Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chocolate con Churros--The Neighbors Strike Back

Some of you may have become acquainted with our neighbors in my previous blog entry. Since that time, they have not been idle. In addition to a hostile visit from the forty-something single woman who lives with her mother in the apartment below us, the building association (representing the owners of the exactly 12 units in this place) sent us a certified nastygram citing "numerous complaints" about the noisiness of our children and telling us that noise is forbidden in the building before 9am. Almost none of these people, in the almost four months that we have lived here, has ever bothered to introduce themselves to us, but they apparently organize enough amongst themselves to dispatch certified communications via the post office.

None of this bothers my French husband in the least. He, himself, has vivid childhood memories of ongoing noise complaints (regarding his brother and himself) from the curmudgeonly old lady who lived in the apartment below his family. One day, in a scene reminiscent of Tatie Danielle, his mother tried to shut the door on her, but the sturdy old hag stuck her foot out, at which point his father had to physically push her out.

I wonder if there isn't something particularly Anglo-Saxon, reinforced by the American high school experience, about the tendency to spend so much time worrying about whether people (whom we may not even like ourselves) like us?

In a nod to Stephen Colbert, my phrase of the day, came across it in a Canard Enchaine article about a French socialist political convention, is "petits meurtres entre amis," which I roughly translate as "little assassinations among friends." This phrase conveys, for me, two sentiments: a dismissive tone regarding a petty domestic spat and the slightly more sophisticated and cynical perspective that the greater the degree of intimacy among people, the greater the likelihood they'll be at each others throats--especially when the stakes are low.

You can't control whether people like you, but you can force them to respect you.

On that note, I exacted my own petty revenge on the neighbors. I complained to the landlady that the owners renovating the third floor apartment were giving the building keys to very unsavory sub-contractors--that these people entered the building at all hours of the day with no supervision, and that they were coming up to our floor acting like they were casing it out for future robberies (all true). The upshot is that they changed the keys to the building, thereby inconveniencing everybody. Because of the key situation, I found myself in the ironic position of letting the judgmental neighbors' adolescent children in the building at one thirty in the morning, when their parents were out of town. They were standing outside the door as we were returning from a party. We let them in and chatted briefly on the elevator, and, really, their children were quite nice.

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