Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kitchens en France

In my opinion, on of the most difficult things about finding an apartment in France is finding a decent kitchen.  I don't understand how the Frenchies do it.  They must eat out all the time and never cook at home, because I have never seen such ridiculous excuses for kitchens in my life!  In America you know what to expect from a kitchen.  It never has to be your top concern when looking for a place to live.  They come with cupboards and drawers and places to put food and dishes.  They come with exhaust hoods over the stove, and when you rent they come with a stove and an oven and a fridge.  The size of the kitchen varies, but in general you know you are going to at least get something in which you can cook.

In France, kitchens are an entirely different story.  They are never the same and they are almost always horrible.  Kitchens often come with nothing but a sink and the renter is expected to provide storage (shelving, cupboards, drawers), counters and appliances.  To me this is insane because for each place you live you have to buy what can fit in the kitchen and then if you move, you may need entirely different furnishings to fit the next kitchen.  Such a waste of money!  There is very rarely an exhaust hood for the stove, which in my opinion is just disgusting and in the case of my current apartment leads to serious problems of humidity and mold.

Now don't get me wrong, on occasion you can find a fully equipped kitchen, American style and everything, but it is rare.  Some places have something between just a sink and a "real" kitchen: perhaps a sink and a bar with shelving or a sink and a few cupboards.  But you never really know and so I find that for my current apartment search, one of the things I'm really watching for is the kitchen.

But apartment ads are very deceiving here.  They have a number of different ways to describe kitchens, and I can't seem to figure out what they all mean because just when I think I understand I see a kitchen that doesn't fit my definition of the term used.  For example you can have une cuisine équipée, une cuisine aménagée, une cuisine ouverte, une cuisine séparée, une cuisine américaine, une cuisinette, un coin cuisine, etc.  The list goes on and on.  But from what I can understand here is what these terms mean:

Une cuisine équipée: a kitchen with things in it (maybe storage, etc), but what these things are can never be known without seeing it.

Une cuisine aménagée: about the same as above, it has things in it

Une cuisine ouverte: a kitchen that is open onto the living room, rather than being in a separate room.

Une cuisine séparée: a kitchen in a separate, closed room.

Une cuisine américaine: by far my least favorite term for describing a kitchen.  When I first saw American kitchen I imagined a kitchen like in America with appliances, cupboards, drawers, etc.  I was excited and thought that that was what I needed to be looking for in the ads.  But no, it simply means that the kitchen is open onto the living room (une cuisine ouverte).  What a poor choice of words!  This type of kitchen can be completely empty, but as long as it is open, it is American.  Too bad we are better than that in America and this is not at all what our kitchens are like! 

Une cuisinette: a very small kitchen, usually with a minifridge, a sink and two stove top burners, and nothing else.  Perhaps good for a student, but not for adults or a family.

Un coin cuisine: a small kitchen space, seems to generally be in a corner of the living room.

So with all these options, how is anyone ever supposed to get a decent kitchen!  Where is the term that refers to an actual kitchen that can be used for cooking!?!?!  Cuisine à cuisiner could perhaps be a good term to indicate to those of us who actually like to cook and want to cook, that the kitchen will in fact provide us with the means necessary to do so.  Too bad this doesn't seem to exist in France unless you are really lucky!

This kitchen problem is especially relevant considering the apartment I just visited on Thursday.  A beautiful apartment in a new, modern building complex complete with beautiful gardens.  Only 3 years old!  Gorgeous parquet floors, clean, white walls, lots of light, 42 m2, a big balcony overlooking a pretty garden, an amazing bathroom complete with bathtub and space for a washing machine, an actual closet in the bedroom (where we could hang clothes and store stuff!!!), a big water heater and a big living room.  Seemed perfect.  But then there was the kitchen: une cuisinette.  That's right, a tiny little miserable kitchen (like I had when living as a student in France at the Technohole) in the middle of the living room.  What is that!?!?!  These are nice apartments for adults and families, and you can't even cook!  Two burners!?!?!  One cabinet under the sink where I wouldn't even want to keep my food!!!  Where do you put an oven?  A microwave?  The necessary coffee maker?  Where do you store food, dishes, pots, pans?????  How does one actually cook with this!?!?!  The people who live there now built an extra plan de travail for their kitchen space which was basically a little counter that jutted out from the wall into the middle of the living room, right next to the computer desk with a drawer, an extra cabinet and space for an oven.  But even that's not enough for me!  Where would I put everything!?!?!  And its in the middle of the living room!?!?!  And they had their fridge set up next to that, in the middle of the room, right next to the door to the bedroom.

  a cuisinette in the apartment complex we visited Thursday

What I would like to know is, who designed these buildings!?!?!  Brand new apartment buildings and they design that for the kitchen space!?!?!  This person's an absolute moron!  We would have had to basically construct our own kitchen and lose a large amount of the living room space to do so.  So, we had to say no to this beautiful apartment and keep looking, hoping to find something that is nice, well-built, and has a real kitchen, which we may never find in this country of crazy kitchens!

How are the French so well known for gastronomy when they can't even cook at home?  You would think the kitchen would be something they would value!


  1. Michele, I have so been where you are right now!

    Okay so here's what the terminology should mean -- amenagée means there's furniture, and equipée means there's appliances. Whether there are both, you'd have to go and see.. but usually you won't have everything unless you are looking for an apartment "meublée" -- which it sounds like you definitely don't need! "American" kitchens are a little bit different from "ouverte" because american ones usually tend to have a bar that separates them from the living room (apparently that's what makes them so american .. that, and being able to stuff your face whilst you're watching TV!), whereas open is just, well, open.

    Our apartment hunts between Caen and Lille have given us some funny stories to tell. One place was right next door to a prison, and when we asked the agent who was showing the place about it, he said, "there's a prison? I hardly noticed.." and we promptly left in a fit of giggles.. we may be poor, but we aren't stupid.

    One place we looked at had a "coin" kitchen that was hidden behind a sliding door -- and you'll never guess which other room shared this sliding door with the kitchen -- the bathroom! so, if ever somebody was cooking and you needed to go, you'd have to wait, because if you slid open the bathroom door, you'd close off the kitchen. Ridiculous! Obviously we didn't take it. We settled on a meublée'd apartment, so we had a nice, amenagée'd American kitchen, fit with drawers and cupboards and appliances. Probably the only one in a rental in the entire country.

    Our current apartment had only the sink. It's a separated kitchen that was void of anything resembling furniture or appliances apart from this cruddy sink. Of course, since we were coming from a furnished apartment, we had nothing.. so we nailed a couple of wine crates to the walls for starters, and now after a year and a half it actually looks like a french kitchen -- nowhere near proper cupboards, and light years away from nice granite countertops, but at least now we can say we stuck up the wine crates "for charm and decoration" rather than entirely out of necessity.

    I wish you good luck in your hunt for the perfect kitchen! I can't wait to see pictures of what you actually find, and I hope it'll be something similar to what you are looking for :) Bon courage!

  2. Oh! I found the link. In case you were curious.
    Those are the stages our kitchen went through. I'll have to take pictures now and post those because it has changed so much since then.

  3. This is a GREAT post!! I just posted on a similar thing here at my blog, too:

    (I just tried to link it in all "pretty" but could not get the HTML to work -- sorry.)

    I write about how "ghetto" our kitchen is, but it is nothing compared to that cuisineWHAT? up there, hahahahahaha!!

    Oh, I do not want to laugh at this with part of me, but then it is so funny, too. I think it pays to try to keep a sense of humor about it, though. David Lebovitz writes this way about his kitchen in his book "The Sweet Life in Paris," too (I quote him about it in the blog). It's a lot like Black Comedy, huh. ;-)

    I wish you luck, too, in finding a workable kitchen. I envy my fiancé's ex-wife's kitchen, actually. Hers is awesome, so I do know they exist...

  4. That's ridiculous! I remember going through thing when I first moved to France and then when some family members moved last year it reminded me of this problem. I also wrote a post on French kitchens!

    Hope you find a suitable place with a decent kitchen soon!

  5. well, i am still hunting for my dream kitchen, but I don't think I'm going to find it and I'm, pretty sure I'm going to have to settle for something less than perfect. we just visited a nice, big apartment, with a very big kitchen (10m2....thats half our current apartment!) and that big kitchen only had a sink in it! why? why have all that space and only put in a sink!

    and we visited another beautiful, new apartment with a tiny coin cuisinette (i guess that would be the best way to describe it). it's ridiculous. but its always entertaining to hear about the experiences others have had with kitchens in france. i find there is always something new and unexpected! perhaps my next visit will be an apartment with no kitchen!

  6. WOW! You are so right, how are the French known for cooking if they cannot cook at home? American kitchens are fully equipped, especially here in Denver. What are houses like? I cannot imagine how much money you would need to invest if you moved quite often. Thanks for this eye opening post :)

  7. Oh my. I just brought up your description of the terms for kitchens on an internet search to figure out what they all mean. Our family is about to move to Strasbourg (or near) and we are searching from afar already for a June move. We are British/American and your blog post was very helpful. One question: does the kitchen problem extend to houses, as well as flats?