I am standing in the dusty windowless basement of BHV, a huge department store in the heart of Paris and trying to figure out how in the hell I say the word drill, and even worse, screws, in French.
The employees at hardware stores don’t generally speak another language. This isn’t your typical tourist stop after all. There are French contractors in the aisles and Parisian homeowners checking out the rows upon rows of door locks to choose from – it seems the French are very adamant about keeping people out of their houses, their lives, their country…. We receive the occasional stare or raised eyebrow. Two Americans trying to figure out not only where the drills are but what kind we need is a rare sight. I didn’t realize how many different kinds of drills there were.
It seems we can get drills to go through all sorts of materials: stone, wood, and one that had the word water on it, but I still haven’t figured that out. Of course there doesn’t seem to be an all purpose one, but there is an abundant assortment. My husband is gallantly trying to find a salesperson and then use his best French to ask questions. These aren’t the type of conversations you have in French 1. Excuse me sir, could you tell me where I might find a drill that will go through stone so I can hang a towel rack? This is a far cry from, “where is the train station?”
I am not a home repair type by nature, even in my homeland of America. So what am I doing here? Yesterday I was walking in the steps of my idol, Julia Child, buying goat cheese and lunching on salade nicoise on Rue Cler. That is why I come to Paris, not to hang out among rows of light bulbs. Then it dawns on me, we have moved beyond merely tourists, we are now owners of a Paris apartment.
Somehow when we decided to purchase our small one bedroom pied a terre near the Seine, I didn’t imagine that I was going to have to do minor repairs. Needing a tool kit never entered my mind. Buying a wine opener, yes. And of course vases to hold all the flowers I would buy at the local market. But reality sets in, and we are somehow missing a few handles for the kitchen cabinets we installed. I guess I should say the kitchen we installed because when we bought the apartment the kitchen consisted of a metal sink, a microwave, a hot plate, a washing matching (laundry not dishes), and a bright peach colored storage closet Just having matching cabinets and an actual oven makes it a deluxe kitchen by Paris standards.
We also are in desperate need of a heater since the one that came with the apartment is feeble at best and it is February with temperatures in the 30s. I happily find a heater I love amid the display in aisle 24 and hug it like a lost child who has found her mother. It is slim like so many things french, and from what I gather from my fractured understanding of the language is it puts out a lot of heat. Luckily the box is well illustrated, so I can see the waves of heat coming out of the grill work, and the fact that it has higher numbers next to what seems like electronic measurements than the other ones must mean it is more capable than those other underachievers next to it.
When I get it to the apt, the contractor looks at me as I display my proud purchase and informs me that the heater I bought will blow all the circuits in my apt. The handles I’ve bought are all about 5 cm too short.
Now that I know how to buy household items in France, I get to learn how to return them
C’est la vie.