Sunday, November 11, 2012

Le Serrurier

            I was planning this post to be about a local jam session but that's going to have to wait. Last night I locked us out of our apartment and I've got to tell you this while it's still fresh in my mind.

            Before I get into the particulars, there are a couple of observations I want to pass on. Although we've been here less than two months, some things I now know for certain. First of all, that you're at a disadvantage in a country where you don't speak the language is self-evident, but it can't be over-stressed. I'm telling you right now that if your life-long dream is to retire to Dubrovnik, if you know what's good for you you'll start looking for a Serbo-Croatian Meetup group tomorrow. And secondly, no matter how much homework you do, no matter how many websites you consult and expat forums you join, some small detail that never even occurred to you could somehow bite you on the ass.

            The past few days Cynthia has been having sinus trouble and yesterday it got bad enough to see a doctor. She was able to wrangle an appointment with our friend's physician, amazingly at 6:30 in the evening. When we left I tried to lock the door behind us only to discover my key wouldn't turn and we were locked out. It's kind of complicated to explain how but part of the reason why crime here is so low could be that the entry door on an average French apartment is built for Fort Knox.  The locks are so elaborate even Houdini would have hard time trying to crack one and the mechanisms work inside and out with keys. I've tried a dozen times to describe how this lock works but every one is more confusing than the last. You'll have to take my word that European door locks have a quirk no American could ever know about and if you're ever over here, never leave your keys in the door.

            So while Cynthia saw the doctor, I surfed the web on my iphone trying to find a way to get back into our apartment that didn't involve calling a locksmith, which, by the way, here is a serrurier. Almost all the information on the web about Europe in English either comes from or refers to the UK and so is useless in France. The only thing I could find that was even remotely close came from a woman in Tunbridge Wells whose mother has Alzheimer's and is forever locking her out in much the same way as we were. And as with most online forums, the suggestions offered were from the usual people - eager to help but with no idea at all how to actually solve anything.

            Back at the apartment, anything I knew to do was futile so we broke down and called a serrurier we found in the Pages Jaunes, the Yellow Pages. It wasn't long before a twenty-something guy showed up and after he unloaded a pretty impressive looking bag of tools from the back of his van, I figured we'd be back inside in no time.  But we took it as a bad sign when the first thing this guy did was shake the door a bit then take out a huge set of channel locks and break the handle off the door. I didn't know what to make of this and remembered as kid watching the local volunteer firemen show up at a house that was supposed to be on fire and, before doing anything else, they started breaking out the windows.  It didn't really serve any purpose but at least they were doing something. Then he took out a big chisel and small sledge and started wailing away on the lock. This is where the language barrier really came into play, my "What the fuck is this?" provoking no response at all. Cynthia at least got out of him that this was a really secure lock but for the next hour or so, all I could do was mutter "Jesus Christ" as this guy flailed away at our door.

            At my request, Cynthia tried to ask Henri (I think) why someone would design a lock that required it's complete destruction as a consequence of absent mindedness (after all there must be plenty of native scatterbrains that do this all the time) but again, as well as Cynthia speaks French even she couldn't really understand much more than that this was a really good lock.

            Finally Henri, sliding what looked like a really stiff sheet of paper between the door and frame was able to trip the latch enough to open the door. Why he hadn't tried this in the first place was something we couldn't get out of him but at least we were in. Five minutes later we had a bill for over  €1,400 the majority of which was for the lock Henri had just wrecked but assured us our insurance would cover. He gathered up the pile of shrapnel that was our lock and told us to show it to the insurance company. I can hardly wait to hear what they say.

              On the bright side, Cynthia's doctor visit cost only 23 euros . That's right, you heard right, only  23 euros for a complete, all expenses included, visit to a physician. Try finding that deal anywhere in the good old U. S. of A.           


  1. Great story! I loved reading it!! The Pinawor classes are humming along - Lee's done a great job organizing - Jack taught the last one which was excellent! Got a note today that Penny Langan died suddenly - remember her? Am I supposed to put info like this here or should it be limited to how brilliant your writing is? Just let me know! We miss your smiling face and snide comments, S

    1. Comments on brilliant writing are, of course, preferred but all info will be accepted.
      I remember Penny but can't place her face.