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Sir – uh – ree – yea!

Say it with me together “sir – uh – ree – yea”. Again, now real fast sir.uh.ree.yea.  Very good!   You just learned a crucial word in French in order to survive.  The word serrurier (what you just pronounced) means locksmith.  It holds, to me, as much importance as the phrase secours! when you are in a situation and you need serious help like the police or an ambulance.  Why do I feel locksmith is such life-preserving word?  Sit down, grab your coffee and put two lumps of sugars, not just one.  I am about to tell you a story.

This past Thursday I had the delightful experience of Antibes, as in the next major town west of Nice and south of where I work.  A lot of my colleagues live there because it is closer to work.  If you choose to live in Antibes, you do sacrifice several things such as: money (cost of living is more expensive here than Nice), French culture (British retirees have invaded the town so that you go into a store and you will be greeted with a ‘hello’ instead of a ‘bonjour’) and a social life (it is lively in the summer but in winter it goes mysteriously dead).  So what was my motivation?  A colleague of mine at Amadeus ended her temporary contract so a group of us wanted to have drinks together one last time.  It was a pleasant evening of lively conversation in a very quaint lounge bar named Cozy Café.  We lasted till almost 11:00 p.m. but it was a school night so we all headed to our beds.

Unfortunately I was the only one at the table living in Nice and having to drive back to my bed.  The others lived in Antibes and didn’t have far to go.  Off I go down the famous A8 autoroute that I have written about before.  I get to my neighborhood and found a great spot right around the corner from my apartment.  I was already thinking about a quick bowl of cereal before hoping into my warm bed.  I get to my door and insert my key.  My stomach drops; something is wrong, terribly wrong.  The key does not budge .  .  . at all.  This is just weird as have not had any problems with neither my door nor my lock.  So I am trying all different ways to apply pressure to turning the key.  I am now starting to hit my door to hopefully jiggle the lock a little to loosen it.  I am even grabbing the door handle to lift the door a little.  Nothing . . . except snap.  My key successfully broke in two; me holding the handle and the teeth of the key still in the lock.  putain.  Something is terribly wrong.

Time check: 11:40 p.m. No worries, I already have a serrurier programmed into my iPhone.  I have heard of other people needing a locksmith and with my previous posting last summer, I was sure to be prepared.  I called the number . . . no answer, just voice-mail.  Hmmm.  I could have sworn this number was their 24 hour line.  Luckily this serrurier was just down the street from my apartment.  I thought maybe I wrote down the wrong number and this was just their normal business line.  I quickly walked down to the shop and clearly on their window they posted their number for 24 service.  I compared what was in my phone and it was the same.  I called again . . . .  still no answer.  I race back to my apartment building to keep warm in the little lobby.

I sent out a few SMS to some friends that live in Nice but as expected no response.  It is now almost midnight and everyone is asleep.  I decide to call my colleague who I just had drinks with.  She should still be up and the fact she is no longer working she wouldn’t have the need to get up early.  There was also the fact she is fluent in French.  I explain to her the situation and ask if she can look up a serrurier for me or better yet know of one.  She said she would research and call me back.  I wait.

Ironically a few days earlier we all received a handy magnet of all the important numbers in Nice such as the police, ambulance, 24 hour plumber and yes even a serrurier.  These magnets were inserted into everyone’s mailbox in my building.  Of course I properly took mine and placed it in my kitchen like any good citizen (of any country) would do.  A lot of good that magnet is doing for me now.  I happen to look over in the little waste basket in our lobby and voila!  I was fortunate to have a bad citizen in my building.  Someone threw theirs away!  I snatched the magnet out of the trash and dialed the serrurier as if he was my best friend.  Instantly he answers as if destiny is bringing us together.  I was able to convey the situation in French and he was on his way to my address.  I probably didn’t wait 15 minutes before he arrived.

Post Drilling - Front

Post Drilling - Front

We go up and assess the situation.  He now clearly sees my dilemma.  He explains to me you have a really good lock.  I smiled back at him with I know but that isn’t comforting me right now look.  He can’t pick this elegant lock.  He offers to break my front window.  Non.  I explain to him I am the owner, I rent.  He then offers the suggestion to go through my neighbor’s apartment and cross through the terraces on the back side of the building (see my summer post again).  Non.  I replied my terrace doors are locked too so that doesn’t help.  What is a real solution here?  He drills.  He has to drill into my door and tear apart my lock.

Time check: 12:23 a.m. Everyone is asleep.  He explains he can’t drill now or else we would wake the building up and the police would arrive.  So we agree to meet back at my apartment at 11:00 a.m. later that same morning.  I call my colleague again actually waking her this time.  I’m taking you up on your offer for the couch, I am coming over. So there I go heading back to Antibes.

Post Drilling - Back

Post Drilling - Back

Next morning I arrive back at my apartment a little before 11:00 in order not to miss my new best friend in the whole south of France . . . actually it is bigger than that, let’s go with the whole world for the moment.  Anyway my best friend arrives in his beat up Toyota truck with all his tools, a cigarette and a slight smile.  It is now time for a lesson in keys and locks.  He points to my key and shows that I have 3 diamonds along the side of my key.  Each diamond stands for 30 minutes.  30 minutes of what you say? 30 minutes of drilling through the lock to get to the other side.   Gentil.  We knock on my neighbor’s door who happens to be home and we borrow her electrical outlet to power up his drill.  He goes to work; I sit on a lawn chair in the electrical closet by my apartment to keep warm.  Luckily I had a book with me in my bag.

Like clockwork, 1.5 hours later (3 * 30) we see light at the other end of the tunnel.  I am home!  It never felt so good!  I offered him a beverage and then he went straight to work on removing the entire lock from the door.  I quickly hop on my computer to send some important e-mails and to make some phone calls.  I suddenly had a day off that was clearly unplanned.  Finally he now sits down with me to convey the damage of all this work and the price of a new lock.  Here in my head I was thinking 500 Euros for this episode of An American in Paris.  Nope, try 4 figures on this one.  Shocking, isn’t it?

Back up here, this is France and not the Home Depot. The French love locks!  You have locks on everything here.  Plus the locks on your front door are not ordinary $39.99 door knobs with a key.  They are serious metal contraptions with two rods going up and down through the door.  When you lock your door, you have locked your door.  At this point, there is nothing I could do except to accept his price.  I mean he already did most of the work to get me in my home.  I signed the paper estimate.  After thinking I was taken for a ride and I did some research on the web.  Come to find out my 3 diamond lock runs €999.99.  Of course he was just replacing what I already had.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this page to see the variances of prices for locks. You don’t need to know French to read price tags.

At this moment, he has to leave to go buy the lock.  Within an hour my buddy is back at work installing my shiny new lock that each one of you are required to compliment when you come visit me (or else you are getting a hotel).  The young gentlemen didn’t leave my place until 4:00 in the afternoon.   To add more salt to the wound, in the process of cleaning up the dust and dirty I broke my vacuum cleaner.  Sigh. In any case, I am home with a lock and 3 keys that make my entrance ever so sexy.

Job Complete!

Job Complete!

So can’t I get someone else to pay for this lock? Well I have been exploring those options.  I did call my insurance company with my renter’s insurance (luckily they speak English) hoping I could just pass the bill to their desk.  Non.  “We only cover locks if there was a break in or vandalism but not for [stupidity]”  Of course I am paraphrasing but since this situation is due to my own actions, the policy doesn’t cover it.  She did politely suggest my rental agency under the argument “you gave me a crappy lock” but she quickly retorted with a “but good luck with that”.  She knows the rental agencies just as well as I do.  They will find leverage to say they aren’t entitled to pay because it was my doing.

By French law, the owner is really only obligated to pay for non-functional / broken items for the first 6 months of a contract.  After that they look at it as usage and tenant has to address the situation.  Of course I still have to get a clear picture in English of what are my rights as a tenant.  Remember, in France there is always a grey area within any law which frequently drives Americans mad since we have such a black and white legal system.  I didn’t get the agency involved in the beginning because I didn’t want to hear another non and have them delay the serrurier any further in getting the job done.  Plus they already have a list of other things to fix like 2 awnings over the terrace, a shutter in my front window and the wooden planks in my steps.  Now add another bill? Careful, France can be all about the emotions.

Some of you may have also thought why not go for a cheaper, lesser model?  Well the French are much more thorough inspecting an apartment when you enter a contract.  Every little nick, scratch and scrape is documented in a walk-thru.  If they noticed a difference in the lock (particularly a lower model) when I reach that one day I leave the apartment, they have leverage to hold that change in value against me.

So where does this lock put me? Well, I am grounded enough to save money for rainy days and today it poured.  I am fine financially; I am not destitute.  Unfortunately I am not be able to hit the road traveling as soon as I would like.  I have to recoup my savings keeping in mind my lovely first tax bill towards the end of 2011.

Categories: Everyday Life
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