Monday, August 11, 2008


"Zat nice Américaine on le troisième étage. She seems so gentille, usually so calm and quiet. Bien elevée. Mais, alors, do you hear her? Zose.. euh.. kinky activities in her shower?"

This is the elevator gossip that I imagine taking place among my building neighbors. They hear me, I know. I haven't showered silently in months. The screams, the moans, the shrieks, the begging for more! Or less!

The daily soundtrack they hear echoes up and down the building’s air-well, broadcast via the half-open casement window in my bathroom.

Sounds of trickling of water, then a rushing spray. Then:

"C'mon, dammit."
"Jeez, get going, will ya?"

End of water sounds. A pause. Pattering of wet footsteps.
Resuming of sprinkling sound.
"Okay. Okay."
“Yes, you can do it.”
"Stop that, you jerk!"
A sob. A bang. End of water sounds.
Resuming of drizzle. Louder gushing.
"There, that's better. Keep going, keep going."
"Just DO it."
"FOGGIT! I give up on this. Never again!"
“I HATE you!”

It's called Mortal Kombat: Paris. Polly Versus the Shower.

Oh, that shiny chrome bathtub fixture may look contemporary and modern, but believe me, it has just two settings: arctic and cauldron. I try to run the hot water at the tub tap: it's about the right temp for icing down a bottle of champagne. I nudge it a little more, move the lever to warm. A hot sprinkle emerges, then vanishes. I wiggle the lever to the middle: more frigid H2eau. Fuming, I dart out of the shower, slipping across the dining room to the kitchen to see if the chaudière is operating or if the wind has blown out the pilot. Yesss! There is a flame; but to claim the water-heater is actually functioning would be a wild exaggeration. I shiver and dash back to the shower.

Then the hand-to-handheld combat begins. Frigid Niagara blasts me first; I yelp and bat the showerhead to the right, readjust the hot/cold lever. It seems to be reaching almost tepid, so I position myself hopefully under the spray again. The water goes from polar to bi-polar in a nanosecond, in one quick, scalding stream. I swear and scream and knock the shower head aside again. Lather, repeat, lather, repeat – no rinse. I mutter and moan. I thought that water torture was Chinese or Spanish, not French.

Score: la douche - 258; Polly - 0

What? Oh, of course I’ve tried to fix it, and to get it fixed. I may be a tad lazy at times, but I’m hardly a masochist. I turn the sélecteur de temperature down a notch, and then get no warm water at all. I’m worried that it may be a calcaire problem or some other unknown French plumbing nightmare, so I descale all the robinetterie. Again. Then I call in the experts.

I ask the plombier. "Oh, it's not a plumbing problem, Madame,” he insists, “it's a question of the chaudière. You need to speak with the company that maintains your water heater."

I ask the ramoneur. "Oh, it's not a chaudière problem, Madame.” He insists, “it's a question of the water pressure in your building. You need to speak with the syndic." (For this I pay him 180€ annually for a maintenance contract?)

I ask the... well, on it goes. The apartment syndicat will say it's the problem of the City of Paris, who will say it is the problem of Lyonnaise des Eaux, who will say it is because of the government, who will say it's all because...of God or the Pope or the Socialists.

You know what, fellas? I really don't care. I promise not to blame anyone. I just want to take a shower. Just a short, steady, happy warm one. Please?

Meanwhile, I am convinced that a bulging, secret dossier bearing my name is winging its way from Lyonnaise des Eaux to the Trésor Publique, denouncing me for secretly harboring an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool in my 70-square-meter flat. This is the only logical bureaucratic deduction to be made by the water company, judging from my astronomical monthly water consumption. Water which, ironically, rarely touches my skin.

And, meanwhile, my personal hygiene is taking a major hit. Body odor may help clear out a section of the bus if you’re trying to score a seat, but vague lingering odiferousness from long-term shower-deprivation is not a desirable condition. Especially not recommended for general dating appeal or job interviews.

The upside, of course, is that houseguests never overstay their welcome. Heh-heh.

Sometimes I daydream. What was a real shower like, anyway? It’s been so long. When I try to remember, it’s like leafing through the pages of a tattered high-school yearbook, wracking my brain trying to recall the memories of happy showers of yesteryear. The bygone bathing days in when I could actually loofah and do all those other perfumed girlie tasks while the après-shampooing conditioner worked its one-minute magic on my flowing tresses. Did those golden years of bona fide showers really exist, or is it my imagination?

These days I'm lucky if I eke a decent birdbath from ten minutes’ wrangling with the shower. And even then, I grit my teeth and embark on my morning ablutions with a sense of dread matched only by my enthusiasm for, say, having my tonsils yanked sans anesthesia. Anyway, with all these eau chaude/eau froide shenanigans, I’ll be easy to recognize at the beach next week: I’ll be the unkempt lady sporting first-degree burns on one shoulder, minor frostbite on the other.

You know, sounds really ricochet in this apartment building, but I never hear my neighbors making any noise in their showers; maybe they all take soaker baths instead.

But this I know. I know they can't see me, but they hear me. And they wonder about me and my showertime theatrics.

They wonder if I’m some sort of Irma la Douche.


Isabelle said...

Dear Irma, apparently the "complot mondial" is well and alive, even in August, in a deserted Paris!!
All I can tell you is that in French buildings, the higher you live, the worst the water pressure is...
The only solution is to look for a ground floor apartment. In the meantime, bon courage with your whimsical shower!

Sarah said...

oh that is too funny-arctic or cauldron! Too funny, I thought this post was going somewhere else entirely.

Dave said...

Hi Polly,
Well...... here in far off Australia I have a similar type of hot water system - and it's French!
Some things to remember:
If the water flow is too little then the system will shut off the gas! Soooo turn it on full blast. On the system there may be a little tap that controls the water flow into the system -- turn it on full blast!
Then you need to control the temp... not as easy but basically a combination of ajusting the amount of gas -- there should be a knob on the chaudiere... OR mixing cold water using your tap...
If all else fails try filling a bucket, mixing for the best temp then ladle it over yourself using a small plastic scoop of some sort - it';s actually a great way to wash and pouring the remaining water from the bucket over yourself is great! HTH Dave :)

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Thanks for the sympathy -- it didn't quite seem like a complot mondial this time, just the realization that my neighbors could hear my swearing. Uh, they were a bit stronger than what I actually wrote.

Ladle. Got it.
Actually, though, thanks for the advice.

The funny thing is that the shower used to work like a charm. I don't know when it changed. Maybe after the day that the building's water was "off" for the morning so they could do travaux. That was six months ago.

Unknown said...


You can easily install yourself a
Thermostatic mixing tap ( )

Available in France in all DIY shop (for example : )

Be sure to choose a tap for hot water system without electrical storage water heater.

Et voilà !



blueVicar said...

Years ago while in graduate school I lived in a duplex with a small house out back which I subleased to an allegedly nice little old lady. The only problem was that when she ran either the hot or cold water in her abode, the temperature of my shower went the other direction. As she wasn't overly fond of me or my various room-mates, I was sure that she enjoyed torturing us with the extreme water temperatures. Screams of various ilk emanated from the bathroom, and probably the house. Small wonder the police didn't show up.

Yep, your shower troubles remind me of good ol' Maxine. I finally had to move to end my trials; I hope your solution is easier to come by.

Meilleurs voeux!!

David said...

My shower, curiously, only has reliably hot water during the summer months. Come winter, for some reason, the hot water may grudgingly trickle out if I coax it out very, very slowly.

Luckily my plumber is adorable so I don't mind a yearly detartrage. And he doesn't mind coming, since he gets free ice cream.

Mo said...

My mother's place in Ireland had similar problems. She got something like a "power shower" or electic shower? What ever it was it solved the problem. It was installed in the shower by the showerhead if memory serves me.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Thank you everyone, for your great advice.

Of course, David L, if I could make FABULOUS ice cream the way you do I'd have no problem luring and maintaining top-notch repairmen in Paris. Do you think they'd accept store-bought? Nahh. Or should I just offer them a calva or something?

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