Or basically that's what it said, anyways.
Behind the letter in the gigantic brown envelope, was an agenda of items to vote on, and then behind that, accounts for the expenditures of the year, then estimates for construction and improvements - all in all, about 1.5 inches thick.
Our first conseil syndical - cringe! As recent homeowners, we knew this day was coming, but we really didn't know what to expect. The night before, like the good little students that we'd been leading up to the purchase of the apartment, we read the agenda front to back, scrutinized the estimates and used 3 different colored highlighters to keep things straight. I made a list of notes and questions, and Mopain (Mari + Copain?) printed off the emails and updates that our neighbor had sent us about the recent work in the building. We had a dossier - we were prepared!
On July 1st, France decided to break a record with the hottest day of the year since 1947. It was SWELTERING. A wall of heat waited outside every door. You simply had to give into the sweat, drink your body weight in water and hope for a forgiving breeze. I packed my Chinese fan, wore my least swamp ass-y dress and hoped for the best.
At the end of the work day, I mentally prepared myself for the sea of armpits and suffering and jumped on metro line one to go to the other side of the city. Our syndic (building manager) is not just in any old arrondissement, but in the oh-so-chic seizième - 16th. This is where the fancy people and those who want to be fancy people live. The fact that we live completely on the other side of Paris tells you something about us. I found the private street (yes, there is a locked gate with a code!), found the building (another code!), and made my way upstairs to a non-airconditioned meeting room right out of 1965, complete with pleather chairs. Oh the humanity.
As each new propriétaire entered the room, the social musts were put on display, "Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur, Bonjour Madame, comment allez-vous?, Qu'est-ce-qu'il fait chaud!" Hello madam, hello sir, hello madam, and how are you? Goodness, it's hot!. We did this five times, standing to shake hands, Bonjour each other and comment on the horrid weather. Très français.
Finally the meeting could get underway. Our syndic sat at the head of a large wooden table, like a judge with a gavel, ready to keep the propriétaires in line if arguments got out of hand. We all signed the "official sign in document" and it was then that Mopain and I were called out as les nouveaux- the newbies. Wanting to make a good impression, we smiled and laughed, said Bonjour again, but kept our wits about us - we didn't know who was friend or foe. The conseil syndical is serious stuff.
Madame the syndic started down the list:
Who would like to be the meeting président?
Then reluctantly, our upstairs neighbor raised his hand.
All abstaining? All against? Bon! You will be the meeting president!
Who would like to be the scrutateur?
"The what?" I inquired.
The syndic looked at Mopain - you'd made a great scrutateur.
All abstaining? All against? Bon! You will be the scrutateur.
First order of business, our current conseil president will give us an update on how the construction is going in the building.
As the sweat beaded between my legs and the pleather, my neighbor got everyone up to speed on the "almond green" color chosen for the doors (which deserves its own blog post entirely), the fibre optique internet installation, the new mailboxes, light fixtures and tiles. She went on about the 3rd floor neighbor who wasn't responding to calls about the water leaking from her bathroom, and there was speculation that she may be dead, then ideas about how to manage the problem. Call a locksmith! Call the police! Call the fire department!
This was mainly for the propriétaires who don't live in the building, since those of us who do, pass by said puke green doors everyday and already knew of their hideousness.We came to learn that half of our building is owned by a family, and one son and one daughter are still alive. The daughter and her husband, Monsieur and Madame F, both in their 80's, were at the meeting, and while they live in some chateau in the Loire, they still come to the meetings since any voting that has financial implications involves them the most. They also have the strongest vote since they own the majority of the apartments. Monsieur et Madame are millionaires.
Bon! Next order of business, we must choose a new conseil for 2015!
Eight heads turned to our current president - my upstairs neighbor - we'll call her Madame J. As she murmured something about humbly accepting, Mopain and I began to realize that no one wants to be on the conseil and that they are very happy to give the job to someone else who has time to care about door color and dead neighbors!
The syndic continued, Merci Madame J. You did such a wonderful job in 2014, it's only fitting that you stay on the conseil! Now we need another person to join her.
The eight sweaty heads turned to les nouveaux. C'est une petite tradition - it is a little tradition that the newbies be on the conseil.
Mopain, resident Frenchie, quickly refused. But I'm an American sap, a pushover! And so, after asking what my responsibilities would actually be, then commenting on my major lack of time in general just to make it clear that I really can't dedicate my life to mailbox installation and the noisy students on the 5th floor, I accepted, like the idiot I am.
Two humid hours were dedicated to voting on water shut-off valves, the illegal Polish renters on the 2nd floor, and whether or not a tapis (rug), should be installed on the stairwell:
Monsieur F - Monsieurs and Madames, with all due respect, I'm going to vote no. I've already spent 25,000 Euros on the building construction. The tapis will have to wait until next year.
Madame J - But Monsieur F, you must understand that we actually live in the building, and it is certainly not a luxury to have a tapis up the stairs. We have already sanded and polished the wood, it would be such a shame to let it age again without the protection of a tapis!
Monsieur F - Oui, Madame J, I understand completely. But this year, it's no. Perhaps next year we can revisit the idea.
Madame J - Monsieur F, of course I understand the financial implications for you, but if only your lovely locataires (renters) made less noise going up and down the stairs at 4am, we wouldn't need a tapis!
...and on and on it went, until finally, Madame J gave up, knowing very well that Monsieur and Madame F would win the war in the end, purely on voting power. It was brutal; a game of wits and back-handed French jousting - on the surface, polite, but with a strong undercurrent of go screw yourself and your tapis too.
Mopain and I watched attentively, observing who would be our allies at the next conseil, and thinking about how to plot a strategic attack against Monsieur and Madame F if future voting required it.
We peeled ourselves off of the dated chairs, relieved by the prospect of a breeze outside the syndic doors. After the required rounds of hand shakes and au revoirs, the conseil was fini, and we could go back to our arrondissement on the gritty east side, and walk up our tapis-less stairwell, past the illegal Polish renters and the potentially dead neighbor with a water leak, to our nouveau chez nous.