The one where I fought with my downstairs neighbour over cardboard boxes
“Misadventures” is a new category where I share the funniest and most random things that have happened to me since I moved to Paris. Today I’m kicking things off with the time I got into a fight with my downstairs neighbour over cardboard boxes. Let me know what you think of the new category in the comments!
The Instagrammers among you will know that there are certain areas of Paris which are particularly “Instagrammable”: the Palais Royal is one of them; that wall covered in plants on the Rue des Petits Carreaux is another (hey, I’m not judging - that plant wall is cool!); and finally there is the particularly charming and animated street in Saint Germain called Rue de Buci. This was the first street in Paris that I lived in.
What’s more, if you get out the Lonely Planet guide of France, and flick through the section devoted to the 6th arrondissement of Paris, you will find an entry dedicated to the JSFP Traiteur, a delicatessen which is lauded as a “brilliant bet for Parisian ‘fast food’”. This is the traiteur above which I lived.
It’s true that the quiches and salads in the window were enticing, and the juicy smells of rotisserie chicken which lingered around the building entrance were very welcome. Yet fate would sadly have it that I was never able to indulge in the delicacies on offer at the JSFP Traiteur. Here is why…
Let’s backtrack for a second to the week where I got the keys to my very first Parisian apartment. The lead up to finding the damn thing had already been a struggle of epic proportions: I wasn’t able to apply for a rental property without a French bank account; however I also couldn’t open up a bank account without a French address. After a near-breakdown in the English-speaking branch of Credit Agricole, it appeared that the most "logical" solution was to ask my boss to write a declaration d’honneur to say that I was living with him in order to open up an account. I believe he still receives my bank statements to this day.
My next challenge was filling the apartment with furniture. Before I moved to Paris I lived in a furnished apartment in Munich for three years, which is why nothing appealed to me less than living amongst the layers of someone else’s epidermal dust again. I wanted my own epidermal dust people, which is why I opted for a non-furnished apartment. Bon bref, many hours were spent trawling through French online furniture stores, and many Pinterest boards were carefully curated. I picked out my favourite items and somehow arranged for it all to be delivered on the day I got the keys.
A little side-note here is that ALL of the furniture ended up arriving in flat-packs, much to my horror. I had deliberately sourced the more complicated looking pieces outside of IKEA, and given the prices I had paid I was expecting for them to come fully assembled. I think that the moment my dining room table and buffet were delivered to me in cardboard boxes — each containing several hundred pages of instructions and incomprehensible diagrams — was one of the lowest moments of my entire life. When I demanded that the delivery guy construct my furniture (hey, it was worth a shot) he actually looked at me and laughed before walking out the door muttering “are you going to construct it?” to himself as he continued down the stairs. I then proceeded to slide down the wall onto the floor (no joke), cupped my face into my hands, and cried big, wet, flat-pack-occasioned tears.
But anyway, that’s a separate story. The important thing to note is that I was at a very low point in life, and my entire apartment was full of cardboard boxes. Once I sorted out the furniture problem (you will be glad to know that I ended up convincing a family of Portuguese cleaners to construct the majority of the furniture for me - at the cost of the land lady) my next challenge was getting rid of these cardboard boxes.
In Munich (which if you'll remember is the city I lived in previously) garbage disposal was a very clearly defined activity. The apartment block that I lived in there had an outdoor space equipped with several large bins: one dedicated to paper and the other dedicated to waste. Several meters down the road were local bins with uses as specific as white glass; brown glass; green glass and aluminium. Imagine my surprise, therefore, on descending the staircase of my Parisian apartment block, cardboard boxes in hand, to find nothing more than two small wheely bins. My parents have the same 2 x wheely bin setup to service one single suburban Australian household, and this was supposed to fulfil the waste requirements of an entire apartment block!
Bon, well this is a pain in the ass, I said to myself, but allez, I’m just going to have to do the thing two boxes at a time. So I folded up a couple of boxes, stuffed them in the tiny wheely bin, and started carrying the additional ones back upstairs to my apartment.
On the way up, I heard a bit of commotion coming from downstairs. The shuffling of feet, the opening of wheely bins, the repeated shouting of the phrase “ça m’énerve !” (“that drives me crazy!”) followed by the very suspicious sound of something being thrown on the floor. Full of slightly disturbed curiosity, I deposited the garbage bags and hastened back downstairs to investigate.
On reaching the foot of the staircase I discovered the source of the suspicious sounds from the previous paragraph: my boxes had been taken out of the bin and thrown grumpily onto the foot of the staircase — I could only assume — by the traiteur, whose door is just behind the bins.
“Are you f*cking serious?” I said to myself.
Well, I figured I must have in some way contravened French garbage protocol, and that I had better man-up, face the traiteur and figure out how I was supposed to dispose of it correctly. I picked up my boxes, marched over to the door and knocked.
Nothing. Donuts. Yet I could hear him sauntering around and muttering to himself behind his little troll door, so I knocked again. “Hello? I can hear you! I want to know how I am supposed to get rid of the cardboard boxes!” Still nothing.
I think what happened next says a lot about just how complicated my life in Paris had become. I decided that the simplest solution would be to be cut the boxes into small pieces and disguise them in garbage bags. I completed this operation the next weekend over the course of several hours (while, I might add, a friend whom I had flown into Paris dutifully constructed my buffet and chest of drawers). Over the course of the next few weeks I gingerly deposited one garbage bag per day, hesitating briefly at the entranceway to confirm that it hadn’t been jettisoned on the stairs.
The traiteur and I never exchanged words about the infamous cardboard box tantrum. Over the ensuing months that I lived in that apartment it became a Cold War of sorts between us. He would always be standing, arms folded, next to the chicken rotisserie as I entered the apartment block. He would greet me politely, with a sinister smile that reminded me of the Grinch who stole Christmas. I would relish any opportunity to purchase items from surrounding delicatessens on the weekend, and parade them defiantly as I passed his poultry sentry-post on the way back upstairs. Every time a friend came to visit they would ask me to point out the famous traiteur, who would never fail to give a sarcastically cheery wave on being identified.
There is one thing for which I'm thankful to my downstairs neighbour, and that is the fact that this experience prepared me well for the subsequent real-estate misadventures which would follow. In my next apartment I wound up discovering a pernicious mould problem; I have had my washing machine leak into a downstairs architecture firm that I didn't even know existed (I lived on the ground floor); and most recently - although I adore my current apartment - I have been given reason to believe that there is some sort of seedy sex-related operation going on in the floors beneath me. But ever since this experience with my downstairs neighbour I have learned to expect the unexpected.
I am also thankful to him for inspiring the garbage bag concealment method of cardboard waste removal, which I have successfully employed following each of my subsequent moves in Paris. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
I hope you enjoyed my first “misadventure” instalment, and rest assured there are plenty more where that came from! Any special requests for the future?