You may or may not be familiar with the feeling and anxiety you experience on your final day of your tenancy. Excitement of leaving mingled with the feeling of wrapping up and closing an old chapter. The day when push comes to shove and the landlord or his representative goes through a long list of items to decide on how well you have taken care of their property. It is always a bit of a stressful experience in any case, walking through each and every room, opening every cupboard and seeing every floor and wall inspected for scratches and holes. The good old état des lieux as the check out inventory is called in France.
First impressions can be wrong
The morning I said Good Bye to our home for the last three years some time ago was a memorable one.
It’s already tough enough to go through the l’état des lieux when it’s only been an apartment you briefly lived in and have no emotional attachment to, but doing it on the final day for apartment you have shared with your partner for three years is something else all together. The place where you have shared your first romantic dinner in your shared home and enjoyed wonderful evenings with friends is difficult to leave behind. Even more so when the person in charge of the état des lieux is a cold professional who couldn’t care less about all these beautiful moments.
Upon awakening and with nothing left in the apartment, I walked across the street to a Boulangerie to get a croissant and a coffee. When I returned to the apartment I still had fifteen minutes to spare. Time that I used to double check that everything was in functioning order and that we really had succeeded in cleaning the apartment spotless.
Only seconds after putting on the last finishes, the door bell rang and a well dressed gentleman stepped through the door. A very brief Bonjour and he continued straight to the kitchen to start the visit.
Friendly, I thought, very Parisian. For the next minutes his conversational style was rather precise. He went straight to the point, not wasting too much time with small talk and friendly chit chat.
As we continued the état des lieux, things continued to be rather cold, until …
The architecture of moving out
This is what I love about people. They can be aloof and protective of their real selves. But even the most distant and cold will change when the conversation turns to something they are passionate about.
As we were standing in the bathroom, he noticed a few cracks in the wall. His remark was as sharp as a knife or rather as tough as a wall. A brief “crack” before noting new things into his tablet was all I heard and saw.
This was until I mentioned the traffic site across the street. Cracks had started appearing in the ceiling of our living room when construction began on a five-storey building across the street.
“Not to worry,” he remarked, “all the cracks you see here are nothing serious. They are simply signs of an aging and a living building.”
The conversational turning point
As we walked into the living room he pointed at the cracks explaining to me the architectural changes since the early 20th century. I learned, amongst many other things, that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, buildings were erected using wooden boards and stone. Now while this might not be news, the fact that in old buildings in Paris you can actually see where the wooden boards were placed inside the wall by following vertical cracks was rather fascinating.
In fact, the aging of a building leaves its traces in the form of small cracks in walls, ceilings, and particularly in the corners.
“But,” he explained, “as these two materials – wooden boards and stone – don’t go together, the stone shows crack where the wooden panels begin and end. It was a free lesson of architecture. I will certainly look at walls differently in the future.
But this was even more interesting from an investment point of view. As you may have read, we recently bought our first property. The price was relatively low for Parisian standards, but for that reason it came with a few beauty patches. In fact, some of the cracks in the wall appeared dangerously thick. But everyone we asked told us that this would not be an issue and it is due to the age of the building.
As I am not an architect or property expert of any kind, I need to rely on the expertise of others.
But I find that when it comes to knowledge you can never have enough of it. Particularly when I have someone right there with me who turns out to be an architect.
It was reassuring to hear that before cracks turn into a fatal force it takes a lot.
So the aloof first encounter turned into a very valuable lesson in architecture.
The philosophy of moving out
But this is not where it stopped. Over the course of an hour I not only learned that he was a retired former architect who conducted état des lieux as a bit of side work to stay active, but also an avid reader and writer of poems and philosophy.
And this is what I love about people.
When we started talking about what I do for a living we quickly moved from industrial psychology to philosophy. This is where the conversation instantly moved into passionate territory.
He spoke about his favorite philosopher Heidegger and the beauty of Proust’s language to the shortage of great modern philosophers and poets. The former aloof encounter turned into a never-ending warm conversation. In fact to a point where he surprisingly looked at his watch only to notice that he was already running late for his next appointment.
It may not be philosophy, it may be sports or art, music or theater, investing or saving. The beauty is that no matter how cold an initial encounter may be, if you trigger someone else’s passion, you will enjoy wonderful memorable moments. And you will even learn many new useful things.
This is the magic of human encounters: We only see the outer layer, but we will only learn what lies beneath if we try to understand the other. So a big thank you to the great gentleman I had the pleasure of meeting that morning.