I disconnected the fire alarm almost the minute I moved in. The battery was dying and it was doing that beeping thing and my patience for that screeching noise is less than zero. So when the house started filling up with smoke, I was actually glad it wasn’t functional. The last thing I needed was to add a screaming fire alarm to an already tense situation. I searched the kitchen in an effort to discover the location of the smoke. It was so acrid I was certain something was burning in the stove but when I opened the door I could find nothing causing the smell. I checked the adjacent rooms but I kept coming back to the oven. Finally, I decided to remove the baking pan in the bottom of the stove. There lay the instruction booklet charred beyond recognition moments away from igniting. What idiot puts the booklet under the pan where no one would see it?! A few minutes longer and I suspect the paper would have ignited and my first official day in the apartment would have ended in disaster. The house smelled like smoke for a week.
A few days later, as I returned to the apartment from running some errands, I passed one of my neighbors in the hallway. She introduced herself and told me that a number of cars in the garage had been vandalized. She asked if I had noticed any damage to my car. (I was still driving the rental.) Sympathizing with her plight but somewhat unconcerned, I told her my car was fine. After all, I had just moved in. It couldn’t have happened within the two days since I’d arrived. She shook her head ‘No. I don’t think so. You need to go check.’ Let me pause here to remind you that this conversation was happening in French. Although I am making it sound quick and effortless, it was neither. It took a while for her to communicate to me what was going on before I understood. So, I immediately went to the garage to check the car and sure enough, there were giant scratches along the passenger and driver’s side doors. CRAP! If this had been my car, an old Civic Hybrid, it wouldn’t have mattered but this was a rental which meant I was responsible for fixing it. uggggggh.
I returned upstairs and told Magali that she was correct that the car had been keyed. I had moved in just three days earlier and was already dealing with a vandalism situation. The cars were in a gated parking lot. Was this the norm? (I was already thinking that maybe this wasn’t the place for me.) Magali assured me that it was very uncommon and that for the most part, they didn’t have any issues in the building.
She was organizing a trip to the police station to file a report and would get back to me regarding the exact date and time. She rang me a couple of days later to say they were heading over that afternoon. There were 9 of us. So, my first introduction to my new neighbors came during our walk to the police station. You really can’t make this stuff up.
The first thing I noticed was that the station was behind a locked gate. You had to ring the intercom system to be let in. When we got inside, someone went up to the counter to explain the situation. I was happy to be able to just hang in the background because I was in no position to have to hold a conversation of this magnitude in French.
My complacency quickly dissipated when I realized that they were interviewing each person individually. Oh dear god. I have a healthy distrust of cops in the states and here I am in a police station 2 weeks after arriving in France. I could feel my blood pressure rising. All kinds of crazy scenarios swirled in my head.
When it was my turn, I looked imploringly at Magali hoping she would accompany me into the back room. Not understanding my hesitation, she pointed me towards the door where a police officer greeted me and took me into the interview room.
My fears were for naught. I can honestly say it was the most pleasant experience I had ever had in dealing with cops. They were friendly and patient. I even met the captain who came over and introduced herself. It took a while to go through everything because I had to give my testimony in French but at no point did I feel that I was a nuisance. The officer even took the time to give me some safety tips as a single female living in a foreign country. To say I was dumbfounded would be a vast understatement. I didn’t know it could be like that. I left the room with a printed copy of my statement and instructions as to how to file it as well as a promise on my part to reach out to them if I needed anything. Even recounting it now, it seems a bit surreal. It reminds me of when I first realized that I didn’t have to spend all day in the hair salon to get my hair done and that it was possible to be in and out in an hour. It was a revelation of immense proportions that altered my entire worldview. (I’m deadly serious. If you knew the struggle black women go through to get their hair done, you’d understand why this was such a big deal.) But I digress.
We spent most of that Saturday in the police station while everyone gave their statements. Given the circumstances, it was a surprisingly pleasant afternoon that allowed me to get to know my new neighbors. At the end of the day, everything worked out.