Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

And that’s why you always leave a note


Say, for instance, you have information you would like to share with a person unknown to you; how do you do this? I can only think of one way, which is by leaving a note.

Not so in France. Here people just wait until they run into a person who might be the person to whom they want to convey information. The first time this happened, I was legitimately annoyed that Monsieur le président of the co-op I’m living in made such a big deal about how I had been breaking the rules. At the time, I pointed out that I hadn’t known about the regulations but as soon as I was informed, I amended my behavior. Problem solved.

Jump to early this month when I’d been waiting for a package from my mother and there was no sign of it. Correos, the national Spanish postal system (which is a complete joke), had provided her with a tracking number which revealed only that the box had been entregado (turned in/delivered) on the 8th. A week later, my mother filed a claim at her post office and I was set to head to mine and see if I could get any answers on this end. As I was checking the mailbox one last time, a woman rushed me from the opposite side of the street.

“Are you Madame XXXX?” she said, breathlessly.

“No,” I said, “I’m Mademoiselle YYYY, Monsieur XXXX’s subletter. Is there a problem?”

“Oh! I’m so glad to have found you! I check to see if your light is on every time I come home!”

I looked at her blankly because there wasn’t really anything for me to respond to and that’s when she added, “I have a package of yours! I’ve had it for over a week and kept hoping to run into you!”

She went on to tell me that she’d been in the lobby when the mailman attempted delivery and, as they both noticed that the box was insured and “international,” they determined it must be important. It apparently seemed best to them that my neighbor, a woman who’s never seen me, sign for it which she did. But then she didn’t leave me a note that she had it. For over a week. And there were perishable items inside. At this point in her story I got really pissed but I didn’t express it because she had my god damn package and I really wanted it.


This is really funny if you’ve seen Arrested Development.

When I picked it up at her apartment a while later, she told me that she’d been up to ring my doorbell “every night” but I was never home. I told her that I never hear the doorbell and was desperate to add, “If you came by EVERY NIGHT and there was never an answer, WHY DIDN’T YOU LEAVE A GOD DAMN NOTE?” but I decided that it would be more poli to just take the box and get the hell out of there.

Prenez note

French people don’t leave notes. Ever. Even for important things. Connards.

The title of this post courtesy of Arrested Development‘s “Pier Pressure” episode. AD is the funniest American show ever broadcast (UK’s is Fawlty Towers) and is finally coming back this summer (May 5!!!) after being off the air for six years. If you have never seen it, now’s your chance to get caught up. Amusingly, in French the show is called Les Nouveaux Pauvres which is a pun and therefore great.


Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

15 thoughts on “And that’s why you always leave a note

  1. I learned something today as I didn’t know about this note leaving stuff but it kind of make sense as French people are more into personal contacts than North Americans.

    As the concierge in our building is Portuguese (yes, we do have a concierge!), it might explains why she always leaves a note when she is holding a package for us. I left a note to our neighbour a while ago and he came to our door to respond to the message but he didn’t seem offended that we had left a note as we could never seem to be in the apartment as the same time as them.

    • Are you saying that you *wouldn’t* leave a note in this situation? How do you communicate with strangers? The “waiting around” approach isn’t very effective and I’m genuinely curious about how else to do it.

      The moral of the story holds regardless, I think. French people are crazy.

      • Sorry, if I wasn’t clear. I would definitively leave a note. It is the logical and efficient thing to do in such situation. Though I love the French dearly, I think they aren’t very logical or efficient. I have come to think that they have this motto: “why do it simply, if you can complicate it” (pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliquer!!!).

      • Maybe it is a North American thing. I have a German friend who loves how efficient I am (a German! thinking *I’M* more efficient!) and will fondly recount the maps I’ve drawn her and the step-by-step instructions I’ve given her. She thinks it’s really funny that I obsess over such things, so maybe we are the weird ones. If we didn’t learn it from our European ancestors, I wonder where it came from.

  2. This is strange¨I think I leave notes to people quite often and I’m French. I know a lot of other French people who do leave notes too…

  3. The longer I live abroad, the more I realise that some countries/cultures just do things better.

    • It’s both a blessing and a curse to see and know how other places do stuff and not just change stuff. In my mind, I’m creating a Candide country where all the best of all the best possible worlds is represented. Until that place exists, I’m looking for its closest cousin in this world.

  4. I have next to no experience with French culture, but a big thumbs up for your title :)

  5. Just have to comment and say I love the Arrested reference in the title, well done! Can’t wait for the new online series of the show…

  6. Arrested Development is back!

    But returning to your topic: so yes, a note would seem obvious to me. I hope the stuff was ok?

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