What is happening to estate agents? Or let me put it another way. If the professional classes thought they were going to escape unscathed from ‘free movement of people’ then they were wrong.
I feel it is only fair to warn the office workers and the suited and booted that their salaries are no longer safe from the Eurovision job contest.
I know this because I have been trying to sell my flat for a while and a part of the problem has been that the agent put in charge of selling it was a young girl who, while sweet, lacked the ideal vocab range.
I overheard her doing a viewing one day: ‘This is sitting room, where you can sit. This is bathroom, for take bath. This is bedroom where you can make sexy-time.’
Oh fine, so she didn’t say sexy-time but you get the picture. When the flat didn’t shift in two months, I rang a rival agent and there turned up on my doorstep a home counties slicker in an expensive suit who ordered me to remove everything interesting and cultured from my flat, the piano and all the books. Thank the lord, I’m in business, I thought.
‘I’m sorry this has been so complicated, with me changing agents and all that,’ I said, and he fixed me with a sexy smile (he may even have clicked his fingers) and said: ‘Hey! It’s not complicated. You’ve got a beautiful flat. And we’re gonna sell it.’ Finally, I had the agent of my dreams, a real walking cliché.
A few days later, however, there was a knock on my door. Bending down to grab the barking spaniel, I opened it still bent double and when I looked up, an extremely slim, tanned man in skintight drainpipe trousers and pointy shoes was standing there.
‘’Ello! And ’ow are you?’ he said. I scowled, as it was obviously a double glazing salesman, or someone selling Herbal Life.
‘I’m busy,’ I said. ‘What do you want?’
‘You don’t get mah text? Arr was jus’ passin’ and arr thought arr would come and ’ave a look at your luvlee flat. You knur, so arr can see what ’arm sellin’.’
You have got to be kidding me, I thought. After all that reassurance from the slicker, it turned out Inspector Clouseau would be showing people round my property.
‘Oh no. Look here,’ I said, holding the spaniel back but only just, wondering whether I might just let her loose to throw herself at him and put muddy paw marks down his drainpipes. ‘I don’t want...’
Don’t want what? I can’t say I don’t want a Frenchman showing my flat. There are probably still EU laws against that. But I did want to ask him how long he had been living in Balham and how well he knew the area. Surely that was legitimate?
I told him to come back later as I was busy, and made a mental note to ring the slicker to tell him how disappointed I was. But before I got the chance to do that, the slicker rang me.
‘Hey! How ...are ...you!’ he said, in his best gameshow host patois. I grunted. ‘So, we’ve suddenly had a massive rush of new buyers registering and we need to be ready to go! I’m gonna finalise your property details and get them to you today! What I need you to do for me is check them over so you can give us the go ahead to get this show on the road!’
‘Yes, fine,’ I mumbled. ‘I’ll look at them. Only, I’m getting a bit worried about...’
‘Hey! You’re breaking up. Hello?’
‘Oh, forget it. That’s fine. Send them out.’
‘Grrrrreat! Speak soon. And you have a grrrrrrrrreat day now!’
A few hours later the details crackled through the letterbox, and after opening them with a sense of exhaustion and dread I was not surprised to find that they featured an almost unreadable series of boasts in pidgin English.
For example: ‘In the hallway there is a generous under stairs cupboard, for those traditional needs!’ Traditional needs exclamation mark? Really?
Clearly, the Frenchman had done it. He had translated some idiomatic phrases from French into English, literally. Whatever wit resides in besoins traditionnels does not travel.
Perhaps if you’re a Parisian estate agent referring to an understairs cupboard in les banlieues, you engage some innuendo alluding to the fact that French people conduct their dangerous liaisons in such places. Who knows? But someone should tell the Frenchman that in boring old Balham there are no wink wink traditional needs wink wink for the understairs cupboard. A simple reference to storage would suffice. No knee-trembler references needed. In our culture, it is simply a matter of stashing a vacuum cleaner, thank you.