Ever since I’ve lived in France, I’ve done my best to fit in, and I’m always working on picking up those little cues that will help me to better understand the culture of my host country, for which I am infinitely grateful in allowing me to live and work here. For some reason, maybe because I’m too polite and am usually too astonished to rise to the occasion when I am suddenly accosted, maybe because I’m foreign, maybe because I’m only a locataire and not a propriétaire, wherever I have lived in this region, some other resident in the same block of flats ends up having it in for me.
I have no idea how I provoke this. My partner and I are quiet as mice, walk around in slippers, don’t have wild parties, don’t play loud music, and we’re fanatically clean and responsible model tenants. I greet everyone courteously and hold doors for them as we come and go from the building. But there’s always going to be someone, eventually, who finds something to pick on. These are too trivial to list, trust me. They are laughable. One day, there will be the anonymous note left in front of the door. “The rainwater from your terrace dripped into my garden. Please ensure that this does not happen again.” (Right. I’ll have the rain stop raining.) In stage 2, it’s a note left in the mailbox. Now it’s getting more ominous, with an illegible signature. “A leaf from your plant fell on my terrace. It could contaminate my flowers. Do not let this occur again.” Stage 3, a note on the doorstep again, but this time the note has been tucked into the doorframe. It’s getting more aggressive. “I hear your footsteps in the bedroom at 6 a.m. Please stop walking.” I am not making this up. Stage 4, the registered letter from the dreaded Syndic, or Ministry of Truth, as I call it in my Orwellian paranoia, which means we have been denounced by a neighbour. This latest letter even comes with a giant A4 sized color photo, which had to have been taken with a telephoto lens and a drone camera, of our terrace. There is no building opposite and we are on the 7th floor. How did they manage it? It feels like an invasion of privacy. What was my crime? I hung some towels on a clothesline on the terrace, not over the railing or even near it, and very discretely. It’s a pity I’m not in the photo, because I think could make a case out of this.
This denouncement particularly rankles, because shortly after moving in here, with no warning, workmen came and installed a big scaffold on our terrace. I was told it would be only “for awhile”, and it became a filthy, noisy, dark and inaccessible worksite for 5 months. Our compensation, only after several letters and complaints, was a theoretical 250 euros, granted by the conseil de la copropriété, or Ministry of Love, representing 50 euros for every month we were inconvenienced and not able to use our terrace. I say “theoretical”, because over a year and a half later, we’re still waiting for the money. But that’s a separate issue. Or is it? I just recently reminded the rental agency, since in the administrative pecking order, I am not entitled to negotiate directly with the conseil de la copropriété, nor the syndic, that we’re still owed the money and I want it maintenant, je vous en prie, avec tous mes salutations dévoués et mes sincères remerciements pour votre aimable assistance. This means that the owners in the building will all finally have to pay up out of their coffer. It could add up to about 15 euros per owner, a shocking sum, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what triggered this denouncement, in retaliation for my aggressive and unreasonable insistence on compensation owed to me.
My partner would kill me for saying this, but I can’t resist. Sometimes I feel like Basil Fawlty (“Don’t mention the war!”), but when I get denounced by neighbours for one trivial thing or another, all I can think of is that there is a history of that around here, a streak of it running through, if you will, and that I’m living with what may be the grandchildren of miliciens and collabos. It’s unnerving. I’m thinking of hanging a series of banners on the terrace, every week a new banner with a message, something cheerful but to the point, such as, “Vous voulez un photo, salle pervers?”, in the hope of collecting a series of photos taken by the mystery paparazzi that will be subsequently mailed to me by the syndic, which I can then post somewhere online for others to enjoy. I wonder how long I could carry this on before I get dragged into a courtroom or given a fine or whatever other arcane and painful punishment may be listed in the fine print of the Napoleonic-era regulations on flats. I welcome suggestions for my banners.