France the French way


Neighbors at War: the joys of Paris apartment living

Posted: 2011-09-30

Sarah Reese shares the joys and surprises of living in Paris.

“You’re walking too loudly,” my fiery Spanish downstairs neighbor roared at me and my flatmate. “I’m going mad here,” she continued, “I can’t sleep, I can’t work, I’ve even looked into renting another apartment because you both WALK too LOUDLY!” Smoke billowed out of her ears, her eyes blazed in anger, and her high-pitched rant continued, suggesting we should go out and buy some slippers and tiptoe across our floor instead of walk.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Paris and the joys of apartment living. (I admit this is probably not one of the most intellectual articles I have ever written, but I seriously need to get this off my chest.)
After having moved out of my apartment and away from the raging Andalusian bull, this story had slipped to the back of my mind after three months of two-storey luxury in Wellington, New Zealand. However, on my return to France, my patience was once again put to the test after we received a knock at the door one morning. There, at our doorstep, was our building’s guardian. “I’m here following a number of complaints we’ve received in the last few days,” she said sternly, “about the…towels you have been drying on your window-sill.”

Caught in the act: Towel drying in Paris!

I look at her blankly.
I stood there in silence, half-expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump in and say I’ve been Punk’d. He didn’t show. “The towels?!” I finally exclaim. “Yes. We really can’t have anything showing on the window-sill I’m afraid. It is a very poor image for our building,” she explained, “It is, of course, in the contract.” Ah, the contract…how silly of me to have missed such a crucial part of our living arrangements!
It didn’t end there. The following day, World War III broke out. I was in the kitchen washing up from breakfast when I heard someone from the footpath yell up to my boyfriend at our first-floor window. I could hear a muffled argument taking place and wondered what on earth it could be about this time (seeing I had already dried the towels on the clothes-horse that morning.) It was worse than I ever expected. This time, we were being treated like felons for having our (drum roll please…) pots of herbs on the window-ledge. (OH. MY. GOD.)  “They’re not secure there!” an ancient member of our apartment block shrieked from the footpath. After being questioned on this, this little old man (and he is little…) explained that as soon as it rains, they could “easily fall and hurt a passerby.” “But we paid a lot for these and we intend on using them,” my boyfriend explained (relatively calmly, I must say.) “Well,” continued Old Man, “you’ll pay a lot more for a life…”

The deadly herb pots!

Okay, so let’s explain the herb situation a bit better… As you can see by the attached photo, we have three pots of herbs (thyme, parsley, and basil if you must know) sitting on our window ledge. In front of these pots is the bar of our metal shutters, ensuring they do not fall. And in front of that bar, we have twenty-eight centimeters before the ledge drops off to the street below. But here he is, telling us that our innocent little pots of culinary delights could easily jump the bar, walk twenty-eight centimeters, then drop and kill someone. And pigs can fly.
What I don’t get about all this is that we consider ourselves exemplary neighbors; we don’t have parties (well, not many), we don’t have children, we don’t have animals, we don’t smoke, we recycle, we attend (and bring food to) the annual Fête des Voisins, and well, we don’t walk that loudly either. Why is it then that we feel like such criminals in our own home?! And also…do they have nothing else to do with their time than inspect our window-sills. Pfft, seriously.

No towels and no herbs; an exemplary Parisian apartment block. 

I discussed my frustration with a friend over lunch the other day. Funnily enough she was not at all surprised by the carry-on at our place. “You should see the madam who lives below me!” she laughed, “I was vacuuming my apartment one day just after lunch, and she turned up and forbade me to vacuum, explaining that she works night shifts and needs to sleep during the day.” I beg your pardon?!
After pondering about this for a while, I wondered briefly whether this petty nonsense was just a French thing, or does this come with any sort of apartment living? I’m curious…have you had any bad experiences with your neighbors? If so, make sure you share your stories with me so I know I’m not alone.
Look I better go, someone’s at the door. It’s probably the guardian…