Thursday, March 5, 2009

Skinny Mec and Smurfette

Every morning around 6:30 AM, like clockwork, footsteps best described as belonging to a mythical giant begin to resound in our bedroom. What's most miraculous is that this noise is being produced by our diminutive upstairs neighbors, a young French couple - he a skinny mec, and she, frankly, no taller than a dwarf - hence the nickname Smurfette.
Unfortunately, we live in an old maison de maître, with paperthin floors and ceilings. And under the floorboards, which once harbored fleas, there is no insulation. Which is why J went upstairs a few nights ago intending to have a friendly, neighborly talk - more along the lines of "We're all in this together; do you mind paying a little attention?" rather than "Keep it down!"
Smurfette (who is, in all fairness, very nice) answered the door and immediately called for Skinny Mec, as she speaks no English. (I had considered going up myself, but after deliberating with J, decided my French might lack politesse.) J explained the situation - thin floors, no insulation, lots of noise - in the least confrontational and accusatory way possible.
At this point, Skinny Mec completely flipped: "Non, I weell not! You cannot tell mee how to leeve! I weell not leeve like dat!" He went on . . . and on, throwing a prototypical French fit straight out of the kitchen of a Disney movie. I could hear him downstairs and pictured smoke coming out of his ears. With his tail between his legs, J came back downstairs. Poor guy. Being a nice, reasonable person, J almost wondered if Skinny Mec's inexplicable tirade meant he had done something wrong.
Of course not. But afterwards, we sat for a while in our apartment, contemplating the episode in complete consternation. For one, did Skinny Mec and Smurfette really find it outrageous to be asked to be slightly considerate of their fellow neighbors?
Which, unfortunately, opens up an altogether broader topic - that of level of consideration, and whether we as Americans are perhaps overly polite. People do not open doors for you here, preferring to let them slam in your face as you're entering a building. (Apparently, it's because Belgian women take offense if a man holds a door open for them - but I don't entirely buy this explanation.) Petty line cutting is common. And the other day, while my friend and I were walking on Avenue Louise, an older, quite bourgeois Belgian lady decided to bulldoze between us, parting the distance between us as if it were the Red Sea. To which I can only say: Really?! I thought people from New York were supposed to be rude.

5 comments:

N said...

This sounds very recognisable to me! Read http://curlyn.blogspot.com/2008/09/neighbours-noise.html
and you'll know what I mean...
Finally our landlord intervened, and that made things a bit better. Although I still fear for our frontdoor...

britoutofwater said...

Ah, there is a certain schadenfreude about a New Yorker complaining about rudeness, but I feel your pain. I can just see the guy throwing his arms up in disbelief, and then mentally resolving to make more noise from now on.

I hope that detente is close at hand...

Alana said...

Have you heard ANY of my Bkln neighbor stories? Or my philly neighbor stories? It is TOTALLY cultural...whether from one's birth culture or one's geographic culture (i.e. urban vs. suburban vs. small town)...Oh do I feel your pain too!

Mahsa said...

Hi! Great blog, fellow expat :)

I'm from Seattle, where people are known for being polite, but living in Brussels has made me hostile and pushy when in a crowd.

Stephen said...

When I lived on SF, my downstairs neighbors once came up and asked if I could walk a bit more quietly. My response wasn't as comical as you described Skinny Mec's, but I was nonetheless perturbed. I guess some people want to walk on other people's ceilings as loudly as they like.