Toplessness, Communal Toilets, and Neighbors: All Glamour Over Here in Paris

{scene: my Paris flat this morning at 3:43 am}

Doorbell rings.

I sit up in bed, confused. Was that my downstairs front door? Or is someone ringing my actual door doorbell about four feet away from me? Wait, I actually have a doorbell?

I lay completely still and don’t move to answer the door; I’m scared – when someone rings your doorbell at almost 4 am it’s generally not good news – but also, I don’t move to answer the door because (sorry, folks) I’m topless and putting on a shirt will make noise. (I realize this is TMI, but it gets hot in this 180 square feet of mine.) Somehow, I think I’m being super stealth and sneaky and fooling him into thinking no one is home if I do nothing. The ringer goes away.

But in ten minutes, he’s back. And he basically stays on my bell so that it’s a constant ringing. It may sound stupid to say I was scared to answer my door, but drunk people/randoms buzz the downstairs buzzer from time to time, trying to find a way into the building to … what? I have no idea. Perhaps pass out flyers, rob people, or cut tenants up into tiny pieces and mail them back to Canada. And PS: I live in a foreign country! Alone! With no family and a heap of nice, new friends, none of which I feel like I know well enough to call at 4 am and say, “Hey, I’m topless and there’s a guy ringing my doorbell … any thoughts on what I should do?”

But finally, I could take the ringing no more. “Que voulez-vous? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Which started a long and only halfway discernible conversation for both of us on either side of my door, where I learned that it was my neighbor laying on my bell because of an abundance of water in his flat, which he naturally blamed on me.

Me: What can I do to help?

Him: HELP? It is not HELP you need. It is YOUR PROBLEM!! YOU NEED TO SOLVE IT! I HELP YOU BY TELLING YOU! [is this logical to anyone else?]

Me: Mais qu’est-ce que je peux faire? What can I do? It’s 4 in the morning!


Me: (Irritated, topless, no doubt hilarious looking if anyone could actually see me) I haven’t used the water in hours! No water is flowing in here, so CALL THE POLICE! I don’t care. I want to help but no plumber will be awake at this hour.

The arguing went on like this for a few more minutes. Back and forth, me in broken French, him in broken English. Me, topless; him, I can only presume and hope, fully clothed.

Finally, I call my proprietaire (the fancy French word for “landlord”), leave a message, email him, and then put a shirt on. (Phil in The Hangover: “I find it strange I have to ask you twice to put pants on.”) I go downstairs to see my neighbor and we shake hands – a peace offering – and he shows me his bathroom. And it is sort of a shit show. Suddenly, we are allies on the same side. We make a plan to talk to the head of the building at 7:30 am, then he offers me a coffee. His apartment is about 20 times the size of mine and has at least 40 wine bottles on the long, farmhouse-style table in his flat. He also has an abundance of what look to be prescription pill boxes and tabs spread out all over the table. But whatever. I was topless in my apartment mere moments ago, so who am I to judge? I say no to coffee and go home to bed at 6:10 am.

I wake at 7:30 to await Monsieur P who will assess the damage and then call the building plumber, who’s much cheaper than an emergency plumber, a plan that pleases me to no end because in my head, I just know that I will somehow be responsible for paying for this catastrophe. At 7:30 I wait. Nothing happens until 10, naturally. Because this is France.

Monsieur P shows up and my now-BFF neighbor informs him in an almost protective manner that I speak very little French. (I don’t say anything, but I want to scream, “I speak French, for christ sake! I ORDER CROISSANTS EVERY GODDAMN DAY!”) Monsieur P inspects my bathroom and determines (in French) that the fault is “not with my bathroom” (whew) but that the water will need to be turned off. I tell him I understand in French, to which he replies, “Nous parlons le français en France; vous parlez l’anglais aux États-Unis. C’est tout.” Or “We speak French in France and you speak English in the United States. That’s it.” But hold on, I did speak French to you! I speak French! The croissants! I order the goddamn croissants every DAY! I thought we established this! BFF neighbor gives me a good-natured conspiratorial roll of his eyes.

So that’s how I ended up here, waiting for my proprietaire’s sister to take me to a nearby flat I can use to shower, do laundry, and just generally run water to my heart’s content. That’s also how I ended up having one of my most awkward moments in France: on the way to the communal toilet I have to use for three days (ahem) I passed a neighbor in the hallway and she eyeballed the toilet paper I was carrying. As one does, right? I mean, why would I trust that a communal bathroom would have TP on hand? Never hurts to be prepared.

The morals of this story are many: don’t open the door for strangers. (I felt like I had no choice, but it was kind of stupid to go to his house, despite the fact that he seems relatively nice.) Don’t be the one to call the plumber. Have toilet paper or tissue on hand at all times. Wear some clothes — preferably both a shirt and pants — when you sleep. And, if you can believe it, STILL, as I maintained recently in item #1 on this post: French people are nice. My neighbor and I were yelling at each other in one instant, then instant BFFs and allies the next, offering one another coffee, juice, and him to me, the use of his kitchen. My proprietaire was falling all over himself to find me a place to shower and apologized profusely, multiple times, about the inconvenience to me. Btw, this same thing has happened to me in SF and my landlord basically told me to go use the bathroom a half-mile away at Safeway. True story.

Welcome to glamorous Paris. Viva la France! And apparently, viva mes boobs.