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building relationships in paris.


I've always been fascinated by the idea of neighbors and their behavior patterns in apartment buildings, especially here in Paris. I'm not sure if it's just the buildings that I have lived in or if this is the norm around these parts, but has anyone else noticed the amount of notes that tenants put up in the hallway? I'm not talking about those polite letters informing the other residents that they will be having a party (a concept the neighbor above us pretends to not be aware of), but notes mandating other tenants to roll the trash bins out on Wednesdays, to not slam the second gate, to not  throw junk mail on the floor, and my personal favorite: lower iPods when entering the building after 8 pm.

In Brooklyn, even though the only neighbor I spoke to was the one that I was fake dating, I could never imagine our building manager who had an incredible resemblance to Jim Croce, or the homies on the stoop writing little passive-aggressive notes to each other about the troubling concern of supermarket circulars abandoned on the floor in the mail cove.

Lately, the exchange of words in our building has reached a new height of obsession where there's a constant rotation of communication. And according to my investigative handwriting analysis, I want to say that it's a mini war between two tenants, and from time to time a third wheel will chime in to defend one of them with a "Ouais, c'est ça!" or a "Je suis tellement d'accorde...". The notes have gotten so bad that they have now lowered themselves to correcting each others French grammar in red pen. 

Yeah, Jim Croce would so not correct grammar or take the time to look for a red pen.

Staying out of building politics, Aurel and I oblige to the anonymous letters, roll out the trash when the opportunity arises, and just keep to ourselves.

Up until recently...

The notes have now been including this on the bottom:

"For translation in English, knock on Camille's door on the third floor, left" 

I'm not paranoid and didn't immediately think it was for me, but when my neighbors stopped "bonjouring" me and started "helloing" me, I realized that my jig was up. I had been outed....as The American. 

Cue in dramatic music to emphasize a shocking reveal.

It wasn't until I finally met my neighbor across the hall who introduced himself as R.V. (pronounced Hervé)...from Paris* who filled me in on the building gossip. He asked me if I was the American who talks loud on the phone each night to "Terry" out in Los Angeles? I confirmed yes. He then told me that I was the main suspect of throwing regular trash in the recycling bin. One, damn I talk loud on the phone and two, because I speak English on the phone, my neighbors think that I don't read French nor do I know how to recycle?

Logic.

R.V from Paris thought the accusations were absurd and if it was going to be anyone, undeniably it's the English fille au pair who lives in the studette on the top floor who doesn't speak French. I explained to R.V. from Paris that I actually don't take out the recycling, it's Aurel who handles waste management chez nous, that if it was me, I needn't knock on Camille's door on the third floor to the left because I perfectly understood the notes before concluding that the bandit is still out on the loose, and he/she may just be French. I added that last bit as a courtesy to relieve Camille of her on-call translating duties. 

So this recycling crisis has now opened a whole new door with my relationship with R.V. from Paris as he now keeps asking me join him for happy hour at the café downstairs, and has been inviting me to walk his dog with him. I really can't tell if he's hitting on me because one of the times he "asked me out" was out in front of our building and he blew a snot rocket in front of me. Mixed signals, I tell you.

We still haven't gotten to the bottom of the recycling bin scandal and while I resent being a suspect solely based on my nationality, I can't help but laugh at once again, yet another situation here in Paris that makes me go hmmmm.

This morning, I don't know how this happened, perhaps Facebook is now monitoring my thought process or there's a hidden office in our building, but they suggested that I "like" R.V. from Paris. Apparently he has a fan page with over 600 likes. Of course, he does.

 What about you? 
Is it just me who has lived in "colorful" apartment buildings or is stuff like this the norm?

*To protect his identity and where I live, R.V's first name has been changed. His name is actually more ridiculous. Sorry guys...

28 comments:

  1. ROFL, love it! We don't leave notes for each other, other than to one stuck on the back door to remind people to lock it behind them - the back door that currently has no handle or lock due to an invasion of teenagers a couple of weeks ago that we had to go and beat out into the street. Mind you, every time there's an 'incident' we all love to play amateur detective to solve whodunnit. I don't think we've ever all agreed yet ;o)

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    1. Ahh! I hate teenagers! If I have any teen readers, which I surely doubt, I say it out of love. ; )

      It sounds like your building is much more playful than ours. We've recently been accused of putting heavy boxes in the elevator. We live on the 2nd floor - we NEVER use the elevator...but clearly it was us.

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    2. I strongly suspected you were a heavy goods mover in your spare time...

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  2. There is some kind of war between the neighbours in my building too and it's all to do with noise. Even the police have been involved,.but I personally have never been disturbed... Which can only point to one conclusion, right? Must be those raucous Anglo-Saxons again!

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    1. Haha! It's always the Anglos! We're such a rowdy bunch, aren't we?

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  3. Hahahahaha Ella, oh the joys of living with neighbors!
    In my building there's only four apartments and we all get along pretty well..no need for passive aggressive little notes, BUT, the condo association is a pain in the ass.
    They're always doing something, I guess they don't know what to do with our money because when it isn't painting the doors, it's cleaning the windows, re-doing the parking, chopping the trees etc etc, so they leave freaking notices by the mailboxes every single day telling us to not interfere with the ongoing work and giving us a list of warnings and instructions.

    I can't believe this asses in your building are all suspecting you, the nerve!

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    1. Condo associations are THE worst. In our apartment in Chelsea (nyc), the board was always sending letters, having meetings, making comments, etc..my mom was going insane! They never used our money to make improvements either! We were gypped!!

      With exception of R.V de Paris, the building is old bourgeois. When we moved in, the old lady downstairs immediately assumed because we're young that we would make noise and told us that she doesn't want to hear "our parties". Whenever I see her, she calls Seb my roommate. N'importe quoi!!

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  4. I have invisible neighbours, seriously never ever see them. Or at least I never used to, until a damn dirty student moved in below me and has come up twice to ask me to turn the music down. Which, fine, but honestly at 6 pm I can't play music at not even full volume on my tiny ipod speaker?? Suck it up, precious. Here's hoping she won't rain all over my partay...

    There are about 5 notes in the lobby downstairs, but no English translations, thankfully! I even left one myself. (People keep going out without shutting the door properly which for some reason you now need to bang a little bit to shut from the outside. This contravenes the note asking you not to bang the door, but I'd rather have a locked door than no banging - especially as I live on the top floor, heh heh.)

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    1. That's ridiculous! 6pm on those little speakers is hardly a noise disturbance! What a little baby! You should invite her to the party. ; )

      Hahahaha conflicting notes! Hilarious!! I'm with you, the door being closed is certainly a higher priority than not banging it. Was there a follow up note to your request?

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  5. Elle a bon dos, l'Américaine!

    Foreigners have a broad back in general... I remember my neighbours in Taiwan screaming abuse at my roommate and I for "laughing" loud at 10 pm with some guests while the neighbour who thought nothing of sawing metal at 3 am with his garage door open got no grief whatsoever... Go figure.

    A snot rocket? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!! Gerbax!!!

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    1. It's always the foreigners fault! We do it in the States too! "Our weird French neighbor plays Techno at night" was once a complaint from my friend in Queens who later found out it was actually Vinny from Bay Ridge "mixing and spinning". The French guy got blamed because he was well, French and don't they all listen to trashy dance music?

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  6. Once there was a note in the corridor that looked like it had been written by a fist holding a crayon: YOU CLEANS FLOOR!

    To be fair I hadn't cleaned the floor once since I moved in, because nobody told me the tenants had to clean the corridor floor. I got my French friend to help me, just to make sure it was in perfect French, and I left a note that said:

    'If you have an issue, please feel free to knock and my door and we can discuss it.'

    It's infuriating when people find out you're English/American and think that you can't speak French even when they have spoken to you in French before!

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    1. This really made me laugh! Hahaha the sign...you cleans floors!! How awful!!

      That's right, you live in a chambre de bonne. Ay, you have to clean the hallways? I didn't have to. My CDB was also a little luxe though. My bathroom/toilet was actually in my apartment and not in the hall.

      I'm glad you shoved it to them with your proper note in French! Good one!

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  7. Franschhoek FabNovember 20, 2012

    Sadly I think it is the norm.Were I to tell you how awful my some of my neighbours are, you would surely think that I was exaggerating.A few years ago I was the target of email round robins ( so much more effective than notes as it reaches the entire building)When the true culprit was discovered not one neighbour apologised for the over forty horrible emails I had received.That still hurts!!

    Then just recently when I declined from joining in "a combined legal action" against another neighbour I was told that this is why people in my building don't like me!(again via email )Go figure.....

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    1. They actually said "this is why no one likes you" ??? I'm sorry but how old is this person? Who talks like that?! And how infuriating that they didn't apologize after accusing you! I'm such a loud mouth New Yorker that I would totally say something, like hello?!? Maybe that's why some people don't like ME! Ha!

      I'm sorry to say but your building sounds really mean. : ( I hope you don't cross paths with these maniacs too often.

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  8. Sorry to say that ours is a fairly tranquil building. The only kind of notes that I've seen are the standard ones - the tenant on the 3rd floor apologizing in advance for the noise that they're going to make at their party on Saturday night and a sheet for people to vote if they want to turn on the heating yet or not. Oh, and twice a year there's a note saying that they're going to spray for cockroaches. The only big problem we had was when our neighbors were doing all kinds of odd stuff from 2-5 am. We complained to the gardienne. It didn't help. They kept moving furniture around and dropping stuff on the floor and arguing. It was really strange. To make a long story short, someone told us that the woman has been a bit crazy ever since her husband hung himself in the service stairway. It was the gardienne who found him dangling there. I still get the creeps thinking about it. When I told a Japanese friend, she said that I had to pust salt across the threshold of the door to keep his bad spirit out.

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    1. When we lived in Rome, we would see this lady in her 40's in the middle of the courtyard disrobe and stand naked with open arms when there was a full moon.
      The "portiere" told us that when she was in her 20's her fiancé was killed in a car accident just weeks before their wedding...she lost it then and there.
      The neighbors were sorry for her and never told her anything.

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    2. Mk - I got chills from reading this. How completely awful. I'm sure you avoid that service stairwell...or at least I hope you do. Did you put the salt down? I've heard of this technique too...luckily I haven't had to keep any bad spirits away. I'm only surrounded by good ones. :) Side note: I don't think I have EVER seen a roach in Paris. It's interesting that your building gets sprayed for them.

      Sylvia - How sad. Wow. I don't even know what to say. That is one of my fears. I would probably lose it myself if I lost Seb to something like a car accident.

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  9. Ella, obviously you must host a party for all the people in your building so as to demonstrate how recycling is done in your home, and two, your command of the new language. Problem solved.

    Mary Kay! Yikes. Salt across the threshold AND a white sage burn, annually.

    I am usually the one who is telling the neighbor to turn down the music or I'm inquiring as to why something is taking place in the building, but I think I'm most fair about it--music can be loud until 10pm unless it's a weekend, and then until 11pm. It's not me, it's the leases and I don't mind living up to that standard. Also, when I host a party, a large party, I invite ALL my immediate neighbors (upstairs and downstairs, they rarely attend) just to cover my bases.

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    1. Hahaha a party with all my neighbors! That'll be the day! We have actually never had one, we're a small dinner kind of couple...mostly due to lack of space. But inviting the neighbors is a great technique in keeping the peace. It comes down to the fact that people just like to feel included.

      10pm weekdays and 11pm weekends, I'd say that's more than fair. There's nothing worse than listening to someone elses muffled music through the wall!

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  10. You're just gonna love the "Chers Voisins" tumblr!
    http://chersvoisins.tumblr.com/

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    1. HAHAHAHAHAHA! Love this! These notes are insane!!! Thanks Marie!

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    2. Oh thank GOODNESS! For YEARS I was so humiliated that my friends and I had thrown a small party with our French friends (ok it was kind of loud) and received a note calling us uncivilized, badly raised American trash! And that was only the part we understood... A weight has really been lifted from my shoulders! ;)

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  11. It's definitely the English Au Pair in the foyer with the trash!
    I used to live in a passive aggressive note building in Dublin. Me being the opposite of passive aggressive, would usually go directly to the source and knock on doors instead because yes, I'm a brutish American.
    Now for the important question... how do they know you're talking to Terry?! Are your walls that thin or is your inner Long Islander that loud? Finding that out would have made me so paranoid, I'd be whispering on all of my phone calls!
    And snot rocket... gross.

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    1. I think I really do talk loud because I can't hear my neighbors, our walls aren't thin at all. Terry also has a shitty phone and can never hear me, so I have to speak louder than usual. Still totally embarrassing. I haven't called her in a week to give them all a break and to stay low on the radar.

      Yeah, the snot rocket was pretty shocking. I'm sure my face expressed my absolute horror.

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  12. This weekend my daughter ordered pizza. The delivery guy couldn't figure out the code to get in and started pounding on the door. The concierge came out of our building and start chasing him away with a wooden bat!!!

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    1. HAHAHAHA! Knowing your building, this is totally hilarious! I'm with the pizza guy, your building is confusing! Did your daughter ever get her pizza....or the million dollar VS bra? ; )

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  13. This post and the replies are hilarious, sad (suicide, bereaved love) and creepy (haunting). The bit about correcting the grammar in red made me laugh, this is SO French.

    I never knew communal living was so complicated, as the only time I ever live in apartments is when I visit Paris. Which makes me think that, as my French is abysmal, and I would not think of reading what I think are "private" messages in the hallways, maybe it is me ( or other tourists) who are the culprits of disobeying the rules..I can never figure out which bin is for what.

    I also realise how lucky I am to live in a detached house and can talk as loud as I want on the phone, play music and have no interest how much my neighbours recycle as we have our own individual collection of bins.

    The only time the neighbours got a bit hostile with each other was when the people who live next door to the school round the corner, were trying to whip up support to have the school entrance moved as for 20 minutes each day they would have disputes with the parents who blocked their driveway. I could never understand why these people bought houses next to a school and then complained.

    Love Denise

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