No, I’m not talking about that kind of drying out. In fact, after the intense month I had in Paris, I think my wine consumption may have ticked up a bit. I’d returned to Paris with a full to-do list after being in New York for a project. Among the items to do: 1) prepping my apartment for the nerve-racking final meeting with court expert regarding the leak case against my upstairs neighbor; 2) speaking about said leak case at the annual board meeting for my apartment building, or L’Assemblée Générale de Copropriété; 3) packing up my apartment for the renovation. This was just some of what I needed to accomplish in four weeks.
A long task list would create stress for anyone, but I needed to accomplish many of these tasks in French, in a foreign country. My friend Patty complained of my moodiness as my emotions ran the gamut from agony to ecstasy. But who could blame me? The simplest things were fraught with the sort of quirks and problems one only finds in France.
The Saga of the Dehumidifier
Of the things I had to do, the one most fraught with quirks and problems was one that should have been a cinch. I had to rent a professional dehumidifier—deshumidificateur—for my apartment in hopes of drying it out enough to entice the court expert to conclude my case. (You can read more about that here.) My contractor had found a company that turned out, unfortunately, to be based in Strasbourg, which meant I had to conduct my business in French via email and (gulp!) telephone. A simple task made stressful, yes. How did I ask which dehumidifier would have the fastest drying time? What was the word for drainage hose? An email that would have taken two minutes in English took me thirty.
I’d begun the rental process while still back in New York because I’d needed the dehumidifier delivered as soon as possible upon my arrival in Paris. Emails were exchanged, a dehumidifier selected, and a rental confirmation was received. Done and done.
Except not done. When I touched down in Paris, I discovered an email that said, basically, “Oh by the way, we need a caution (security deposit) of 250 euros in order to secure the rental.” Surprise! And this being Friday, they needed the deposit that same day in order to deliver by Monday. I scrambled to wire the money from my bank, but I didn’t receive the email with delivery information as promised. Monday came and went. I shot off an email that went unanswered. Tuesday passed, too, along with another unanswered email.
After three emails and one painful phone call to the company (in French), I learned that my contact was on vacation. Huh? Apparently, alerting your clients of your impending vacation when you know they need a rental ASAP isn’t part of the customer service plan. Was there, then, someone else at the company who could arrange the delivery of the dehumidifier in Monsieur Conrad’s absence? “Sorry, madame, but no.” Apparently, in the entire company there was only one man with the highly specialized skills required for arranging rentals. When I complained to my Parisian friends, they just shrugged and said, “That’s France!” Monsieur Conrad wouldn’t be returning until four days later. I’d lose a week of much-needed drying time despite all my efforts.
On his day back in the office, I received a cheerful phone call from Monsieur Conrad arranging delivery. He was pleased to offer me a time slot the next day between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I had to ask him to repeat the times. Surely, I had misunderstood the French; he couldn’t have expected anyone to sit home for eight-and-a-half hours. But apparently, that was how it worked. Couldn’t he possibly give me smaller window within that span? “Sorry, madame, but no,” I heard again. But he told me that, usually, the driver delivers before 1:00 p.m. and would call me when he arrived. I gave Monsieur Conrad my door code so the delivery man could enter my building. “He only needs your phone number and as I said, he’ll call when he is downstairs.” Yes, but, didn’t the delivery man deliver the dehumidifier up to my apartment? Isn’t that the point of the delivery man? “Sorry, madame, but no.” This familiar tune again. “But the dehumidifier is only about thirty-four kilos,” he chirped.
Okay, well that didn’t sound so bad. I typed the kilo amount into my weight converter on my Macbook: 34 kilos = 75 pounds. And my apartment is two flights up. But Monsieur Conrad assured me that the machine had a handle and wheels. You know, because that made it easier somehow. Once again, my Parisian friends confirmed that this was a common delivery procedure for a lot of French companies. If you are a woman living alone, too bad for you—tant pis. Get a boyfriend already.
I’d never been so stressed over something so simple in my life. Nothing seemed to make sense here, especially when I really needed things to go to plan. It was just dumb luck that my contractor happened to stop by with his plumber to take some measurements, and were on hand when the truck arrived. It took two of them to carry the mammoth deshumidificateur up the stairs—handle and wheels and all.
Once they’d gotten it hooked up and switched it on, the dehumidifier rumbled impressively in my tiny bathroom, its powerful compressor (hopefully) sucking any moisture from my damp, moldy walls. We’d see. I now had only two out of what was supposed to have been three weeks to make a difference.
Canal St. Martin Sans Eau
While my apartment was drying out, Canal St. Martin was doing a little drying out of its own. I’d passed by on the way to visit a friend in the 10th arrondissement and saw that the water had been drained for cleaning and repair. What was normally picturesque was now nothing more than a mud pit. Like my own apartment, it would look worse before it got better. And like my own apartment, its lovely surface masked rot and mayhem—and it had to be dealt with.
As I stood on the bridge looking out over the empty canal, the rattle of the workers’ rock drills filling the air, this symbolism wasn’t lost on me. I’d bought an apartment in an old and decaying building and there was no denying that now. It had looked perfect, but inside its walls, disaster lurked. But now that the problems had been exposed, they could be dealt with, and the rebuilding could begin. It was a lot like human psychology in that way. One could even say that I had been going through the same process myself.
Two weeks later, my apartment had not just dried out, but for the first time in nearly two years, it didn’t smell of must and mold. It was still torn up, but I was beginning to feel like I had my home back. I still had a lot to do and a long way to go, but there was progress, finally. With a little luck, by the time they’d be putting the water back into the canal, I’d be moving back into my apartment.
See the re-renovation during.
View the re-renovation after.
Learn more about the journey that led to My (Part-Time) Paris Life in my memoir of the same name, ON SALE NOW:
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tant pis…love that one….
nothing is ever easy is it?
Joyeuses Paques Lisa!
Yeah, but it makes for good copy! And I can always laugh after it’s over. Joyeuses Paques !
“That’s France!” You can keep it. I’d go out of my mind dealing with that kind of nonsense. You’re a strong woman, my friend!
Yeah, it makes me nuts sometimes. It works best if you’re not under the gun like I was. Sometimes those things don’t bother or affect me. This was a rough month, and nothing seem to go as it was meant to. The dehumidifier was just ONE of several things that went awry, and made me nearly crazy.
Smaller companies sometimes shut down completely for vacations. You might have hit one of them–the “ski vacation” was a few weeks ago. Nice for employees–nobody has to stay behind to cover or miss out being free when their kids are out of school. The delivery window is pretty typical, too. Things are probably worse in Paris, where traffic jams can unexpectedly delay things considerably.
Personally, I prefer speaking on the phone over writing emails. I am great at finding errors in other people’s written French, but not so great at writing faultless French to begin with. In conversation, you can make sure the other person has understood.
Well your French much be WAY better than mine if you prefer to speak on the phone in French. It’s very hard for me to understand spoken French on the phone, particularly if they speak fast, and I don’t have the capacity to express myself in French for something this specific. I am studying French now intensively, and I have made HUGE progress, so hoping to be less encumbered by my limitations, and after this experience, I am definitely doing better on the phone.
I think you are doing amazingly well if you can make yourself understood at all on the phone. Good for you Lisa! Most would have given up a long time ago. I’m sure even though you probably sometimes felt like giving up it will be well worth it.
That is exactly right. No one said living abroad would be easy. And I’m pretty lucky that I can. I just write about the peccadillos because they are great life lessons. Mais non ?
Wow! You’re continued perseverance is amazing, but no other choice except to ” get it done”, right!! I do pretty well speaking French in person but the phone would shut me down. BTW, your photos with Carla are beautiful!!
Thank you! Yes it’s been a challenge but it’s all part of the adventure!
Ah Cest la vie! as the French say. What a difference the drying out has made! You will be back I’m your new little apartment in no time! I look forward to pictures of the renovations😊
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In the middle of my own water leakage nightmare in Paris and am wondering…do you share the name of your wonderful English-speaking contractor? In need of some support…!
I will send you an email