Monday, May 23, 2011

"Doorbell French"

My ultra-secure door and keychain
As a child in the suburbs, one of life’s greatest joys was the doorbell.  Each time someone came to the door, the dog would be the first to know, barking frantically at the stranger outside.  My mother would shove the dog in the kitchen before peaking through the curtains of the door window I imagined to make sure it wasn’t a polite burglar, or worse, her mother-in-law. Then my siblings and I would run out of our respective rooms and wait at the top of the stairs peering down to see who was there. 

Usually it was the delivery man dropping off the latest QVC purchase – my mother is a fan.  Sometimes it’d be friends of the family dropping off gifts or returning borrowed kitchen utensils.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses made their rounds as did the traveling knife salesman.  It was always a surprise but one that reminded us that we were not alone on our little street.                                                                          
This excitement has faded over the years as I moved to Paris in an apartment building – and not just because I don’t have a dog.  The doorbell elicits a new Pavlovian reaction for me these days.  Instead of running to see who it is, I hit the mute button on iTunes and freeze as still as possible, much like my mother would have done if her mother-in-law were at the door.

In Paris, I hate answering the door.

There is no window to peak through and, more importantly, no child witnesses to make sure that the person on the other side won’t hack my body into a thousand pieces to fit me inside my tiny dorm-sized Parisian refrigerator.  But worse than the impending fear of death and the realization that I need to get clothes on as quickly as possible without raising suspicions is the fact that, linguistically, my “doorbell French,” as I call it, is some of my worst.

Unlike going to the bakery or to the bank where I know what to expect, which words to use, and which words will be used, “doorbell French” is the most foreign French ever because I never know who will be on the other side.  This lack of preparation puts me into a heightened sense of stress.  The result?  I babble like a four-year old while trying to respond. 

Beyond just understanding the words, it takes a moment to contextualize the situation.  Who is this person and why are they at my door?  They arrive and they introduce themselves so quickly that all I hear is, “Bonjour, jeanpierredecardeaudelasocietemachintrucdeparisdixi√®me,” and then they begin the conversation.  But hold up, I only managed to process the “Bonjour” before getting to the end of that sentence.  Instantly destabilized, the downward spiral begins.

A new collection of cards...
When Christian missionaries tried to invite themselves in to preach the Bible, I had difficulty just stammering out a “no.”  I think they might be Avon spokespeople as they babble on about salvation and redemption.  Good skincare, I think, can lead to deliverance from Satan, can’t it?

Real estate agents repeatedly try to get me to sell my apartment, but I have difficulty explaining to them that I am just a renter.  I am taken by surprise and the “doorbell French” dribbles out like the gooey snot on a toddler’s nose, so repulsive that often the second of a pair of salespeople at my door will tell the other one, “Let’s just go, this isn’t worth it.”

In the end, my “doorbell French” helps me win the battle.  The almost-always-unwelcomed people leave as quickly as they arrive.  As if my hastily-dressed appearance and messy apartment weren’t enough, the lack of comprehension scares them away.

I am not discouraged from opening the door since its good language practice.  Still, if ever I stop posting for more than a week or two, somebody might want to come over and just make sure that I’m not wedged piecemeal in my fridge.  Or worse, reading the Bible over tea with my new missionary friends…

4 comments:

  1. hahahah oh how I relate to this! First, let me say that our mother's would be friends. 9 times out of 10, the doorbell ringing meant the UPS delivery man left a QVC or HSN package on our stoop.

    In my building, the only time the doorbell rings is when a neighbor thinks their leaky whatever is coming from our place (it never is), or a package delivery on the rare occasion the delivery man felt like climbing the 5 flights of stairs instead of claiming I wasn't home. But it's true, I'm much more nervous when I answer the door here :)

    Also, so true about how quickly they introduce themselves, I have the SAME problem with unsollicited phone calls!

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  2. if i recall correctly, you got a lot of practice not answering the door in college.

    someone would knock, you'd freeze, tiptoe over to mute the music, make me turn off the lights.

    best RA ever.

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  3. Oh man, I remember squatting in my kitchen once while my neighbor rang the doorbell because my parquet made too much noise and I didn't want to give away that I was home. This was all negated by the fact that my TV was on and he rang for like 15 minutes until I finally gave in and answered.

    He then complained for 10 minutes about my practicing music in my apartment. Then he asked me out. Weirdest neighbor ever.

    also, I hate answering the door.

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  4. LOL! Glad to know I'm not the only one! And you are so right, it's the lack of preparedness that gets you so tongue-tied. I'm a major phone screener too when I don't recognize the number.

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