Yesterday, we left Avignon. I loved the city and our accommodations, but unfortunately I left with a rather sour taste in my mouth. For the most part, the people in Avignon were utterly charming. Our landlady proved to be the only exception.
The apartment itself was lovely, but this woman, Valerie, was rigid and condescending. In August, we flew from Rome to Marseille, then took a train from Marseille to Avignon. On the day before the trip, I emailed Valerie to tell her we would likely arrive in Avignon at 9:00 or 9:30 in the evening, because our flight landed at 8:00 and the train ride was approximately one hour. She replied that this was okay, but she could not accommodate me later than 10:00pm. This immediately seemed strange to me, because Valerie had not mentioned a cut off for check in. I had no control over the timeliness of the flight, and I certainly did not have money to buy a hotel at the last minute in the event of delay. I asked if she could leave the key for me somewhere if my plane was delayed, and she replied that this simply was not possible because the locks were complicated and there were no hiding places for a key.
Our flight was delayed from Rome, and I frantically called Valerie from the Marseille airport to ask about any possible exception to her 10:00 rule. She told me she could leave the key with a nearby restaurant owner, but she would have to charge me €20 for the inconvenience. Fine, fine.
We hopped on the train, arrived in Avignon, and found the restaurant. The restaurant owner held a set of three keys and attempted to explain their complexities to me in French. I told her I did not speak French, so she attempted to mime the proper key function with the restaurant door. I still did not understand, and so she asked if I spoke Spanish. I said yes, even though my understanding of Spanish is pitiful at best. She began an explanation of the key specificities in Spanish. Finally I feigned comprehension, and I said that I had seen similar keys before. The restaurant owner looked relieved, and my friend and I headed to the apartment.
At this point I felt very intimidated by the keys, all of the build-up to the most complicated, most sophisticated French keys in the world. Upon confronting the front door, I could not discern which of the three keys were best suited for the lock. It was a seemingly ordinary lock, but I was convinced that this must be a deception, there must be more to the process after all the cautions I had received. In trial-and-error attempts, I could not properly maneuver any key within the lock: it was clear that my frustration and shaking hands were preventing any of the keys from revealing a proper fit. My friend stepped in, and she opened the door immediately.
We walked inside, and we found our apartment door. Now, the second key trial. My friend again picked a key, turned the lock, and we entered the apartment. We quickly figured out that the third key opened a mailbox in the entry hallway.
Three keys, three ordinary locks. I could not, and still do not understand why I needed any explanation on how to open the doors, nor do I understand why I needed to pay €20 to receive this special explanation from a local restaurant owner.
Fast forward two months. It is the day before departure, and I email Valerie to ask about our check out time. She replied that I could leave any time between 8:00 and 10:00 in the morning. This seemed extremely early, and my train did not leave until 12:30. Our departure was on a Sunday, and all luggage storage facilities were closed on Sundays. I emailed to ask if we could have an extra hour or two, and she said again this was simply not possible. My friend wrote to Valerie, stating that this seemed rather unreasonable, and that we had taken extremely good care of the apartment. Valerie replied again with a condescending reminder that we weren’t alone, that she had other guests coming soon, and it was not possible to change her rules.
Whatever, Valerie. We made alternate arrangements for our final night in Avignon, so we would have somewhere to rest and leave our luggage until our train. I only returned to Valerie’s apartment at 9:30am to clean, to ensure we hadn’t left anything behind, and to finalize the checkout. At 10:00, a rather elderly woman rang the doorbell and entered the apartment. She asked me if I was the tenant of Valerie, I said yes, and she began inspecting the apartment. She seemed satisfied, and so she began inspecting and recording the numbers on the water, gas, and electrical meters. In my renting contract, I agreed to pay utility fees. These would be deducted from a security deposit I paid prior to renting.
After recording the meter numbers, the elderly woman began speaking rapidly in French. I said, “Je ne comprends pas le francais.” She then tried different French words, so again I said, “Je ne comprends pas le francais.” She then tried a more rapid succession of French words with hand gestures. I deduced that she was referring to my utility bills and I became concerned that she expected direct payment, whereas I planned on paying through my security deposit. I had very little cash, no means to pay her. I again expressed my lack of understanding, and she became very angry. I understood comments about my lack of French skills: I had rented with a friend, and not one of us could speak French…I had lived here for two months, and still could not speak French…blah, blah, etc.. Insults. I reached into my backpack for my iPad, and I used Google translate to express that I was paying for the bills through my security deposit. She made a dramatic, exaggerated nod, and she pulled out an envelope and began counting cash for me. She indicated two piles: one for the bills, and one to return to me. I thought I understood. I nodded repeatedly. But she wasn’t finished: she spoke various number words, scraps of numbers I could recognize. I thought she was asking if I had any cash in my wallet to provide change for a 50. I pulled out my wallet and tried to count my money, and again this woman seemed irritated, I had again done something wrong.
Finally, she dramatically counted the cash: one pile for her, and one for me. Yes, yes, yes, oui, oui, oui. She handed me one pile, I nodded, and I got the fuck out of there. I left the interaction utterly confused. I expected utility bills to be deducted from my security deposit. If this woman had simply handed me an envelope with cash, I would have understood. Why the French? Why the repeated attempts to communicate, the subsequent insults, when there was no need for communication?
The keys, the condescending emails, and finally this woman with her need to prove her superiority through her native tongue….it all oozes with a generally low opinion of foreigners, perhaps a specifically low opinion of Americans. But why rent a vacation flat if you don’t like tourists, foreigners, or people who can’t speak French? Over two months, we never met Valerie. She always sent her daughter to collect rent, and upon checkout she sent this strange, unpleasant woman. Clearly she lacks a passion for this business, and she will do anything to avoid actually meeting her renters. So my advice to you is: avoid Valerie in Avignon.