People all over the world dream of living in Paris, in an “old” i.e. Hausmannian, apartment. High ceilings, cornices, large windows over-looking slate roofs, cute streets, window boxes. There are hundreds and thousands of descriptions in books and more modernly, pictures online, of a “Parisian apartment” – and the majority really are beautiful.
At least in the pictures.
The reality is, for the majority of French people, that they could not afford to live inside Paris proper. It is an expensive city (and not just in comparison to Cairo!!). Buying one square metre inside the Périphérique (the road that divides the city from the ‘burbs) of mid-level real estate costs around €10,000 - one of the reasons that apartments are generally so small.
Most important, however, is what none of the pictures tell you: except in some exceptional circumstances, the noise isolation of Parisian apartments is virtually non-existant.
This came as a shock to me. Stone walls and high ceilings in the UK generally mean that you can barely hear your neighbours. Not so in Paris. Shoes on wooden floors? Of course, that’s to be expected. Hearing shoes on wooden floors of your downstairs neighbour? Hmm. Ventilation shafts running vertically between apartments amplify arguments for neighbours’ ears. Standing in a building hallway waiting for a friend to open their door and you can hear from behind the closed door on the same floor, every word of a discussion between a father and his young daughter. Two floors above and another neighbour, behind another closed front door, is practicing the violin…
Despite hearing the witchy downstairs neighbour I had in Cairo (more on her soon) I find it a strange phenomenon that I know my neighbours have daily trouble with their children at meal and bed times, that one of the children did not get dressed in time for school this morning resulting in a rather upset father, yet I have no idea if I have ever met them in the elevator, passed them in the lobby, or smiled at them when I checked my post – or not.
What I find even more strange is that I am now quite liking the idea that I can hear my neighbours (well, some of the time). I am not a fan of screaming children and shouting parents, but when it’s quiet, I do find myself wondering if everything is ok…