A knock on the door. Michael opens it to find a thirty-something woman standing before him. Rapid fire Spanish bursts from her mouth and Michael, having arrived in Spain just six weeks earlier, is mystified.
“No entiendo,” he manages to get out, which only means, “I don’t understand,” so the woman starts to explain it all over again. In Spanish.
Michael pulls out his phone and opens the Google Translate app. He turns on the microphone and holds it up to the woman. For the third time, she tells her story. In paragraphs. Lots of them.
In-a-nutshell, she was complaining about the furniture we’d purchased and put on the building’s communal terrace.
The terrace and our apartment are the only things occupying the top floor of our building. And we were told, by our landlords, that we could put whatever we want on the terrace as no one else ever uses it. As long as whatever we do is not affixed to the building and we remove it when we move out.
Michael, after reading the woman’s complaint (which also informed us we weren’t allowed to have cats on the terrace), used the app to ask her, “Do you even live in this building?”
Yes, she did. On the first floor.
“Well, you’re welcome to use the furniture any time,” he told her.
“That’s not the point,” she told him. “It’s against the rules to have it out there.”
I was not home at the time of this exchange but it was, in all honesty, all my fault.
Earlier in the week, when the furniture was being delivered, I stood holding the front door of the building open. Our 3rd floor neighbor, who runs the bar/restaurant two doors down from us, saw me and asked what was going on.
Delighted to be able to use my newly-learned Spanish, I told him it was “meubles” for the “terrazza.”
We were told neighbors hardly even talk to each other in Spain. But I’m American. And Bar Guy is a friendly Romanian. And, much to Michael’s disappointment, we talked. Maybe too much. I told Bar Guy. And Bar Guy told our lovely first-floor neighbor.
Michael called the landlord who assured us, as the Spanish like to do, that this wasn’t a problem. He’d call the head of the building board and straighten it out.
Walking into our building a couple days later, we found a one-page letter on official-looking letterhead was taped (completely—around all four sides) to the front of the elevator door. On our floor the same letter was taped in the same way to the community door out to the terrace (which we don’t use because we have terrace access right from our apartment. But we can see the letter as soon as we get out of the elevator).
I held Google Translate up to the letter and learned it was the section of the building rules that outlined the terrace provisions (cats were not mentioned).
Michael again called the landlord (who, thankfully, speaks English). “No pasa nada,” we were told again. Which, to us, means, “no one worries about these things and you shouldn’t either.” It’s used a lot here.
But we, as new Spanish residents, and old Americans, were worried. So we, as Americans, called a lawyer.
“If they really want you to remove the furniture,” he told us, “they’ll have to pay to file a lawsuit against you.”
He informed us that:
A) No one will want to pay the money and
B) The lawsuit would take months to go through the courts.
So we had a good few months to enjoy our porch furniture before it could (possibly) be forcibly removed. If at all. No pasa nada.
We asked the landlord what would happen. He told us our porch furniture would be a topic at the next building meeting, which we didn’t need to attend as we were not owners.
That date came and went. We heard nothing. So we called the landlord who, by now, either hates us or finds us wildly entertaining. I’m hoping the latter.
“How’d the meeting go?” Michael asked.
“Well, everyone could understand both sides,” he told us. Oh. Remember when the Americans were like that? I thought. “The only one who really had a problem was the neighbor you met.”
“So now what?” Michael asked.
“Don’t worry about it. If anyone complains again, just call me.”
That was seven months ago. Michael tells me he’s seen the first floor neighbor a couple times and she won’t make eye contact with him. He wants to invite her over for dinner.
On the ground floor, someone moved the letter from the elevator door to the mechanical room door.
And the letter on our floor? It still stares at us each time we arrive on our floor. I’m thinking of taking it down. And framing it. It will make a nice keepsake.
(And we’re thinking of getting a couple cats.)