the lockdown feels like yesterday. And in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. All I know for sure is that in the past 12 months, I’ve gotten to know my apartment really, really well. So on the one year anniversary of a year like no other, I thought I’d take a closer look at Parisian apartments. From the outside, they are iconic. Beautiful Haussmannian buildings that are recognizable around the world. But just what exactly are they like on the inside? Well…
Itty Bitty Living Spaces
Parisian apartments are small. And I do mean small. By law, the smallest an apartment can be in order to legally rent it to a tenant is 9 metres squared. For those of you still on the imperial system, that is less than 100 square feet. I’ll admit that when I first moved to Paris, I was shocked at the sizes of the apartments. However, I quickly realized that you really don’t need that much space. Especially when you live alone and have no pets. I’ve also come to appreciate how well Parisian apartments use the space they do have. My apartment is tiny by North American standards, but every square inch of it is fully utilized. And I love it. I have a desk to write at, a comfortable bed to sleep on, and plenty of shelves for the ridiculous amount of books I buy. What more do I need?
What’s the Number?
One thing I will never get used to is the fact that individual apartments within a building are not numbered. Meaning directions are not as simple as, “Come to apartment 405.” Instead, giving directions to your home often involves writing out a paragraph of instructions, including door codes, buzzer numbers, stairwell lettering, floor numbers, and descriptions of welcome mats. And for mail, you better make sure your name is clearly affixed to your mailbox. Otherwise, all those incredibly important bureaucratic documents that are still sent by mail will be returned to sender. And yes, I know this from experience.
Want to Take the Stairs?
Elevators in apartment buildings are not a given. In fact, they are a luxury, as the majority of buildings do not have them. And if they do, the elevators are just like the apartments themselves. Tiny. It is not uncommon for Parisian elevators to be a one-at-a-time ride, so if there’s a group of you, it’s often easier to just take the stairs.
Did You Hear Something?
Most apartment buildings in Paris were built well over a century ago. Some go back much further. This means that all the modern conveniences like sound-proofing are sorely lacking. In fact, Parisian apartments have notoriously thin walls, so be prepared to become intimately familiar with the lives of your neighbours. Someone’s doing laundry two floors down? You’ll hear it. Kids playing above you first thing in the morning? You’ll hear it. The couple next door is enjoying some together time? You’ll definitely hear it. Personally, I’ve gotten used to sleeping with earplugs in, and the fact that my current apartment is on the top floor of my building is one of the main reasons why I was ready to sign the lease sight unseen.
Where’s that Water Coming From?
One of the most common problems of Parisian apartments is the fact that they are constantly springing a leak. Either someone is leaking onto you or you’re leaking onto someone else, so let’s just say plumbers in Paris enjoy a thriving trade. Interestingly, the majority of leaks happen in the summer months when up to half the city’s population packs up and leaves for their summer holidays. The water pressure remains the same, but far fewer people are turning on the taps to relieve it, so pipes start bursting all over the city. Nearly every single one of my French friends has a story about coming home from a holiday to a leak in their apartment. I suppose it’s really only a matter of time before I join them.
A Year Spent in My Tiny Parisian Apartment
I may grumble about the various idiosyncrasies of the apartment that I call home, but at the end of the day, it truly is home. And after the year we’ve had, it feels that way now more than ever. I’ve often joked this past year that I’m really getting my money’s worth out of my rent. But I also say that knowing full well how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and rent that I can afford when I know that that hasn’t been the case for so many. So I will happily put up with the lack of space, noisy neighbours, and threat of imminent water damage, because at the end of the day, I love my tiny Parisian apartment. It’s kept me safe and warm during a year when fear and uncertainty were the order of the day. And above all else, it’s home.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.