Illegal but Charming

It’s freezing in my house right now 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.
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