It's freezing in my house right now (the plumbers haven't come back yet to finish the job), and I had just put my warm bathrobe on over my street clothes and sat down to work when I heard a knock at the front door. Thinking A had lost the key, I ran to open it. A large black man in a gray pullover looked me up and down. "You are the mistress of the house?" he said doubtfully.
"Oui," I said. Across the hall I could see my new British neighbor retreating behind his door, looking puzzled, holding a tiny red card in his hand.
The large man smiled and gave me a card as well. "It's for the garbagemen, madame. The calendar."
Ah! I nodded and went to fetch my wallet.
The yearly étrennes, or tips, for the garbagemen of the city! It is, strictly speaking, completely illegal for a government employee to come and solicit tips in the apartment buildings. But it's an old custom, and the firemen, policemen and garbagemen still do it every year. I must admit the Paris firemen's cheap but large calendar makes a better impression hanging on a wall back in the States, where I usually send it to someone. One thing I have never understood, though, is the purpose of the saints' names on the calendar on the back. Maybe a French person can explain that to me.