Have you ever been locked out of your hotel room in a strange country? Has it ever cost you 1,924.53 Australian dollars to get back in? No? Well here’s how easy it can happen to you.
Wanting a little more space than the usual squirmy hotel room, we booked an apartment on our recent trip to Paris. The place was a roomy but older style apartment in The Marais, known as the centre of the Jewish area and more recently, a gay hangout.
The manager of the apartment lived next door and provided us with one key, no key ring, so we used to store the key in the back of the lock when we were inside. After several days of getting into the door-locking routine, one day we found ourselves outside the room with the door closed and the key in the back of the lock. Panic? No. This is just a simple matter of getting the owner’s key and letting ourselves in.
The manager showed up around 4:30 p.m. He immediately tried the lock – oops. We had this sinking feeling as we realised the key in the back of the door was stopping the other key from opening the door. No matter, the manager already had an old xray sheet just for opening doors in this situation (I did wonder why). The idea was to slide the xray sheet between the door and the jam, force the closed (but not locked) door to open, like people tell you it can be done with a credit card.
For some reason this was turning into a pointless exercise. Trying to be optimistic, we agreed we should call a locksmith who, with his strange powers of persuasion, would talk nicely to the door, and we would get in. This was going to cost us 70 euros. Ok, yeah go ahead, what’s 70 euros for a simple mistake?
An hour later, the tired looking locksmith arrived. He spoke no English, I spoke very little French and the manager spoke smatterings of English. We would be fine. He started the old xray thing, only a lot more vigorously than our feeble attempts. The lock was being obstinate. My smile was drooping minute by minute. It started to dawn on me that we were in a lot of shit now. The locksmith pretended to find alternate methods of getting into the apartment (windows, etc.). Before I knew it, the angle grinder was in business. Sparks were flying everywhere. My emotions were running a bit wild. What was this going to cost? Can’t be that bad, can it?
We finally burst into the flat amidst cheers from the manager and her son (who had been getting in the way, trying to help). The friendly little cherub happily pointed out to me, once inside, that the reason the xray didn’t work was because the door jam section of the lock was not recessed into the jam – big smiles – he had worked it out! This was great news for someone, but not for me.
Now to the serious part. The locksmith needed money to get a new lock and to come back and install it. I watched as he started to write out the bill. I could clearly see the 98 bit for the lock. When he added a small six on the end, I fell to the floor. Nine hundred eighty six euros for a lock! What are they talking about here – Fort Knox!
I had agreed to pay so I reluctantly offered my credit card. Oh, you don’t take Visa? My head was spinning. Why was it so much and how was I going to get this amount of cash 6:30 at night?
Paris is full of ATM’s which are like all others – they give out only so much within a 24 hour period. We agreed to pay 500 euros now and 650 in the morning. I didn’t realise "the morning" wasn't 24 hours later. I will come to that.
The locksmith installed the lock and we retreated into the apartment – like beaten dogs into a kennel. My God, what happened? We didn’t sleep a moment. Through the fog of emotion and anger, it dawned on me that this job would have only cost me 70 euros if the old lock had been installed correctly! It wasn’t my fault after all! I had already agreed to pay, though. The poor locksmith was the joker in the middle. Should we get up and run away? I knew the locksmith wouldn’t be paid. We would pay the balance and then argue. There are times when you know you are making a mistake, but you cannot do anything about it. This was one of them. I knew at that point I was not going to see that money again.
In the morning I went to a money changer for the rest of the money (remember the 24 hour thing?). For good luck, I was charged seven percent to get the money out. Go ahead, why not kick me when I’m down?
We paid and then, via agents, we started negotiating with the manager. We sort of began, then finished. He refused to acknowledge that the problem was his. As a result, he wouldn't accept my generous offer of a cost split. I can’t say in this story what I felt like doing, but you can imagine.
When we started looking closely around the flat, we realised that everything in the place had been repaired by Uncle Heime – patchy and lots of cover ups. Funny how you don’t notice these things at first, isn’t it? I suspect the lock was a job done by the son himself.
On the day we were leaving, I mentioned to the manager this could happen again because the cause of the problem had not been addressed. With a Gallic “humph” (the equivalent of the “What to do” in India), he slunk back into his flat.
I know this sounds like another Paris disaster travel story (and there are a few of those), but I write to warn other suckers who might possibly consider staying at 26 Rue des Rosiers. Think again.
The agent in Paris who booked the flat was Eagle France and the manager of this little sordid operation was Fabrice. Thanks baby!