Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Fratman

Like all apartment buildings in Geneva - and there are lots - ours has a Concierge.

Now that sounds a lot posher than it really is because he's not a 'I'll do anything for you' smarmy chap at the luxury hotel counter or a French-speaker who offers to walk your poodles.  Nope, he (normally a 'he' as one of the unofficial job requisites is unruly facial hair) just lives in the building and keeps the gardens, hallways, lifts and garages clean.

It's very hard work.  Our guy, let's call him Fratman in a slight nod to his real name and because I've been using it in real life and it's stuck, is a busy little bee.

If he's not up before 6am putting out the green bins for collection on Monday, he's doing something similar for the rubbish on Tuesday and Friday or the 'Papier Receptacles' on Wednesdays.  He brings them in no later than fifteen minutes after the garbage truck has been and cleans up any spills or blow outs.  Considering he has six eleven-storey buildings with several hundred residents who share his street address, he has a huge amount of rubbish, cigarette butts, garden spaces and parking spots to keep tidy. He polishes windows, shared door knobs and letter boxes and - if bored and seeking a do-able dare - you could eat dinner off the parking bays.

He and I have a complicated relationship.

He can't help looking like an Orc with reading glasses (as I can't help looking like a baked potato) but he doesn't speak a word of English and I only speak about four in French.  Like a Middle Earth baddie he seems to believe that if he YELLS AT ME the language will magically ooze its way into my blonde brain and we'll be able to converse eloquently ala Francais.  Invariably he ends up waiting expectantly for my answer and is visibly disappointed when he only ever gets my inane grin and a 'thumbs up' sign.

Sapphire and I were shooed off the lawn when eating our lunch on a sunny summers' day because it is only for looking at not using; and the day I unthinkingly strolled across the just-mopped marble foyer saw his one eye steam up with rage before gesturing at me to "Sortez! Utilisez l'autre porte!" Merde and tete might have been muttered a few times as well.....

Then again, he apparently really loves me because I commented to Anne - a friend who lives on the first floor and is fluent in French - that Sapphire and I have noticed how hard he works. "Fratman never stops; he's like the Duracell bunny but with a big set of keys instead of drum sticks."  She told him and he now beams at me with his one good eye.

Anne is now unwittingly involved in our relationship. The Fratman knows that we are friends. She is, after all, a nurse from New Zealand and I, the clueless cretin from Australia.  Geographic proximity is enough.

"He's going to write a letter to the Regie," Anne exclaimed one morning, slightly out of breath from indignation and eight flights of stairs. "He knows that it's you who traipses mud into the foyer."

We'd had this sort-of-discussion via Anne before. Oh no, I reassured her. I mean him. Tell The Fratman that I wipe my feet very carefully and that mud gets stuck in the tread of everybody's shoes now that it's raining and snowing.

This appeased him for a while until he was out chatting to the gardeners (they literally hoover up the autumn leaves every week. Milly runs out to her dog forest afterwards and is absolutely puzzled at where her crunchy ground cover has gone) and he saw them. My rubber boots.

The Orc inside him knew - these weren't your everyday shoes; they were made for mud.  And that Aussie Idiot was prancing around in them, dropping off clods at every step.  He putt-putted past me in his mini-tractor with six steel wheelie bins trailing on chains behind him towards the bike cave.  There was anger in the clouds of exhaust farting out behind him.

I wasn't surprised that he'd put the blame onto my shoulders and mine alone. "He's been watching you," Anne gasped. "He told me to tell you to leave your boots outside or...." she paused, in a bind between upsetting me and the shock of the information she was about to impart, " could be outside."

Since that indirect ultimatum, I now clip on Milly's lead, put on my Dog Walking Parka and head downstairs.  In my other hand is a huge plastic bag containing my rubber boots and a large towel.  When the foyer doors shut behind us, I take off my slippers and step into the boots, making sure they're resting on top of the grate should any chunks of dried mud fall off, and then reach over to fold up the bag, place the towel on top and my slippers on top of that.

After our walk, I again stand on the grate and deftly lift one foot at a time out of the boots and into the slippers and then put the boots in the bag. The towel is then used to wipe off any mud and water from Milly's legs, stomach and feet so that, several long minutes later, we can enter the foyer without leaving any significant signs on the floor that we were ever there.

The Fratman saw me a couple of days after this technique was initiated. "Tres Bien!" "Merci Beaucoup" and "Bravo" were gleefully yelled on his side and my go-to 'Thumbs Up' sign was acted out on mine: we'd found a solution that suited us all - Orcs, Concierges, Renters, Dumb Aussies, Dogs and Mud Magnets.

So can you imagine how annoyed I was when Milly and I returned from a lovely long walk around Parc de Trembly this morning and there was the plastic boot bag, her tummy towel but NOT my slippers?

WHO would want to flog a manky pair of second-hand slippers? They're worn down at the heel, have brownish stains where there was once fluffy blue lining and the outer velvet is festooned with orange dog fur.

..... I'm not risking any other pairs of shoes, so now it's a rapid tip-toe across a very slippery marble floor and a kind of half somersault from the door mat straight into my rubber boots that are still sitting in the bag with the straps wide apart for my landing. It reminds me of the awful first stages of puberty when our mothers would say, "Don't be impatient, you'll grow like the others soon."  

Substitute 'grow' for 'become a glamorous international resident' and you'll see my predicament: will he now complain that I'm making the place look untidy with my amateur gymnastics?


redcap said...

Gah! He sounds like someone's crabby nan! Do you think the concierges all get together for little bitch fests over cafe au lait?

And you do not look like a baked potato.

River said...

I agree, you do not look like a baked potato.
I was going to suggest leaving the boots outside, but you've solved the problem by taking them on and off, now I see that you can't just leave them downstairs like we'd leave them on our porches, they'd disappear just like your slippers.
Quite rude of someone to remove them like that.
Would it be easier to carry a rolled up carpet runner and roll it out to walk in and out on?
You could be the red carpet lady.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

I'm sorry - I had to laugh when you said you looked like a baked potato - you don't (I hasten to add) - but I actually know people who really DO!!

Great tale - and I think he probably thinks he OWNS the building (a bit like a security guard who used to work at my place).




Jackie K said...

Oh dear Kath, I am sorry for your troubles. But if it makes you feel better, you write them up so well and they are very entertaining for us to read!
I still don't quite get how the other residents in your building handle the mud and footprints thing. What is their secret?

deepkickgirl said...

One of life's many little mysteries... who would steal your old slippers? Maybe Mr Orc has a fetish and they now reside on his bedside table...

While I'm here I wanted to say Happy New Year to you all. So glad the start of 2012 sees you much more settled and happy in Geneva.

I don't always leave a comment but I'm always reading and enjoying your blog.

Andrew said...

He is rather like the European concierge of my imagination.

Elephant's Child said...

Not a baked potato at all. I am so impressed with your solution to the muddy boots issue and equally unimpressed with the manky slipper thief. Maledictions on their head.

Kath Lockett said...

redcap you are too, too kind... :)

River, it might just come to that! Now I go into the 'bike cave' to do my shoe changing and then kick my boots off over the grate outside, walk in my socks back into the cave and get changed before coming out again to wipe Milly down and put it all in the bags .... zzzzzzz.....

Yep PlasMan, I think you're right (about the concierge, not my visage). I guess if you spend twelve hours a day keeping folk off the lawn and emptying bins you would feel like the place is yours.

JackieK, I try to surreptitiously peek at what people do before they come inside and apart from a quick wipe on the doormat, they're in and they don't leave a trace. How can that be? The footpaths here are muddy and wet - is it some innate Swiss skill, that of perpetual tidyness??

Thanks DKG - you've planted a terrible seed and given me an even worse mental image to go on - The Fratman with a Slipper Fetish!

...but hopefully your European concierge, Andrew, *doesn't* have a second-hand slipper fetish??

E-Child I'm trying to tell myself that the person who stole my manky old slipper clearly has problems. Big, sad, weird old problems....

Red Nomad OZ said...

Hah! You say 'baked potato' like it's a BAD thing!!! Some of my favourite experiences have involved baked potatoes ...

The mysterious slipper disappearance reminds me of our homecoming after 10 months on the road a few years ago. Pilchard put his paper thin-soled thongs outside the camper trailer on our last night away in Broken Hill, and the next morning they were gone! My MUCH better condition AND more attractive scuffs were left alone. Why? WHY??!!

Kath Lockett said...

Hah - I love the 'thong updater' you and Pilchard encountered, Red! I'd love to do something like that!

Cathy said...

I was going to say what Deep Kick Girl said - I can just imagine your concièrge cuddling up to your old slippers late at night over a chocolat chaud and letting his imagination run yourself a Swiss admirer, I do believe!

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Cathy, I sooooo did not want to read/hear/think that... :P

Anji said...

Wonder if he got rid of them as they don't sound as if they were chic enough for him.

When we first came to live in France I had problems with the owner of our appartment. She used to yell at me thinking that i would understand her.

She pulled up all the grass in the back garden and then wondered why a plant she put out for some sun died on her. She was that mean.

Needless to say we didn't get our deposit back.

The only concierges I met were when I was delivering phone directories, they were so helpful and one even lent me her husband!!

diane b said...

I had tears in my eyes laughing at your story for many reasons. One you are such a good story teller and I laughed because I can so relate to incidents like that when I lived in Switzerland. Fratman is just so Swiss! My Swiss husband (who has become an integrated Aussie and doesn't behave at all like Fratman) says to tell you that he has probably taken them to dry clean and they will be back in the bag tomorrow.
How do other glamorous internationals cope with walking their dog and the mud?
I love, "There was anger in the clouds farting out behind him"

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Anji, we'd BETTER get our deposit back because it's THREE MONTHS' rent!!

dianeb, unfortunately the slippers haven't returned - clean or otherwise. I now hide my ugg boots in the bike cave under a recycling bag.

Jayne said...

Nah, Fratman is probably pirouetting about his apartment in your slippers, in a nightie he snow dropped from the laundry and calling himself Blanche or Deirdre.

Christine said...

I laughed at this...My Englishborn husband, a veteran of more than several visits to Switzerland to visit his expat sibling, often asks 'Why does one laugh at the Swiss? Is it because they take themselves so seriously?' Fratman has a big job though... and WHO would even want your slippers?

Kath Lockett said...

La la la la I can't hear you Jayne - La la la la la la la !!!!!

Christine, I'm as mystified as you!

Ann ODyne said...

tell Anne you just KNOW Fratman has nicked the slippers.

here are two ex-Melb bloggers in Lucerne I thought you might enjoy.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Ann - I'll go over and 'visit' them when I get my coffee...

Anonymous said...

You made some good points there. I looked on the internet for the subject and found most individuals will go along with with your blog.
Sheepskin Mittens, Size Medium

Anonymous said...

Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future. Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!
Bogs Women's Classic Mid Tuscany Rain Boot