Be an Idiot; Meet the Neighbors

It has long been a point of contention with me that my neighbors in this building are unfriendly. Well, that is by American standards, I suppose. By French standards, they are absolutely normal, since the French guard their privacy as if German troops are invading. They say hello if they see me in the parking lot or lobby; at times one or two have held the door open for me, as I carried my groceries in, but nothing further. Never any “Welcome to the building” or “You’re invited to my party that will last all night, with music blasting loudly into your apartment as well.” By this point, I’m used to it, but I still wish I could have at least a passing acquaintance with them. The real problem is that in the past seven months, I have met some of the neighbors, but always after j’ai fait une bêtise (I’ve done something stupid)!

I have met four neighbors (three of them men, as it happens—no, I am not doing it on purpose!). I met the first one when I needed a bottle opener shortly after moving here. I went knocking on doors until someone answered, and he kindly opened my bottle. Later we had a chat about his yellow lab, Dream, and how much I liked France. Admittedly, this wasn’t that stupid, but I did feel kind of dorky knocking on doors with a bottle in my hand.

Then I met the next one (a lady) because we park next to each other in the assigned parking lot; she asked me to stop parking so close to her car, since she had trouble getting out of the narrow spot with my big Rav4 taking up all the room. Again, not the most foolish thing I’ve ever done, but I did feel sort of chastised by her. Fortunately, our “friendship” has developed to the point that she collected my mail for me while I was in the States—a positive sign.

Next I met the young single guy who lives two doors down the hall from me when I locked myself out of my apartment. Notice the rapid decline into stupidity. I had to ring his buzzer and explain how I foolishly left my key inside the door (that locks automatically once shut), so even with my spare, I couldn’t open the door; the mechanism was jammed by the other key in the interior. His apartment looked like he’d hosted a frat party the night before—I don’t know which of us was more embarrassed, since I had to sit in his apartment while he kindly called locksmiths for me and we waited for one to arrive. But with all the time sitting in the square foot of couch he cleaned off for me, we did get to know each other a bit.

And, finally, today I met the neighbor who lives two floors below me on the ground floor, because I dumped gallons of stinky, muddy muck off my balcony directly onto his patio table and chairs below. Of course, I didn’t do this on purpose. I decided to scrub my back balcony which was black with old rainwater stains. Since I don’t have a power washer, I figured would scrub it with a brush, not realizing the extent of the mud that would create. I truly didn’t grasp (but was happy to discover) that most of it would come off with heavy scrubbing. Unfortunately, as I scrubbed and doused with buckets and buckets of water, all of that filth was draining out the gutters right onto his patio furniture below. Granted, he shouldn’t have positioned his patio table right under the down spout, but when I leaned over the balcony (being halfway finished) and saw the table, covered in mud, which had then splattered all over the chairs surrounding it, I felt awful. It was even worse when I heard him open his sliding door and exclaim, “Mon dieu! C’est quoi, ça?” (My gosh! What is this?). It was far worse still, knowing that I had lots more to do. But at least he moved his table at that point.

No sooner did I finish, than I showered, dressed, and went out shopping for a gift of apology. Believe it or not, we had a class in language school on making French-style apologies—no doubt because foreigners can offend so easily without realizing it! In France, flowers cover a mulitude of sins (as well as a bottle of wine or any kind of chocolate). I drove all over town trying to find a florist who was open and then for good measure stopped at the local bakery and bought une tarte aux fraises (strawberry pie). I rang his buzzer and once he answered (yet another single man), I asked him if he was the person with the table under my balcony, which he answered affirmatively. He didn’t seem angry though, and with my arms full of pie, flowers, and a loaf of bread I had bought for my own lunch, I couldn’t do much more than wave the flowers at him, as I apologized profusely for the mess. He just laughed and said, “Well, it was just water. It’s not that big a deal, really. I cleaned it up easily enough, and truthfully, it just did what water is supposed to do—run down the gutters! I can’t be upset about that.” He refused to accept the flowers and he didn't give me the chance to explain that the pie was for him too, so I ended up with both here in my apartment.

I will probably eat a slice on my clean balcony. Unless I save it for the next neighbor that I make a fool of myself in front of!
Ariel Rainey