What It’s Like Living In The “Worst” Part Of Paris

It’s no secret that finding an apartment is difficult in Paris. People don’t realize how small this city is. For comparison, London is 600 square miles while Paris is 40 square miles. Consider this, and then remember how much space is used for parks, hotels, shops, etc. There’s limited space, so when it’s time to search for a place to live, there are limited options. This is the reality, so have reasonable expectations when getting on your feet here.

The Dossier

If you’re unfamiliar, the French require a dossier (and a weighty one at that) for every apartment you apply for. To put into context the peculiarity of the French dossier, the first application I submitted was rejected because of the kind of work contract I have, which is a freelance contract. My employer even called the agent to explain and verify my contract, but it was to no avail. It stated indefinite work and my salary, but simply because it wasn’t a CDI, they found it “too complicated” to accept my file.

In brief, a dossier contains:

1) valid ID

2) visa

3) the last year’s tax documents (the more taxes you pay, the more money you make)

4) work contract

5) last three months of payslips

6) a garant

7) last three quittances de loyer

8) RIB of your French bank account

My Lack Thereof

I knew that my situation on paper wasn’t as strong as others applying for the same apartments. Landlords (understandably) favor French citizens over foreigners, and at the time, I didn’t even have a French bank account.

Basically, I was working with:

1) valid ID

2) visa

3) work contract (remember, freelance!)

4) tax documents from a year when I was hardly working

5) three months of payslips when I was, again, hardly working

I was missing integral parts of my file like a RIB, a guarantor, and proof of income. My options were even more limited than the average flat seeker.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

After some weeks went by without success on PAP.fr, I asked a friend if she knew anyone who had an apartment to rent. This question can seem nervy to some, but if you’re familiar with the “Aladdin Factor,” you can’t get what you don’t ask for. To my surprise, she actually did know someone, and I called that person up the moment her contact was sent to me. She happened to be a realtor who works for an agency that specializes in renting apartments to foreigners. It turned out the apartment in question was her own, thus allowing us to forgo agency fees and conclude a private contract.

I should mention that her willingness to rent to me came from the fact that she herself was once a foreigner getting on her feet in this city. The day we met, she was explaining how hard it was to get all the paperwork in order for a proper dossier when she first moved here. She was kind and understanding of my situation because of our shared experience. Once we signed the contract, I was then given the keys and promptly sent her my deposit. It was an accomplishment for someone in my shoes.

Wonderful, But Weird

The apartment is bright and clean and in a building with kind neighbors. I usually have plans in the evenings, but they frequently have apéros which I’m always welcome to join. They even included me in their building group chat when I first moved in.

When I began telling my friends and colleagues about the apartment, they were happy for me, until I told them which métro stop I lived on. My boss told me, “I have one rule for myself. I never go to La Chappelle or Goutte D’Or. You can’t move there.” I have a good friend who grew up in Montmartre, which is not far from me at all, who explained there are a few good streets and my apartment just so happened to be on one of them. The area is “un quartier populaire” which frankly I haven’t found a good translation for. It’s been described to me as a neighborhood mixed with working class, upper class, and immigrants. Some French speakers who use this term, however, might just be trying to be polite in calling your neighborhood the ghetto (and it isn’t always warranted).

You have to be careful wherever you are, and this place is no different. I personally haven’t been put in any situation in my neighborhood that made me feel in danger. I don’t feel more unsafe here than anywhere else.

The Pros

There’s a market along Rue de L’Olive which has fruits, vegetables, cheese, butter, flowers, etc. Chez Meunier is at the Marx Dormoy metro station on your immediate left. Lomi is down the street across the bridge heading to Montmartre. Lest we not forget the one and only Bob’s Bakehouse. There are other great spots nearby, I’m only listing a few. The intensely bad reputation that Marx Dormoy has is mostly outdated. As one would anywhere else, be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be fine.

As a single woman who often gets home after midnight, I haven’t been followed or harrassed. From what I’ve gathered by talking with people who have lived here much longer than me, the area has been cleaned up from what it once was. It’s still in the process of getting better. All this is to say, Paris as a whole is pretty safe. I feel more uncomfortable on the East Coast of the US in New York or in Philadelphia where I grew up.

I don’t live in a glamorous neighborhood, but I don’t fear for my life. Living in Marx Dormoy for me has its functional benefits. It’s less expensive than other areas and the apartments are a comfortable size. I’ve been inside a few, and I only have praise for the ones I’ve seen. They’re clean and spacious. For example on the main street there’s an apartment building with a shared garden, it’s shockingly quiet and smells amazing because of the flowers.

The Cons

The area isn’t as built up as other parts. It isn’t as beautiful or trendy. There’s underutilized space that people take advantage of for the wrong reason. It’s crowded with people either begging or selling cigarettes right outside of the métro. There’s a whole area along the main street which would be perfect for outdoor seating if it could be cleaned up. Along one of the streets heading to my apartment men at night like to sit along the fence, drink, and sometimes leave their trash behind.

It’s not central by any means. In my case this doesn’t pose too many issues since I mostly travel to central areas. When it’s time to go to places like Bastille, that’s where it gets a little annoying. Once I rode my bike to Supersonic and had to leave it there for a few days because of a flat tire. I eventually walked it back, but it was about an hour on foot.

In Conclusion

The worst part of Paris may be my next-door neighbor, but Paris is still Paris. As long as you’re careful then you should be fine. “Area” doesn’t always determine if you’re in danger or not. There are reports everywhere of pickpockets and people getting mugged, even in Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand.

Photo was taken near Rue de La Chapelle while heading to the Marx Dormoy metro.

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