I arrived in Paris around 12:30pm today. Less than two hours later I was looking at an apartment in the 1st arrondissement. While I like my first apartment in Paris I was not too crazy about the area. It had too many tourists. I got lucky with the first apartment and was able to secure it in about two weeks. I won’t bore you with the details but it was not the easiest thing.
I had a slight feeling that the color of my skin may have had something to do with it. Subtle racism is sometimes difficult to discern because the person in front of you is smiling and you think you are making a great impression. Later you are shocked to find out that you did not get the job or the apartment. For the life of you, you can’t figure out why. Just when I thought I might be a little paranoid and incident today supported my suspicions…
I found a cute apartment via the internet. I had communicated with the owner via email and telephone. Today was the first time I saw her in person. When I arrived at the apartment, I called the owner to let her know I was downstairs. She said she would meet me. I could hear her walking towards me. When she rounded the corner she literally jumped and had a surprised look on her face. I thought immediately that she must not have thought I was a black person.
I follow her into this teeny tiny studio apartment. It’s cute but way to little for me. Just when I was going to thank her for showing me the apartment she decided to give me a little unsolicited advice, some insider information.
The lady said ” You know it’s going to be difficult for you to find an apartment because you are black.”
Whoa. That’s all I could think. I was shocked. She went on to say that I would visit other apartments and find the owners would not rent to me but that they would never tell me the real reason. This lady is French and could hardly pronounce these two English words. She said that she had gathered this information from the stories from other people, white and black. The good news for me is that she is different—she told me that she rented to a black fireman and he was clean, and left the apartment clean. Imagine that! A clean black man! Then she went on to tell me that she would let me have the apartment but I would have to let her know by 5pm. She said it in a way as if she were doing me a favor. How do you say no thanks in French?
To say I was outraged would be the understatement of the year, maybe of my lifetime. I did not give her an answer in the moment. After being up on an overnight flight I did not trust myself to speak. I did not want to be held responsible for cursing her out! So now I am sitting a cafe having lunch and continuing my apartment search. I can’t help but think of my favorite writers, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. They wrote about this side of Paris. I guess seeing is believing. Today marked my six month mark in Paris and I can tell already that the lessons I will learn will extend far beyond any classroom teachings.
Want to feel like you’re traveling without moving? Read the rest of French Kissed’s experiences here.