I’ve never lived in a building with a concierge before. I read a book a few years ago called The Elegance of the Hedgehog about a seemingly typical concierge in Paris who describes herself as “plump and ugly with bunions on my feet.” So you could say I had an idea.
When moving into our current apartment, our landlord suggested we introduce ourselves to the concierge, but seeing that it was 3pm at the time it would not be possible. I’m not sure how it works in other buildings, but for this one the working hours of the gardienne are Monday through Friday 8am-12pm and 4pm-8pm, plus 8am-12pm on Saturdays. A four hour lunch is quite generous even for the French, but I don’t think that makes up for working on Saturday mornings or until 8pm.
One afternoon several days later I ran into her while she was taking the garbage cans out to the street. The flip flops on her feet told me that she was not French. I took advantage of the opportunity to ask her where the garbage cans were kept so I could figure out where to take our trash.
“Are you new?” She asked me. Judging by her accent and from stereotypes about concierges in France, I took her to be Portuguese. She invited me to meet her in her lodge at 6pm so she could get my information.
In the doorway of her tiny lodge I gave her our names and the name of our landlord, who happened to call the concierge during the visit to make sure she knew about us. The concierge told me to tape nametags to our buzzers, but that we needed to have our names engraved on our mailbox to conform to the way it was for the rest of the tenants. She said she could have it done for eight euros. If we had to pay for fancy mailbox nametags, what was she paid to do? At that moment I wished that we did not have a concierge so we could have simply taped our names on the mailbox like the last place, free of charge. She insisted however that the names must be engraved, so I forked over the eight euros and left in a huff.
Several weeks later there were still no names on our mailbox. I had taped up our names temporarily next to the engraved name of our apartment’s previous tenant, but the paper was starting to get tattered. Each Friday morning exactly when everyone was leaving for work, the gardienne could be found dramatically sweeping the walkway wearing heels and a dress as if to say, “Look at me, how hard I work for you!” I’m quite sure she stopped as soon as everyone was gone.
One day I received a note in our mailbox saying that the concierge had accepted a package for me and that I could pick it up during her working hours. I went over and tried to make small talk, seeing if I could butter her up enough to get the stupid engraving done. I noticed she had a couple of birds and asked what there names were. Bingo. Her eyes lit up as she rattled off some long Portuguese names that I didn’t understand and explained in choppy French: “Yes, sing a lot, don’t sleep much,” She beamed. People in France may be rude to each other, but they absolutely adore their animals. I praised Saturnino and Candelaria in hopes of seeing a shiny name plate in return.
But then the concierge went on vacation for a week and an expressionless man filled in for her sorting the mail. He pretended not to see me through the glass doors each time as I fumbled for my keys. Our sorry handwritten names were on the verge of falling to the ground.
I saw her again sweeping outside one day and cursed her birds under my breath. However, when I stepped into the building, I noticed our freshly engraved names shining on the mailbox at last. Next to them, the name of the previous tenant still gleams.
© 2011 Pasa’s Paris