I’m in Paris right now staying with my girlfriend Jordan and her sister Anouk at their grandparents’ house. I’ve been here three days. The grandparents (Pierre and Jacqueline) don’t speak much English and I don’t speak much French but we’ve been getting by with Jordan and Anouk’s patient translations. When you don’t speak the same language the getting-to-know-you stage lasts a lot longer than normal. Most communication is limited to bonjours and smiles and oui ouis.
Until this afternoon.
The day had started like most others but with one exception. We’d all gotten up and eaten breakfast together but when it came to going out, Anouk decided she wasn’t going to be ready in time to come with us to meet our friend Dayne at Etienne Marcel station at 12:30. All she was interested in doing was going to find a new pair of sneakers and according to her there were no sneaker stores near where we were going. Mistake number one.
Jordan and I caught the metro to Etienne Marcel to meet our friend. Walking out of the station, the first store we saw was a sneaker shop. Turns out we’d landed smack bang in the middle of Paris’ sneaker-freaker quarter. We called Anouk to tell her to come meet us there but she said that she was going out with the grandparents instead.
Jordan, Dayne and I walked around for an hour and a half checking out the shops in the area. Today was colder than usual and Jordan hadn’t worn enough warm clothing so she wanted to go home. Mistake number two.
On the way home in the metro Jordan gasped. She remembered she’d forgotten her house keys. Mistake number three. I reassured her that it would be fine. If only I’d known.
We arrived home to find that Anouk and the grandparents were still out. On the fiftieth or so time we called their cellphone we heard a faint ringing coming from inside the apartment. Oh joy. We laid our bags and our cold bodies on the ground and waited. Half an hour later, a bit bored, we played some games. Half an hour after that we took photos of each other. The waiting grew tiresome. I decided to pick the lock – a special security lock opened only with a special security key with hundreds of little indentations that all have to line up. Mistake number four. Let’s call that one the mother of all mistakes.
Jordan had no bobby pins or metallic objects but I had a cardboard metro ticket. And not just any cardboard metro ticket, no, the 25 euro penalty ticket I’d received after losing my normal metro ticket the other day. That’ll do the trick, I thought! Mistake number five – the grandfather of all mistakes. I folded the ticket into a thin tube and went to work. After tinkering for a few minutes I gave up and pulled the ticket out. Only two thirds emerged. Whoops.
We quickly ran down to the supermarket to pick up some needles and safety pins to pull out the broken ticket. I didn’t manage to get it out of the lock but I did succeed in pushing it in a few millimetres deeper. Mistake number six. We decided not to say anything – the key would probably still work, right?
Ten minutes later Anouk, Jacqueline and Pierre came home. Jacqueline went to the door. “Merde!” Her key didn’t work. Pierre went to have a try. “Merde merde!!!” His didn’t either. At this point Jordan broke down – and broke our bond. She said something. The bonjours, the smiles, the oui ouis were quickly replaced by merdes, frowns, non nons and garcon stupid!! (Stupid boy.) Anouk piped in with a series of helpful suggestions: “why didn’t you wait a little bit longer and we would have come home? You could have gone out again then come back home and we would have been here. Why didn’t you just go downstairs and hang out at the cafe?” Don’t you just love little sisters?
After trying for an hour to get the cardboard out, Pierre gave up and called a locksmith. Right about now I was feeling about as awesome as a pork enthusiast in a synagogue. The grandparents had been standing in the freezing hallway for far too long, everyone was speaking French and there was nothing I could do to help, so I did what any other red-blooded male would do in the same situation: sulked.
An hour later the locksmith arrived. After a couple of minutes of work he succeeded in opening the door. Pierre and I fought long and hard about who would pay but my youth and determination won out in the end.
New Year’s resolution number one: think before I act.
As for the getting-to-know-you process, I’d say Pierre and Jacqueline are probably wishing they didn’t have to right now. Good thing I’ve got another five weeks of staying at their house to prove them otherwise.