Friday, 20 May 2011


There was a certain cyclical quality about my last few weeks in Nice, in that my first days in the place in 2009 were also a bloody nightmare. Seeing as I write plays in my spare time (have to fit in 60 hours of worrying Monday to Saturday, and sometimes do overtime on Sundays and Bank Holidays), I can't really complain about the drama and symmetry of it all.  

Oh, OK. I can.

You know how when you're having trouble making up your mind about an important decision, you get 'signs'; nudges from the Universe trying to elbow you into the path you're meant to be taking (George Clooney or Jeff Bridges??? Still waiting for guidance on that one) well, having decided to leave the Riviera in February - some two and a half months before I stepped onto the plane on 29th April - I imagined I'd saved myself from being shoved in the back by some power higher than a menopausal fairy.  

But no.  

One of the reasons I elected to bid my farewells to the Cote D'Azur concerned the rudeness of people on the street.  Extremely formal in their verbal communications, the Nicoise aren't noted for their politeness when encountering others physically.  As was demonstrated to me even more regularly from March onwards.  It's as if the 340,000 locals had each been personally advised that I was planning my escape, and that they therefore had a limited time left in which to push me under a passing tram.  (Not sure how the points system works, but judging by the number of people attempting to walk into me - and I'm not meaning to boast here - I think I must be worth something impressive).

And then there's the behaviour of some of the ex-pats.  Regular readers will already be acquainted with WikiMan and Pam, but a few other characters subsequently revealed themselves as being not quite as civilized as I had previously thought.  For example, the person - supposedly a friend - who once sent me an email consisting of nothing other than a Nazi symbol.  Life on the Med ought to come with a health warning.

Anyway, events in the final week were far from subtle in demonstrating to me why I was right to leave.  I was endeavouring to pack up my stuff (some of which had to go into storage - in two different places), arrange a place to stay in the UK, tie up various administrative issues, and I also had an article deadline to meet.  

And so I didn't really enjoy the extra stress created by parties of extra-rude teenagers on the sidewalks, the Hysterical Italian Landlady From Hell (lots to relate about her another time), or the (large) eight-legged creature that ran up my arm one morning just after I stepped out of the shower (first one I'd ever seen in that apartment. I screamed it to death.  But thanks, Universe. I'm on the SWEARWORD plane already...)

And then there was Jenny.  

Jenny - whom I had met through a friend - was trying to sell apartments for a living.  Not her own, but other people's.  Having been through a bit of a rollercoaster ride with assorted immobiliers in the saga of the apartment I and the future-ex own in Nice (I was renting something smaller to live in myself), I offered her the chance of trying to sell ours.  

Selling properties in France is not like selling properties in the UK, which is the only other place I've ever had experience of real estate.  In England, people moan about the (commonly negotiable) fee estate agents (mostly young, cocky men called Darren) charge for sitting in an office in cheap pin-striped suits, occasionally mustering up the energy to get up from their desks where they're continually on the phone to people who are probably paid by the government to be on the phone to estate agents (keeps the unemployment numbers down) and slime their way over to the photocopier to make a sheet of cheap paper with a photograph of your house on it to stick in the shop window.  

KERCHING!  That's two and a half per cent of your sale price please!

In France, it's a bit different.  In that the usual percentage you pay an agency to sell your place is FIVE per cent. And sometimes SIX. (Sorry, should have told you to sit down before reading that sentence).

Our apartment currently has a long-term tenant in it.  This complicates matters considerably.  Especially since French law is completely on the side of the tenant - whom you cannot ask to leave during the winter, from October to March, and who is totally within his rights to continue residing in your property even if he doesn't pay the rent for months on end. You, as an owner, must go through sometimes years of costly legal procedure to evict him.  

However, there are different rules for furnished and unfurnished contracts.  I had made it clear to Jenny - on several occasions - that our apartment was being let furnished.  Somehow, though, the words didn't quite compute, and much confusion, misunderstanding and pointless conversation ensued. To cut a long story short, we eventually decided to enter an exclusive contract with another agency, who has managed the rental of the property for the last eight or so years.  And with whom I managed to negotiate a 4% fee.  

We were very polite in informing Jenny of this decision.  We thanked her for her time, didn't castigate her for having met our tenant in person and given him the impression he had the right to stay in the apartment for another three years (oy veh!) and wished her well for the future.  I told her I'd drop by some time and pick up the keys.

Only given my chaotically frantic timetable leading up to my departure, I didn't manage to make it to her agency. I wrote her a polite email apologizing for this. Rather than have the keys sent to London at considerable expense to her company, I asked if she would kindly send them to a friend in Nice who would keep them for me.  

I received this reply by return. (Please note - even though I knew Jenny socially, I had never tried to negotiate her fee down.  Got it? Good). 

I must say that after all the time and understanding I spent on your dossier I find it very impolite of you not collecting the keys yourself and insisting on me sending them by post when they are available at the agency and Bld Victor Hugo is only a step away.

Given this occassion I must say that on many occassions I did not appreciate your behaviour, in particular the way you mislead the agency concerned by the rental, or acknowledging the fact that you were totally aware that our 5% commission was negotiable.

For information Nice Etoile, I was not surprised nor do I regret your decision to withdraw your apartment.  I was totally aware that you were using me and am convinced that this is your normal behavour!

Being 'impolite' for not collecting the keys myself???!!!

I wrote back telling her I was having the week from hell, and asked how it was my fault I didn't know her commission was negotiable.  I also requested an explanation as to how I had 'used' her when I hadn't even tried to knock down her percentage!  She replied curtly that I should tell my friend to call in at the agency for the keys. I replied that my friends had small children, jobs, lives, and that I didn't treat them like staff, and pointed out my consideration in not having asked for the keys to be sent to England, where I would shortly be living. 

Mexican standoff for a day before she sent me a frosty email saying she'd put the keys in an envelope and sent them to the address I had asked her to.  I wrote back saying now f*ck off thank you.

Was there any point to all this??? I was committed to leaving Nice, I'd had my ticket for some time, I didn't need any more persuading that the place was no longer for me!  Complete waste of negative energy, Universe!

Anyway, life moves on, tenants (hopefully) move out, my path towards either George of Jeff will soon become apparent.

Moral: Don't buy anywhere in France. And if you do (I've just told you not to, why aren't you listening to me?) don't stick a tenant in it.  And if you do (you're starting to annoy me now), don't say I didn't warn you. (NOT LISTENING, LA LA LAAAAA.....)


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Please be nice, but not funnier than me. Thanks.