The summer is almost over and we’ve yet to post anything. There’s much to say, but it’s been hard to relive some of the situations to put them into words. So, we just didn’t and instead we have been dreading this post. Today I (Brandy) decided that maybe putting it all down “on paper” might just be the therapy I need (and then it’s taken another couple of weeks before I feel ready to post it).
We had so many reasons to believe that spending a few months in France was a great opportunity (see our previous post about this), but as it turned out, most of those expectations were based on misinformation. This post is long, but I feel many of you may be wondering about all the details (well, I’m a detail person).
House sitting at a small AirBnB in France sounded amazing! We were told to expect 1-2 hours of work per day – “Just check to see that the rooms are ready and greet the guests with the keys when they arrive.” It sounded pretty simple. We felt this was quite fair, and was going to fit well with our needs to finish this year’s homeschooling with the kids and allow Dennis the time he needed to finish his dissertation during hurricane season. However, as it turned out, we were working 8-12 hours per day. We arrived to rooms that were not ready to be occupied, unkept grounds with 3’ tall weeds everywhere, a partially finished fountain with water and mosquitoes that had apparently been sitting for weeks.
We were doing laundry around the clock, waking to put another load in the washer and hang up the sheets and towels that weren’t quite dry after 2 hrs in the dryer. With inadequate numbers of linens, it took hours to wash, dry and iron before we could finish preparing the rooms. The one residential European sized washing machine and dryer were severely inadequate for running an operation of that size.
And speaking of size, the property was quite a bit larger than we were led to believe. There were four 2 bedroom cottages with kitchen and bathrooms plus 3 other smaller rooms with 2 beds and a bathroom. There were a total of 17 beds plus 4 towels per bed. The rooms were almost always full, last minute reservations were common (11pm) and a few times she didn’t even let us know someone was coming (they’d just show up with an email reservation confirmation)! In 32 days, we cleaned the rooms 80 times. That’s about 200 bed changes and over 800 towels in a machine that would only hold one set of sheets at a time (and that was cramming them in)! They also insisted that we iron the sheets with a small ironing board and one iron (I’ve never seen anything come out of a dryer so wrinkled)! Apparently the owners lived in 4 of the rooms and only rented 3. We also found out that they have never been there in the summer months either since they purchased the property two years ago. They had someone watch the property last summer and he refused to return this year. They had no idea of what we were talking about when we tried to explain that it was physically impossible to wash the sheets and towels and get them back in the rooms in time for the next check in. There was certainly no time to take any day trips, much less an overnight trip to Paris as they suggested back in April. We even had to carefully time the trips to the grocery store so no one arrived to check in while we were gone.
We were told there would be minimum maintenance, possibly flipping a circuit breaker or two. The gardener would be around to handle anything more involved. We saw him only a handful of times during our 5 weeks and he never finished what he was supposed to, much less help with maintenance. In just the first few days, Dennis fixed two shower doors (one was leaning against the wall when we arrived), replaced 2 toilet seats, cleared multiple clogged drains, purchased and replaced a door knob, repaired multiple sink drains, pulled and sprayed weeds, trimmed a huge bush that was hanging into the pool, killed a poisonous snake, and replaced over a dozen light bulbs.
Additionally, they told us they would provide a detailed book of instructions, where to find circuit breakers, simple tools, contact information, and all supplies for 3 months. There was nothing left for us in the way of instructions. We continually asked for contact information for the gardener and only had enough supplies for the first week. We spent approximately $200 of our own money on things such as distilled water for ironing, small trash bags, light bulbs, toilet cleaner/deodorizer, parts for shower door, kitchen sponges, door knob, toilet seat, laundry detergent, toilet paper, coffee pods, and cleaning products.
The living conditions we were given were quite lacking. The “fully furnished 2 bedroom apartment” contained a queen mattress on the floor, 3 twin beds, a futon, a desk, a table and 10 mismatched (some broken) chairs. No closets, no shelves, no drawers. The kitchen did have quite a lot of dishes, glasses, and pots and pans, however they were all broken, chipped, missing handles, etc. The pantry was left (3 weeks) before we arrived with dozens of open packages of cereal, flour, cornmeal, and the insects that hatched. We were constantly dealing with maggots and moths long after we threw everything away. The infestation of fleas (they had two indoor pets) made things quite uncomfortable. Without exaggeration, we had hundreds of flea bites. The toilets in all the rooms were full of tiny flies when we first arrived as well.
The small car in “good condition” that we rented from them (we were actually paying them!) turned out to be frustrating also, but a necessity to go purchase the needed supplies. They said it didn’t need any maintenance in the coming months, but we would be responsible should something break, “like a flat tire.” However, the tires were old and had very little tread. Add to that the window that didn’t roll down, key fob didn’t work, the only door lock mechanism didn’t turn, and it wouldn’t shift into second gear. Not exactly what we would call good condition.
We were in constant communication with the owners regarding the guests who would be arriving, however all of our concerns and questions were mostly ignored. We were never given the gardener’s contact information, they never acknowledged the fleas, the unfinished fountain and dangerous tools left out, car problems, or really anything. They failed to tell us that “our space” was the common area and kitchen that guests were allowed to use. That made more sense when we discovered that they lived in the 4 rooms upstairs and the downstairs (our space) was just the common area, extra kitchen and office. When I asked about extra linens or how she kept up with the laundry, her response was just that we’d figure it out. No options or even a thank you. When we asked for them to order more supplies and have them delivered (a few days after we arrived), they said to just go buy them at the store. We never were reimbursed for our gas for these trips. When we told them we couldn’t find the right parts for the broken shower track after 3 stores in 3 towns, she refused to order them. Instead their plan was that Dennis should just use the parts from another room that had the same type shower and move the pieces back and forth depending on which room was occupied. Besides being a horrible idea, the rooms were both almost constantly booked. She also wouldn’t block the room from new bookings until it could be fixed either.
After a week of this drama (yep, week 1), we let them know that we could not stay the entire summer in this type of situation. We agreed to stay a month because we knew it would be a hardship on them to find someone else (although practically 100 others responded to the same post I did). We told them we would continue to work hard to make sure the property was clean and the guests were comfortable and happy. We did our best to keep things cordial and polite since we knew we had another 3 weeks.
During the remaining weeks, Dennis reattached screens on every window, replaced another toilet seat, fixed outdoor chairs, defrosted refrigerators, fixed air conditioners, We had one night that the hot water was out on one room (with the rudest guest we had) and our kitchen sink. The 2 water heaters were working fine and the owners weren’t responding to our questions. Finally after almost 2 hours of trial and error and walking the property, Dennis found a gas water heater in the gardener’s tool shed that the pilot light was out. He relit it and half an hour later, at 11pm, we were back in business. Finally around midnight the owners responded that we should check the gas water heater. Dennis refused to take care of the roof leak and the owners still hadn’t addressed it when we left.
We also emailed them to discuss a payment for our work, reimbursement for the supplies we purchased, and especially no charge for the car. We found out through a guest that they charged a cleaning fee. They again completely ignored our email. Dennis did some research on the average minimum wage in France (for a 35 hr week and we were working more like 50-60 hrs/week). We also looked up the cost of a furnished apartment in the area. Just counting the two of us (not taking into consideration the work our children were putting in), we should have been paid about 6000 euro/month ($6970). The average rent was only 500 euros. We asked them for a payment of $1500 (the cleaning fees for the number of rooms we cleaned) to help cover our travel expenses, plus reimbursement for what purchased for their property. Nowhere near what they would pay actual workers (it worked out to about $1/hr) but still a bit to help us.
After a week, we sent another email, requesting acknowledgment that they received the first email. They had, and said they would get back to us soon. We continued to ask them every few days with the same response. We were also informed that they couldn’t have anyone arrive until Monday, the 9th, 3 days after we said we were leaving. That added another extremely difficult weekend. We agreed to stay if they would pay us what we were asking. On Saturday, the 7th, Dennis sent another email asking for a decision on the money or we weren’t cleaning any more rooms. We did clean the rooms though, and had them ready for the next round of guests, so I guess this was just a bit of an ultimatum to get them to give us an answer. I sent another message stating the rooms were clean and ready but we really needed an answer. Well, about 9:00 that night (the whole day passed!) the answer we got was that someone was coming to collect the keys, we had less than an hour to get out, and after the property was inspected for damages, he would reimburse us for the supplies we purchased!
What?! Damages?! We were shocked and angry. How many things had Dennis fixed?! Our reimbursement was long overdue and shouldn’t have been held ransom anyways. He said if we weren’t out that night he would charge us 225 euro (if I remember correctly) to stay at HIS AirBnB since we weren’t working. He completely ignored the fact that we were, in fact, still working! We hadn’t packed because we were cleaning all day, still doing laundry and awaiting another guest. I had made a reservation to pick up the rental car on the 8th so we couldn’t leave anyways. He said we could stay if we agreed to clean all the rooms on Sunday. We felt so bullied! But we did it. That property was cleaner the morning of the 9th than it had probably ever been! We were reimbursed for our purchases (not for gas) and given about 400 euros ($464, not even a third of what we asked). It didn’t even cover half of our flight to France.
The kids said they learned a lot from the summer, mostly that the world is a contrast of people. We met people from 6 continents while we were there. So many countries and languages came to our doorstep, including a young US missionary family serving in Africa. Some of our favorites were from Sweden and Russia. We had people stay 15 hours and use every possible towel, bed, bar of soap, steal toilet paper!, leave dirty dishes on the counter, trash everywhere but the trash can and expect someone to clean up after them. Others would stay 2-3 days, use one towel each, wash every dish they used and even take the trash out themselves. I know our kids will always be the latter because they know that behind the scenes is someone who does the cleaning. They certainly learned that their actions affect others.
We learned there are those that will bend the truth, take advantage, and bully to get their way. But there are many more who are kind, friendly, and love to share their lives with those they meet.
Thankfully, this was only the first part of our summer. Our God can and does make beauty from our ashes, and those stories are still to come.