French labour law being what it is, the owners of the apartment in which Amynah and I are currently living thought it would be more cost –efficient to continue to pay for their cleaning lady to come in once a week than it would be to break their contract and re-hire her on their return. We'll say her name is Margaret - she hails from Poland. She spent many years working in Milan and so her French is heavily spiced with Italian.
Having a cleaning lady is not something natural to me. Given that my Mom’s nickname is “Red” for her political leanings, I feel like I’m betraying fundamental principles allowing someone else to clean up my mess while I futz around on my computer.
For her part, Margaret seems to like us fine: I’m apparently one of the few clients that makes a point of talking to her, and given that it’s just Amynah and I here, the apartment doesn’t get too messy.
One thing I am often bothered by with Margaret is her tendency to speak to me as if I am a moron. I get that a lot here in France – I speak like a 4-year old on a sugar rush in French, without the coherence, so I understand why people tend to not take me very seriously. However her French isn’t so much better than mine, so there was likely some other cause. I discovered why yesterday, when I asked her how her Christmas had been.
Margaret's buddy, hanging out in the Cathedral
Terrible, it turns out. She didn’t get to return home to Poland this year, and thus spent Noël in Strasbourg. Margaret is deeply Catholic, and started off on an impassioned, very long, and increasingly loud rant about the spiritual emptiness of the French, how everyone has forgotten about the Nativity and is focused entirely on presents and champagne.
As she went on, her ire illuminated the failing of “The French,” gradually focusing in on “The People in Her Neighbourhood” shining briefly on “Some of Her Clients” before inevitably focusing a white-hot spotlight on “Me.”
“Here you have this big apartment, a fancy car, spending time on your computer, but in the end, what will it all mean? When you die – and you will die – and they put you in the ground, what then? God gives you everything, and all he asks is that you believe! When you go up to Heaven, they will ask you – do you remember that cleaning lady in Strasbourg, so many years ago? Do you remember what she told you? What will you say?” (“That I don’t own a car, and the apartment’s not mine,” I thought).
I am, as a rule, fascinated in religions in general and how their adherents negotiate the modern world while staying true to their faith, though I usually don’t making dinner conversation out of it. That said, I fully understand Margaret's impulse: she likes me, she believes in the redemptive power of Christ, and believing I'd not already made his acquaintance, felt it her Christian duty to introduce me to the Lord.
To say my soul is in peril is one thing. But to imply that I’m some sort of patrician, idling away my days on the back of Amynah’s labour, my lily-white hands too delicate to scrub my own floors? That upset me: Red Sharon’s son is no bourgeois parasite!
Maybe I should give her next Wednesday off and clean the place up myself. That’ll show her.