Saturday, September 13, 2008

Home exchange on the rebound?

photo: Leila Haj-Hassan

One morning I sent a home exchange inquiry to a posting in a French town with a name I didn't recognize, letting them know (in English) that I was looking for a year-long exchange. A gentleman responded almost immediately that indeed he was interested, but I didn't quite understand the rest of his message, which was in English. We switched into French and he let me know that he would like to exchange for 6 months, and that he and his wife could also offer us 2 weeks of hospitality to show us the sights before they went to our place. I looked up the town and it's a suburb of Paris, about 6 miles from the city center. Wow! I had a million questions: where are the nearby schools, do they have reliable high-speed internet for my husband's work, how does the public transportation system work, are any of the schools English-speaking? He, on the other hand, didn't have a single question. Not a one. He wanted to exchange starting the following month, which was much too short notice for us, so we settled on a 6 month exchange for the 2nd half of the Parisian school year (February to July). Because we wanted to spend the whole school year abroad, he suggested we find another family in Paris and arrange a consecutive exchange with them, starting off the school year with the other family and then moving on to their place. Excited to find something, I told him that I would start looking for the "first" exchange and would keep him posted on my progress. I emailed him again and told him I would be happy to answer any questions about our home or about our area, but he just said he didn't have any questions, he and his wife were just looking for relaxation. I thought it was odd but figured he was older and maybe that's just his way.

So after about a week, I emailed the French exchanger after to let him know that per his advice we were still looking for another exchange, but we hadn't forgotten about him and wanted to know what the next step was. Yay, we were very excited and Sam was starting to ask me about France. He responded back that unfortunately, because he was due to leave for the States within 2 weeks, he would have to decline our offer. What!!?? I read and re-read his message, and then copied it into Google's translator just to make sure I wasn't totally crazy. Nope, I understood it - he was blowing us off. Tempted as I was to send him a nasty message, I didn't want to blow the exchange so I said that I didn't understand, I thought we had agreed on an exchange in February so why was he coming to the States in 2 weeks? Was it for a different exchange? No, he said, we did have an agreement for February but he didn't want to wait any longer for us to make a decision, and so he would give us one week to decide if we still wanted to exchange. Huh?? I referred him back to me original message, and again said that yes, we are on board, ready to go, and would like to take the next step toward fixing exact dates with him. I apologized for my poor French, and hoped he understood. I didn't hear from him for 4 days. 4 days! I wasn't sure what to think, when he finally replied back to me:

Je ne peux plus vous attendre. Malheureusement, je dois décliner votre offre pour septembre. Cordialement.

I can't wait for you any longer. Unfortunately, I have to decline your offer for September. Regards.
September? This guy wasn't making sense in his own language, no translator was going to help me with this problem. But this was Paris. Paris!! So, of course, I started writing back to him. We are prepared to purchase plane tickets for your offer of a home exchange from February to July. Are you still interested in making this exchange? But before I sent the email I started to think about it. If this man didn't seem trustworthy, or even coherent, over email, did I really want to set my kids up for disappointment and set myself up for non-refundable plane tickets? Would I want this man staying in my home even if the exchange did work out? I knew the answer was no, but like a bad relationship, I just didn't want to let go. I didn't know at the time that a great opportunity was just around the corner.

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