So I must tell you a story, a rather hilarious story that happened to me about a month ago, when I first moved into my little apartment. One evening, after putting away my groceries, tidying my apartment and having a shower, I put on a comfy plaid shirt and a pair of jeans and headed out for a quick walk before bed. Now, the following day I had planned to see my friend Thibaut to return his parent’s house keys. In my ultimate organization, I had put those keys on the counter next to a couple of other things I had to return him, but when I walked out the door, instead of taking my apartment keys, I took the other set. Now, what you must know is that, in France it’s very common, almost a guarantee actually, that you will have what’s called a “Porte blinder” which is basically a door that clicks locked when you shut it, and to open by a locksmith will run about 800 to 1000 euros. Since I had only just moved in, my second key was still on the key ring with the first key.
So there I was, standing outside my door, not two seconds after I had shut it, realizing that I had the wrong keys in my hand. The terror of having to pay a months salary to have my door opened haunted me immediately and I thought that there just had to be another way. First, I asked the old lonely man who lives on the main floor to the left of me, but he had no ideas. Then, it occurred to me, that my shutters were closed and latched from the inside, but that the window on the inside was wide open. Surely if I could get a ladder, I would be able to shimmy the shudders open and then climb into the room and unlock the doors, I thought.
Below me and to the right is a small French bar, where plenty of old locals sit, drink, sing and be merry every evening, providing plenty of entertainment for me from my window. I went in, and explained to the bartender that I lived above and that I, being a Canadian, not used to these silly clicking doors, grabbed the wrong keys and locked myself out of my apartment. My plaid shirt was surely proof of my Canadian status, and everyone knows that Canadians are friendly, kind people who say sorry too much, so I suppose this was enough reason for them to give me a hand.
Within minutes Patrice, the barman/owner had found a small step ladder and put it under the window. Another French man, whose name I did not get, but who visited Quebec once in the 90s and loved it, held the ladder steady for Patrice. I live on the second floor, but even with the step ladder, Patrice didn’t even reach the top of my lower neighbours shutters. Next, a small friendly and scruffy guy, Jean-Pierre, popped out to help. He climbed up over Patrice and stood on Patrice’s hands, and only then did he reach the bottom of my shutters. With some monkey maneuvering and spiderman agility, Jean-Pierre shimmied his way to the middle of my shutters and then searched furiously for the latch to open it from the outside by waving his hand willy nilly up and down the middle crack of the shutters.
During all of this, I stood below on the cobblestone street, with tears in my eyes as I giggled so much. I couldn’t help myself, it was just so hysterical. It was like an old French movie with Gerard Depardieu and his sidekick. Patrice looks just like Gerard Depardieu, who for those of you don’t know is a famous French actor who has been around for a long time and is known for playing silly friendly characters. He’s a big guy and sweeping longer hair and is generally a good humoured actor and Patrice is really a spitting image.
Finally, as I calm down and try and compose myself, Jean-Pierre is successful in opening my shutters and hoping into my apartment. I meet him upstairs in the apartment, where we finally introduce ourselves. I went back down, keys in hand to thank these wonderful neighbours, and regular drinkers for their help and of course moral support, since the majority of them came out with their glasses to smoke a cigarette and watch, but nevertheless, they were there.
Jean-Pierre kindly bought me a drink, we cheersed all together and I spent an hour or so chit chatting to the mystery Quebec visiting guy about Canadian politics and history, which I can assure you, that I made a proper fool of myself talking about, because I know nothing about either subject.
In the end, I’m sure I have started an entirely new stereotype for Canadians, about how silly and forgetful we are, but at least I now know my lovely kind neighbours. Before, all I knew was their love for a drink and their rusty vocals to old French tunes, but now I can at least tell you whose singing those rusty vocals.
I think, as ridiculous as it all was, it made me feel at home, to know that I know the people downstairs and that if I need something they are around. Whenever Patrice sees me coming up the road, I often wave with my key ring around one finger and he laughs and waves back as though to say, “oh thank goodness she has her keys.” And so, after only a couple of days I was well acquainted with everyone, despite having to make a fool of myself to do it.
This past week, a friend visiting saw Jean-Pierre, who I pointed out as the man who got into the window in the end of the story, and she said to him “So! we heard about your climbing adventure!” to which he replied “what are you talking about?”
Turns out he was a little tipsier than we thought that night.