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By Claire P. of Hoboken, New Jersey, USA  (listing #9)

I first found out about from a postcard on a bulletin board at work. I had heard of the idea of home exchanges before and here was my chance to give it a try. That was back in Jan. of 2000, and I promptly signed up as a member of Digsville and submitted my home listing in Hoboken, NJ. Some friends and I had all planned on a rendezvous in Paris around Easter time. We were coming from NYC, Hoboken, Denmark and Ireland. As we were firming up plans, I became more and more determined to have a place to stay in Paris, for free.

As I scanned the listings on the Digsville site, none of them listed the times that I wanted to go. I was feeling a bit let down, but decided to just go for it. There were three listings in Paris and I e-mailed them all, acknowledging that the times didn't coincide, but hoping that it could all work out somehow. I got turned down twice, but the third time was the charm. All of the sudden I had a person who was interested in an exchange! We e-mailed back and forth about the possible dates until we agreed. I had an apartment! I had no plane ticket, but that is a whole other saga.

My Paris exchangee partner, Sandra, and I decided that we would meet in NYC and I would give her the key to my apartment. I was very lucky that she was in NYC the week before our exchange was to happen. It was my first exchange and I remember e-mailing Helen (the Digsville lady), saying, "I have an exchange, now what?" Helen immediately responded and was as enthusiastic as I was and gave me very useful advice on my next steps. Sandra and I worked out the questions about phone use, internet access, etc. We didn't really follow any set rules or lists. I imagine we should have signed agreements, but because we were going to meet face to face, that didn't seem to matter. It occurred to me that most people don't meet the people they exchange with.
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Friends asked me how I felt about having a total stranger in my house. My reply was always, "I'm a total stranger also, and I'm in their house." It is sort of a karma thing; we were more interested in traveling than the possibility of doing any mischief. I also feel that I can replace everything. A dish breaks, so what, it is only a dish. The things in my life that mean something to me are not material. It is also very easy to remove a handful of items and store them in a basement or friend's place if you feel so inclined. When I met Sandra she had a list of restaurants in the neighborhood that she recommended, directions to her house, and she had arranged for a neighbor to give me the keys. I left her a list of numbers, restaurants, flowers and a bottle of CALIFORNIA Wine. (She should at least try it while she was here.)

Having been to Paris before, I had no trouble finding the apartment that was in Montmartre. It was a wonderful area of town. An absolutely charming place near 2 metro stops, local food shops, and cafes. My friend from Denmark who was to stay with me, arrived 7 hours after I did. We very quickly got to know the managers and waiters at the cafe at the end of the street, and would wave to them as we left every morning or afternoon.

The torrential spring rains that I had heard about were nowhere to be found. The sun was out everyday and the weather was very mild. We spent a very relaxing week, walking the streets of Paris, sitting in cafes. We made coffee every morning in the apartment, and went out daily for our croissants. I could not have been happier. The first day I got there, there was a car race (prix) for antique cars. I was able to watch the neighborhood come out for that. It was comical, because it was very difficult for the old cars to go up the hills and that is all the race consisted of. The cars got in line, got counted down to start, revved their engines and went - about 20 feet. Then they started the slow climb up the hill to Sacre Cur, about 6 blocks. It took each car about 25 minutes to get up the hill. I thought that was a great way to start my week. The only rain that we experienced was on the day we left. Our local cafe waiter, Frederick, commented that it was because we were leaving town.

I can't give too much advice to others about how to go about an exchange. Mine went off without a problem, concern or care. It was very effortless. I can say just pick a time and go, everything will fall into place. It did for me. I was able to arrange for the apartment and a plane ticket all within 3 weeks before I left town. I was also able to spend a stress-free time with a good friend from Denmark. I saw other friends from Europe and made new ones in Paris - can't wait to do it again. I am already eyeing other exchange possibilities in St. Germain. I hear Paris is nice in the fall also.
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This article has been generously contributed by Claire Pertalion, a member of Digsville -the global home exchange community.
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