French Keys

new keys post BLOG

I was never afraid of keys until I moved to Paris. People have all sorts of phobias, many that seem curious to others who don’t share them, such as auroraphobia, a fear of Northern lights and euphobia, which is a fear of good news. Papyrophobia is a fear of paper, and macrophobia is a fear of long waits. But I’ve never heard of a fear of keys, like I have.

Most of us have had the displeasure of losing our keys or getting locked out of our house or apartment. The first time I felt real terror rising up through me regarding my French keys was when a friend had her purse swiped at a café on the rue Montorgueil a day before she was leaving for vacation. She called me in a tizzy and told me that she had to pay over €1000 ($1120) for someone to come and change her lock.

Because she lived in a swanky part of town, the Saint-Germain area, I though that those prices were unique to that exclusive neighborhood as it seemed like a lot of money. (Note: I found it that it’s not exclusive to that neighborhood.) But on the other hand, being stranded outside your apartment, or being cambriolé (burglarized) – well, it’s easy to see why most people would just pull out their checkbook and get back inside. Although I am not sure why I said “most people” because you don’t really have a choice. Do you?

I haven’t seen digital keypads yet in France, and perhaps they aren’t as secure as regular keys, but they seem a lot more convenient. (Which is another reason they might not have them in France.) But could be a better solution because you wouldn’t have to worry about locking yourself out or losing your keys. The locksmiths might not be happy though, and no one wants them to go on strike. Because then we’d all be out on the street, wandering around in our sweatpants and flip-flops like I was the day I slammed the door shut behind me with the key firmly in place, inside.

I’ve locked myself out twice. Once I was able to get back in because I gave a spare pair of keys to a neighbor and I hadn’t left the key inside, in the lock. But the other time, I had left the key in the lock, inside, which makes it impossible to get in unless you have someone drill a hole through the door. I had gone out to empty the garbage wearing my spring work outfit: Shorts, a tattered t-shirt, and flip flops. I didn’t bring my wallet or phone with me because who takes their wallet with them to empty the trash? – which I do, now, along with my cell phone and a change of clothes. I was alone on the street as the sun was going down, wondering what I was going to do. A few neighbors came to help, trying credit cards and so forth to slip the lock, but no dice.

I thanked them, thinking that it would have been nice if they offered me a place to stay for the next few days, as I wasn’t sure where I would go or what I would do. And in the end, my only recourse was to Système D, the French way of figuring out a quick solution to a problem, and to work my way though a métro turnstile wearing what wasn’t my Sunday best to get to a friend’s place who had my key, hoping to avoid the inspectors that patrol the métro, ticketing scofflaws who try to ride for free. And no, you can’t get out of a fine, even if you explain you’re a tourist who sometimes throws their ticket in the trash after the pass through the gates, which I see people do: If you’re a voyager sans ticket, the fine is €50 on the spot or €75 if you pay it within two months. If they have to come after you for it, it rises to €180. I couldn’t pay on the spot because I had nothing, and because I’m so law-abiding, I would have walked, but a forty-five minute stroll through Paris dressed for business (well, my business, anyways…) was not really an option.

(For those who think the French aren’t enterprising, a group of young people who jump the turnstiles who believe public transportation should be free, have organized to pay into a common “pool,” sort of a makeshift “insurance,” to pay a ticket if one of their lot is caught.)

I don’t mind paying for public transport, especially because the Paris métro service is excellent. But I do mind paying €1000+ to have a door opened because I locked myself out. I don’t really know what it costs elsewhere, but this site says in the U.S., the cost can “…go as high as $150-$250.” (And some people in the comments, in the U.S., were irate about that.) I’d consider it a bargain at this point and I wouldn’t be so freaked out about leaving my apartment, as I am now. Hence, I rarely go out anymore.

The longer I live in Paris, the larger the collection of keys in my possession, meaning the more likely it is that I am going to misplace one. The most cherished key in my collection costs a whopping €125 to have a spare made. In order to do so, I need to supply the company with a copy of my passport, a sworn statement that it’s for my apartment, and a copy of one’s all-important electric bill, which proves that you live in your apartment. It has to be sent registered mail, with a signature required by the recipient, then, signed for again upon its return. These keys are so valuable that I have one locked in my coffre-fort (safe deposit box). Lord knows how much those replacement keys cost, in case I lose the one for that.

Someday, perhaps, we will move toward digital keypads with the same vitesse as people took in Paris to their mobile phones. I’m not sure when that will be, but from now on, I’m going back to dressing up again to empty the garbage, as a precaution, and maybe start paying into the insurance pool that turnstile-jumpers, just in case I need to test my ability to sauter (jump) in the future. In the meanwhile, I’m saving my centimes for another copy of my key, just in case.

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  • October 12, 2015 1:55pm

    Oh, wow! This made me laugh over breakfast, which I appreciate, but I’m sorry you had to go through all that.

    I’m not sure if it’s quite a phobia, but I really hate umbrellas and grocery carts. The silver lining is that using a handheld basket every time I shop for food is a good arm workout, right?

  • Andrea
    October 12, 2015 3:49pm

    I’m horrible with keys, but not afraid of them per se. I have climbed to my roof and down my fire escape to get into my own apartment after living myself out though.

    I’m never sure if I’m glad or disturbed that neighbors haven’t noticed or called the cops the few times I’ve done it.

  • Melissa
    October 12, 2015 4:18pm

    Oh goodness, your key tales makes my Paris key story seem like nothing! My sister-in-law and I (and her two small boys) once rented a small airbnb apartment in the Marais to explore the city. One night we came back rather late after a very full day of sightseeing, only to find that our key would. not. work. We frantically double checked the key! the floor! the door! The apartment number! Only to finally notice that the lock was different than it had been that morning– they had changed the locks while we were out. We checked our email, to find that they had emailed us earlier in the day notifying us that it would happen, but we hadn’t exactly been checking our email while out and about. We called them, they said that they would have to see if the locksmith was still open (Americans that we are, it didn’t occur to us that there was any other option than to get us a key someway, somehow, since we had rented the place!). Luckily he was, and they rushed a key to us, as we sat exhausted on the floor for over an hour, me 7 months pregnant, and the two little boys fell asleep on our spread-out coats. I still shake my head that they decided to change the locks while the apartment was occupied, but the more I hear about how hard it is to get things done over there I begin to be a little more sympathetic to them and appreciate how promptly they responded.

    • Carren J Stika
      October 12, 2015 7:38pm

      Now THAT’S an incredible story!!

  • Icechip
    October 12, 2015 4:24pm

    Sounds like a racket to me.

  • Olivier
    October 12, 2015 4:43pm

    David, as much as I enjoy your posts about food and whatnot, this one about keys borders on moronic.

    First off, your friend is an idiot if she paid 1000€ to have her door opened. The only people who charge that much are the guys who hire illegals to slip ads under your door. All police stations have a list of genuine locksmiths who will gladly open your door for a fraction of the cost.

    Regarding the cost of replacement keys, you’re comparing oranges to toaster ovens. In the US, 99% of locks used in houses are cheap, easy to pick locks that use unsecured keys. This is much less often the case in France, especially in the larger cities where security is a concern. Also, you don’t put cheap locks on expensive armoured doors (porte blindée) as they’re not insurance approved. As a consequence, secure, coded keys cost more to replace and yes, some of the prices are outrageous, as can happen in captive markets with little competition.

    Your post makes it seem like we’re a bunch of idiots who spend fortunes on keys and locksmiths. It’s not true. You get what you pay for and security (vs just preventing your 5-year old from opening the door) is expensive. A cheap lock provides no security at all and if you’ve every been locked out of a US house or apartment, you can either break down the door or fool the lock with a credit card.

    Not so in France.

    • October 12, 2015 4:51pm
      David Lebovitz

      Hi Olivier – I certainly don’t think people here are idiots. And yes, you’re right that the locks here are much better than most locks in America. However I’ve lived in New York City and San Francisco and never paid such attention to my keys. I can’t figure out why many doors here automatically lock behind ti whe you close them, which makes it easy to lock yourself out. I know! : )

      I am personally afraid of keys and while that doesn’t reflect the entire country or city, I do know neighbors (French and other nationalities) who are concerned they’ll do the same thing. Thanks for the heads-up on the police-approved locksmiths. I’m going to print that one out…just in case!

      • Katie
        October 12, 2015 5:48pm

        Last week, when I was still living in NYC, I paid $270 for a locksmith to drill/open the complex, heavy-duty bolt-lock to get me back in (not everything in the U.S. is cheap, garbage Olivier). Coincidentally, I’ve just finished a round of apartment hunting in Paris as as I’ve just moved to the city. French keys are most certainly in my future. While humorous, this post was a very helpful article and I too expect to have a healthy fear/respect for my French keys. Thanks to David.

      • soozzie
        October 12, 2015 5:59pm

        David, locks that require a key to lock or unlock on the inside are often illegal in the US, and almost always illegal in rental units. The concern is that occupant might not be able to find the key in case of fire or other emergency. It drives me crazy in France to watch friends scuffle about for their keys to LEAVE their homes or apartments. The only other alternative is to leave the key in the lock, which makes it possible to be locked out, as you describe. It is possible, though expensive, to have safer American-style locks with more secure multilock keys in the US.

        As for the danger of losing keys in Paris, there is nothing like being awakened at 4 AM by the locksmith drilling a lock on a neighbor’s door. If you rent apartments in France, I recommend that even non-French speakers memorize a few choice French phrases for such occasions. It won’t make any difference, and the locksmith won’t care, but you will feel better.

        • October 13, 2015 7:26am
          David Lebovitz

          Yes, I think it’s not a great idea to have locks that only open with keys inside doors, because not only is there a danger of locking yourself out but if there is a fire and you haven’t left the key in the lock, it’s kind of dangerous. Not sure why they still make/install those?

      • Deb
        October 14, 2015 7:31am

        Hi, I’m staying in southern France (Villefranche sur Mer) for a month and a friend sent me this article because last week, I, too, was locked out of my apartment, with the key in the lock on the other side. It was 9:00 at night but I was with friends, so we had access to a computer and found a locksmith, who came from Nice. He used an odd piece of paper, which appeared to be magnetized, slipped it in between the door and the frame, and got it opened in less than 10 seconds. For this, he charged me 360€! Some of the people in the area knew about this magic paper – they called it “radio” in French. I’m not sure it would work in every door, but it’s worth checking out, especially if you live in France. If it works on your door, you could go back to taking out your trash in your flip flops and sweats, as long as you keep the magic paper in your pocket. Thanks so much for your story – maybe 360€ was a bargain! Deb

        • lynn
          October 20, 2015 10:31pm

          the magic paper “radio” is an x ray.
          my husband and i locked ourselves out of our apartment twice in the first 2 months we lived in paris…. we keep an old mammogram under a potted plant!

    • Natasha
      October 12, 2015 5:22pm

      You think so? I needed to get some extra keys cut for my front door. I went to a local locksmith, who quoted me 300 euros per individual key. These are quality keys, made in Spain – seven point locks. I found a franchise for the brand in the UK, sent an email with my unique code, and the woman running the franchise made me five keys for £17 in a week. There is a massive, massive problem in France, where overcharging for keys is standard practice.

      • Natasha
        October 12, 2015 5:24pm

        And my neighbour just paid 1200 euros to have her front door opened when the key malfunctioned.

      • Al
        October 13, 2015 1:04am

        Wow, that is fantastic to know! My wife and I have a friend who makes a habit of losing our spare keys when she stays with us, and we wouldn’t give her a key when she came to stay with us in France because if she lost it, our landlord would make us replace all of the keys and the lock (and told it would run about 1500 euros to do so if we chose our own locksmith). Good to know we might be able to get relatively cheap spares made in the UK.

        And for what it’s worth, we had an equally secure door when we lived in Belgium and it cost us less than 15 euros per key to get spares made.

        I love living in France and think the world of the French people, but their collective obsession with the security of their doors will probably always be a mystery to me. My current apartment, which is in a very “good” neighborhood, has a gate with a keypad, then a door with a second keypad (and second code), a third door that can only be passed with a key or by being buzzed in by a tenant, and then finally the heavy apartment door with the expensive lock. And yet the people in my building still seem freaked out by the possibility of a break-in. It makes me wonder how I never was burgled in 10+ years in a bad-ish neighborhood of Atlanta in a ground-floor apartment with wimpy locks and a flimsy door….

        • October 13, 2015 7:34am
          David Lebovitz

          I’ve always thought it was interesting that delivery people won’t leave packages with neighbors or in hallways in Paris. My French partner said that it’s because they are afraid they will get stolen. They used to leave packages for me outside of my apartment in San Francisco all the time and I don’t think one ever went missing. I once took a package for a neighbor (because I knew the deliveryman) and my neighbor was so, so grateful, because I saved him about 3 days of trying to get the package redelivered.

          • Mary F.
            October 13, 2015 6:02pm

            Yet another difference between us and the French. I somehow think that the obsession with security relates to the history of the place. Who doesn’t want more security when you had Nazi’s and other dangerous occupiers running things? Interesting post, as always.

          • Marie
            October 16, 2015 4:31pm

            Hi David, unfortunately I think this is not only an unfounded fear. We have the paper “annuaires” delivered once a year, and they’re usually left hanging on our gate’s handles. On the very day when it was left it was stolen from my neighbour living across the street, even though it is something which is free for everybody to ask for in France. And I live in a very peaceful neighbourhood…

          • October 18, 2015 6:41pm

            UPS and FedEx leave packages on our front door step all the time. I see packages on my neighbors’ porches. If I know the neighbor is out of town, I will bring the package in to my house. The only thing they won’t leave is boxes of wine, which is maddening, because it makes it a pain in the neck to make sure someone is at home to sign for it.

        • October 18, 2015 6:43pm

          Mary E, I am laughing at your post because I have always thought that explains bad road signs in the US – they are worried the Germans will invade and don’t want them to be able to find anything.

    • Judy Day
      October 12, 2015 6:24pm

      I take exception to your comment about this post. I thought it was very entertaining. David does not always have to talk about food. I find it interesting to learn about the quirks of different countries. So continue writing the blogs you do and know that most of us really look forward to them.

    • Jenica
      October 12, 2015 8:58pm

      Oliver – I don’t think there is any reason to call someone’s post moronic. If you don’t agree, you don’t agree. If you think there is incorrect or missing information, just make your case in a mature manner. There’s no reason to tell someone you like what they do but then say it’s moronic.

    • Philippejj
      October 12, 2015 9:13pm

      I am with David: it was 980 Euros to have our 18th arrondissement apartment main door lock replaced when it all a sudden it stopped working and we were stuck outside. The locksmith was an official locksmith on Rue Ordener, not one of those “flyers” guys.
      And on another occasion, it was 10 Euros to make a copy of a simple flat door key that would have cost me $1.50 in the US.
      When I asked about those incredible prices, a French friend told me that, like many things in France, locksmiths are highly regulated and have to go through rigorous background check and have to be registered with the police. If this is true, then the equation is simple: High barriers of entry = quasi monopoly for those who are in = high prices…

    • Pamanela
      October 13, 2015 11:18pm

      We rent an apartment every year on Île St Louis and the owner cautions us not to lose the key or leave it in the lock or in the apartment because it DOES cost 1000 euros to have it change. Our landlady is French but lives part of the year in San Francisco. We have been going to Paris every year for the past 6 years. This is NOT bunk.
      Our building has a keypad to get into the foyer, but from that point on, it requires keys.
      Thanks, David.

    • October 15, 2015 6:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      Hi Olivier: I tried to find a list of locksmiths on the préfecture de police website of Paris, as well as my local mairie, and couldn’t find any listings after extensive searching. If you have a link to that, that would be great information to have and others would certainly benefit. (As well as helping out legitimate businesses, too!) So if you could leave the link here, that would be great and I’ll bring it up to the top of the post. Thanks!

      • Marie
        October 16, 2015 4:19pm

        Hello David, this is not exactly what you asked for but I think that that article could bring some useful informations.

        It is from “60 millions de consommateurs” (you might be familiar with the name of the magazine) and give good advice as to how avoid those types of “arnaques”. And locksmiths asking for prices like that is unfortunately a very frequent one in France…

        The article is a bit old (it was written in 2012) but I think it still is acurate.

  • Catherine
    October 12, 2015 5:39pm

    Racketeering and burglarized in the same post.

    In England, it’s called being burgled.

    Some good tips there for paying less for your keys!

  • patsy enelow
    October 12, 2015 5:45pm

    I’m so glad you wrote about something no one talks (writes) about.
    My apartment key replacement would cost nearly 1000€!

  • Gayle
    October 12, 2015 5:45pm

    Jeez, your story still isn’t as embarrassing as mine. I lived on the 2nd floor, locked my keys in my car (car running, or course) and had to call the fire dept.

    The fireman put a ladder up to my bedroom window, and (I realized afterward) stepped right in on to yesterday’s underpants on the floor where I’d stepped out of them.

    Oy. I’ve never left them on the floor since.

  • October 12, 2015 5:46pm

    I’m afraid of keys too. We discovered we had lost the key for our paris apt late on a saturday night after returning from dinner with friends. We also discovered the concierge was out of town until the following afternoon. Fortunately the hotel down the street had a vacant room.

  • October 12, 2015 5:50pm

    I would like to see a short story that begins with the sentence “I was never afraid of keys until I moved to Paris”. If I were in your position I would be afraid too.

  • joan
    October 12, 2015 5:57pm

    We have a locksmith on the rdc of our building and a set of replacement keys for the three locks on our door costs almost 200€. The first time we had an extra set made I almost had a heart attack when I got the bill. (Not to mention it took two days.) Since then, I’ve discovered that BHV has a little shop on one of the side streets that makes keys at a fraction of the price. Definitely worth the trip.

  • Steve
    October 12, 2015 6:11pm

    I just stayed with a friend in the Marais and his building has a keypad to get in downstairs. Then he had a single key to his door upstairs. Easy!

  • October 12, 2015 6:29pm

    I chuckled when I read that you had to supply a copy of your electric bill to get a spare key made. That’s exactly how it is here in Mexico. The electric bill is almost as important as one’s passport or voter ID card for getting anything done that involves officialdom or a document. My friend who lives off the grid had to jump through a few hoops to get proof of her domicile. Do you think Mexico learned this practice during the ill-fated reign of France’s Maximilian and Carlota? :)

    • Droelma
      October 12, 2015 11:15pm

      Luckily here in Mexico City ( and I assume also in the rest of the country ) we can use the electric bill, gas, water and phone bill as long as it is in our name.
      To make a contract with the cable company however I had to show my electricity bill, they insisted on it.
      Just last week I had a copy of a rather fancy key made for a high security lock and the locksmith apologized for the price: 55.- pesos….roughly US$ 3.30.
      An emergency visit by a locksmith to open a door is 150-200 pesos ( 10-13 dollars ), but then again minimum wage is US$-.45 ( yes, 45 cents ) an hour.

  • October 12, 2015 6:40pm

    I can definitely relate to this post as an expat. When we first lived in Leipzig (East Germany) we subletted an apartment. All completely legal and above board and approved by the committee of the building and the hausmeister. The kicker was that we were only allowed one key. It had writing on it specifying that the key could not be cut and copied. Not great when you are both travelling in different time zones.

    The key opened not only our door but also the front door. If we lost it, we would be required by law to replace the front door keys of all the tenants in the building, at the cost of several thousand Euros. This is not uncommon in Leipzig. Extremely stressful. If we had contents insurance, we were advised to include our key.

    I once locked myself out (with the key inside) and paid 80€ for an approved guy to come and open the door. Luckily the key was in the apartment where I’d accidentally left it on the way to language school.

    Luckily Berlin where we now live, is a bit less stressful, they gave us three copies of the keys! Phew….

    • tim
      October 13, 2015 1:02am

      When I lived in Koln, they wouldn’t let me make a 2nd key for the building. Even said so on the key itself.

      My apartment door was one of the self locking ones. I had to climb the fire escape from a neighbors window(who was a prostitute) to get in. Luckly I kept my windows open.

    • Ann
      October 14, 2015 12:57am

      That’s nuts! I’m stressed just reading all these stories, yours especially.

  • ellen
    October 12, 2015 6:42pm

    For what it’s worth, we were in Paris twice last month, staying a a couple of different Airbnbs. Both had keypads on the street doors.

    • Kim B.
      October 12, 2015 10:16pm

      Most if not all apartment buildings in France have electronic keypads to enter the *building.*. I’ve never lived in one that didn’t.

      What David is talking about is keyless entry to the *apartment*.

  • October 12, 2015 6:43pm

    personally, I’m waiting for biometric locks (It would certainly curtail all the noisy airbnb guests here in Berlin)…

  • Mary
    October 12, 2015 7:16pm

    Paris keys are something to be afraid of! About two years ago we accidentally left the key to our apartment at home in the USA. It was a nightmare trying to track down the spare key in Paris (at 6am) and then having our keys FedExed to us so we could return the spares! Another time, we left a set of keys in the apartment for a couple who rents the apartment with us- assuming had a set already. They did not! We tried to have the key copied here in New Orleans and our best locksmith here could not do it! The french keys have certainly made me glad for my easy american locks though I wish mine were as secure… always a trade-off somewhere!

  • October 12, 2015 7:33pm

    What a riot! Thanks for making me laugh with my afternoon latte!

    I think you’ll be making quite a fashion statement each time you take the trash out…Dressed in a suit, tie, rolling a suitcase with you…just in case!

  • October 12, 2015 7:37pm

    David: I wish I did NOT know this information first-hand, but a safe deposit box key in Paris costs almost 300 euros to replace. Bonne chance!

  • claire
    October 12, 2015 7:41pm

    Completely understand and share your clefphobia. And did you know replacing car keys (at least in U.S.) now costs around $350? My husband isn’t allowed to carry them around unless he’s about to drive

  • Natalie
    October 12, 2015 7:54pm

    There is nothing moronic about this post and your style of writing is very entertaining. When I lived in Germany I wore my key around my neck for safe keeping. I’ll have to remember this when we move to Vienna in a few years. ;-)

  • October 12, 2015 8:00pm

    I have never in my life attached such fear to keys until I moved here. I keep mine on a red lanyard on the inside door knob. Every single time I go out, after putting the keys inside my pocket, I ask myself, Do I have my keys?. I have become completely OCDC. Its nuts but the alternative is nuts too. My proprietor has a set. The concierge does not. He gave me an extra set but who to give them to. In my previous apartment I had the bad luck of the key not working at times. Till I got the hang of it, I walked around with a can of WD-40 at all times. No one who doesn’t live here can possibly understand IMHO. Its a nightmare.

  • October 12, 2015 8:02pm

    The French keys you depict are high-security keys, e.g. Fichet-Bauche (equivalent to Medeco in the US), way more secure than the easily bumped garbage you find at your local Home Depot.
    When I bought my house last year, I had all 4 doors rekeyed using Medeco cylinders, for a total cost of about $1900.

  • Marilyn
    October 12, 2015 8:05pm

    In case you are still wondering – the cost for replacing a safe deposit key here in the USA state of Illinois is $150.00.

  • October 12, 2015 8:07pm

    We saw digital keypads all over Paris when we were there. And they had them in the apartment where we stayed. My friend Steve says he has them too, in Paris. I thought it was a Paris thing?!

    • October 13, 2015 7:29am
      David Lebovitz

      They have digital keypads to get into the buildings for security, and because they change the code every few months – and it’d be too expensive to buy keys for 20-40 apartments if they kept changing the lock on the main door of the building. I haven’t seen any digital keypads on individual apartments but perhaps some people have those?

      • November 2, 2015 11:09pm

        I babysit for a wealthy family who lives in a giant apartment in the cour of an apartment complex (imagine a house inside of an apartment complex) and their house has a keypad as well as locks. I’m assuming it used to be several apartments and they had it converted into a single residence.

  • David
    October 12, 2015 8:12pm

    I’ve locked myself out, in the past, with the spare key in a different city. As a result I try and make to a rule to not go through a door that locks without the key in my hand – and even close the door with the key even if it will slam shut.

    These days I have an outbuilding, and I have a hidden key for the outbuilding. In the outbuilding is a key safe, which I know the code for, inside are sufficient keys to get into the house. And in the house is a complete set of spare keys, hidden away.

    And I have an insurance scheme with keyfob so if I loose the keys, they may get returned via the insurance company, and insurance for change of locks.

    I’m not too paranoid about loosing keys, honest!

  • Hedgehogs
    October 12, 2015 8:36pm

    Digital locks are the BOMB! I installed one on our last house’s back door after my husband spent a couple of hours outside after a jog–I had left assuming he had a key.

  • Linda
    October 12, 2015 10:14pm

    Ah, so that must be why we must turn our door handles up (as in, “counterclockwise”) while turning the key (clockwise) to lock the door here……

    To prevent les étudiants from being locked out, every night, while emptying their trash/tossing empty pizza boxes…..- –

    Though with my memory, I’ve actually FORGOTTEN to lock the door on my way out. Several times. And I’ve never been burgled yet…

  • October 12, 2015 10:43pm

    I assure all non-believers that it is in fact really expensive to have a locksmith come over to help you out. My (French) stepdaughter locked herself out of her mothers apartment, and it cost a whopping 560 euro for someone to fix it. And this was in Malakoff, not in a swanky neighbourhood! We recently had a gate with digital keypad + digital keys installed at our building recently. They provided us with 1 key, which meant we had to ask for 3 extra (me, my stepdaughter and the cleaning lady ), we paid 120 euro for them… They could only be pickep up on a tuesday between 16.00-18.00…. Made me laugh real hard :-)

    • October 13, 2015 7:31am
      David Lebovitz

      When I moved to Paris a little over ten years ago, I wanted to buy a Sonicare toothbrush. They were only available at one place, and office, in the 15th, and I could only buy one on Friday afternoon (!?) I thought that was pretty funny, although now you can get them at Darty and in pharmacies. I never got why the window of purchase time was so specific…

  • Hayley
    October 12, 2015 10:48pm

    I can completely relate. Each time I leave the door, I literally stand there convincing myself that I have my key in my hands. This is ever since I too closed the door by accident when in my pajamas with no phone at 11pm in winter. Still not sure which is worse… Not one person in my building opening their door for me when I could clearly hear people inside most apartments.. Or being scammed by a locksmith who charged me 750 to get in and then proceeded to tell me that: oh by the way your lock is broken but we can fix it for you for 2000. I told them to get the hell out of my apartment.

    And to Olivier… If this is in your first three months of living in the city, you find out the hard way not to use the locksmiths on the flyers. As a girl on my own in my pyjamas in the freezing cold it didn’t occur to me to go sea thing for a police station. The closest people who would help me phone someone were the owners of a 24hour store in my street.

    At least in South Africa my neighbor would have helped and, like in the U.S., it wouldn’t have cost me the equivalent of a return flight home.

  • Karen Victoria
    October 13, 2015 12:35am

    this is related and may help someone NOT to have to call a locksmith—when i started living alone in NYC i decided to always carry a small set of my three keys (one for the bldg, 2 for my door) by small i mean on a tiny ring and i always carry this little packet of keys in that coin pocket of jeans or in the bra or pinned under a dress. in case i get separated from my real keychain, I can always get in. David, you could purchase locks over here U.SA.and take them back to Paris, perhaps. If you do, buy one that does not lock behind you. I have been fortunate to have ones that don’t for a long long time. the lock behind you is bad and should be discontinued for the most part. agreed that keys inside in the lock are absurd and unsafe.

  • October 13, 2015 2:06am

    YIKES! …who knew an amusing/angst/phobia kind of post would generate such a response, eh??

    For my part, I commiserated as well as I could from the U.S. … rural U.S. as in most of us do not lock our doors… but I have lived in the big city: Los Angeles, San Francisco … still, nothing like what you described, David … and from your experience, if it were me, I think I’d fear keys also. I repeat – YIKES!

  • October 13, 2015 2:06am

    Olivier–I don’t know where you get the idea that “99%” of American keys are cheap–have you ever been to a major city in the U.S.? I have double-sided keys that unlock a series of gates to my property as well as the doors of my house. Not only are they are extremely expensive to replace but I have to show a coded card that resembles a credit card to get the process going. And not to just any locksmith–very few deal with my brand of key. This is why I was very upset when my sister threw away the key I’d given her–ostensibly because she didn’t recognize it. Now THAT’S idiotic.

  • Karen
    October 13, 2015 2:18am

    I have a seperate set of keys to take the trash out, as it needs two keys to the back door of the building, and a security gate in addition to at least 1 of the 4 keys to the inner and outer door to my flat. So, it has the two keys to the non-deadbolt locks on my doors, and the two keys to the rear exits, and a 5th key, to a communal storeroom under the main stairwell.

    The front entrance path requires 5 keys if we lock all the locks, which we don’t usually. Twice in the first few weeks after moving in, i locked myself out the front door, once with no phone, wallet or shoes. Luckily it was the day the stair and lobby cleaners came. One let me use his phone to google the school phone number, call them and ask them to look up my husband’s number in their file and call him to tell him to come get our son from school and then come let me in. It was too late to rescue me first.

    The other time, i was returning from a shopping trip when I realised my keys werent in my bag, but I had a phone and wallet. I asked the coffee shop on the corner to hold my packages, went to get my son, and we came back and sat doing home work snd drinking coffee/hot chocolate. Was able to call my husband to come home a bit early as the shop closed at 5 and we would have been waiting in January rain. Though really, neighbors would have buzzed us into the close, now I think sbout it. Unheated, with stone floors, but out of the rain.

    Have since exchanged keys with the lady on the third floor.

  • Chloe
    October 13, 2015 2:51am

    The only “French Keys” story I have is that the apartment I had needed a skeleton key! I thought that was so odd. The elevator in the building was also ancient – you needed to manually open the doors.

    This was when I was studying abroad in Nice. And boy am I glad I never lost my 3 lbs worth of keys – I would have cried if I, as a broke college student in a country where I barely spoke the language, owed €1000 to anybody!

  • Ron shapley
    October 13, 2015 2:57am

    Wow Dave, I have never lost my keys….Now, after reading your story I now have the losing my keys phobia…lol…I saw you tonight on ill have what Phil’s having…Great !!

  • Carol
    October 13, 2015 4:02am

    We recently stayed on a houseboat in Paris and were very afraid that, in trying to get the lock to work properly, we would drop the key in the Seine and that would be that. I tied a cord to the little key and always wrapped it around my wrist. One day we just happened by BHV and saw the little locksmith kiosk. We had a duplicate key made for 4 Euros, no questions about who owned the place the key was for. That sure helped us relax more, especially since, at about the same time, we thought we had dropped a credit card at Gare du Nord. After canceling the card, my husband remembered he had hidden it on the boat! I can see by the comments that Paris offers many adventures.
    By the way, My Sweet Life in Paris guided us to many good destinations – thanks!

  • October 13, 2015 5:19am

    What a surprise and treat! We just watched “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” on PBS, and there you were, David, showing Phil the best croissants and patisserie in Paris. It was nice to see you in your milieu, as well as the most delectable pastries I have ever seen. I could almost taste them. How fortunate you are to live in such a beautiful city, doing what you love best.

    • tunie
      October 14, 2015 12:53am

      Watching it right now, on your mention, it’s so good – the enthusiasm is soooo American dad, haha, but of course, awesome. The PH scene was devastating… :D and L’Amis Jean looks incredible.

  • cara_mia
    October 13, 2015 6:53am

    If it makes you feel any better, I found out it costs $400 to replace my “smart” key for my car. And I don’t know if that includes programming it to work! It lives in a pocket of my purse unless I’m dropping it for service.

    We had digital locks on our sorority house, even 20 years ago. They were great. I don’t know how fraternities and sororities would handle it otherwise, unless they just left the doors unlocked 24/7.

  • Honey Pettigrew
    October 13, 2015 7:24am

    Who knew…I had no idea. We are all in the wrong business. Lets move to France and become locksmiths.
    My daughter, at 14 (the modest years), locked herself out of the house in her nightgown in the days before cell phones. Fortunately we live in California so it was not a blistering cold day, but never the less she was outside all day until I came home from work. When I asked her why she didn’t ask the neighbor if she could use their phone, she said “Mom, I was in my nightgown!”

  • October 13, 2015 7:58am

    Being burglarized – cambriolé (masculine singular)

  • Melanie
    October 13, 2015 10:04am

    Yes I too was locked out of my Paris apartment. The locksmith arrived with a radiograph to try to pop it open. I kid you not. A radiograph. He did not succeed (surprising!) and offered to drill the lock for 680€ I declined, and then discovered that I do not even have the legal right to have a copy of my key made – only the apartment owner can do that. Luckily the owner came and let me in. I have learned my lesson.

  • Debbie
    October 13, 2015 11:01am

    Hi David

    I can well understand the concern over keys in Paris…while phobia is too strong a word, keys are a top priority while vacationing in Paris.

    Last year our key seized in the lock of our door in our apartment in Montparnasse. What a hassel and a racket, happened on a Sunday so our rental agency sent their handyman to see what he could do…which was nothing. A whole day was lost hanging out in the apartment. The next day rental agency said it would be two days before they could get a locksmith to fix the problem. Classic French red tape. We solved the problem by playing hardball and let them know we were going out to enjoy our vacation and leaving the door open and apartment unattended. The locksmith arrived in under an hour.

    We watched while he took apart that locking mechanism to replace a tired spring that had broken and both hubby and i were impressed. So much so that we had the same system installed (for when we are all out)with a keyless entry (for when I am home and the kids are in and out of the house with friends). In Canada that system cost $1700.00 and each key is $125.00. When you sell your house you have to provide the locksmith a copy of the purchase and sale agreement in order to transfer the who can cut keys agreement.

    It’s a hassel yes, but a house or apartment is the owners castle, my little piece of turf on earth. I sleep a little better knowing my locks can’t be picked or my door kicked in.

  • Susan
    October 13, 2015 4:50pm

    Oh I have SO many Paris key stories- I locked myself out several times, and had spares with several friends around Paris (at a HUGE expense to make so many copies- but came in VERY handy), and once i got the lock smiths from the Cordonnerie down the street to fool it open with a long piece of plastic- FOR FIFTY EURO!

    When I went running, I would put my keys in the mailbox that was located in the foyer between the digital keypad and the locked key entry and only take my mailbox key! Genius!

    I also had friends and colleagues that also had lock outs that cost upwards of 1000 Euro, and one even put his wife and baby in a hotel room and took a Thalys back to Amsterdam to get his “spares” from his brother, – it was cheaper than a locksmith!

    Lastly- I spent SO much time thinking of this connundrum that I actually came up with a business idea- “Cles Valet” where you could leave a spare set with an insured 24 hour day paid service- where if you locked yourself out, they would come to the rescue via scooter.

    The struggle is real! Not moronic.

    • berit
      October 13, 2015 8:43pm

      I like your idea!

      • tunie
        October 14, 2015 12:58am

        me too, genius! totally sounds viable.

  • October 13, 2015 6:02pm

    Once, my friend got on a plane to Vancouver with my house keys . On a sunday, the neighbors kindly broke the hinges. I lived two days without a door in Philadelphia until my pals the “architectural swat team” showed and put the door on with a coat hanger through the dead bolt. One week later my dad told me how to fix the holes, put the hinges back on, and I hung the door myself using a stack of paperback books to lever it to the right height. 2 weeks later I received my keys in the mail from Key West Florida along with a flamingo pin. It happens.

  • berit
    October 13, 2015 8:41pm

    Ah David, I feel your pain! I live and am from Germany and once locked myself out of the house while carrying out the trash.I was wearing my pj and a bath robe and had to cycle (!) into the next town to ask my ex-boyfriend’s mom whether I could call the locksmith from her place. Of course, this was before mobile phones were in place and my immediate neighbours had been out. I first called a locksmith from a telephone book and they would have charged me 200 EUR cash ONLY (because we all have 200 EUR just lieing around right) and said they would be there “in an hour,possibly longer, I really don’t know”. My mother-in-law then came back into the room having overheard the last of the conversation and said a local company will do it for 30 EUR which they did within 20min :)

    tl;dr Other countries have outrageous key issues too.

  • Maryanne in SC
    October 13, 2015 8:50pm

    Like Kathleen, I was delighted to see you on last night’s “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” on PBS in the US. I hope you enjoyed making that segment as much as I enjoyed watching it.

  • Shaun
    October 13, 2015 9:13pm

    Blogs are dead, Phil. Barely anyone reads them anymore, including myself.

    *However*, as of today, that all changes. I will be coming back to read your blog/site all the time. I haven’t been this entertained in a long time.

    I’m a big fan of intelligence, humor and content, and you throw flavorful punches with all three. I had a great laugh with your comment of taking a change of clothes when emptying the trash.

    Thanks for the great writing.


  • Glenys
    October 13, 2015 9:47pm

    Been there, done that. I went out to walk the dog, on a Saturday evening, and I knew at the moment the door clicked shut that my key was inside. No money, no identification. What to do? One friend with a key was in Spain, another was not at home, the syndic was closed for the weekend so I went to the gendarmes. An officer called every locksmith on his list without response. There was a rugby match so the officer called them all again when it was over. No response. We shared a few laughs — I couldn’t go to a homeless shelter because they don’t accept dogs! Finally he called in another officer with an enormous toolbox to see if he could break into the apartment. Now, here’s the tip: he succeeded on the first try by slipping his X-ray film through the crack — much more flexible than a credit card. Note that it only works because I had not turned the key in the lock. My key can be duplicated with a code for only 95 euros. I bought a few spares and I have become phobic too.

  • Gblico
    October 13, 2015 10:48pm

    My wife and I have lived in Paris for the past 12 years, and the same lockout happened to us once – and late on a Friday afternoon or the beginning of ‘Le Weekend.’ We luckily managed to get a locksmith, who tried unsuccessfully to drill a hole through the door to try to at least dislodge the key from the lock on the inside. The lock finally had to be sawed off. After four hours of work and the installation of a new lock, we were presented with a bill for 1000 euros! So, since then, we’ve been so phobic about being locked out that we make sure when we lock our door when we enter the key is not left inside the lock. We always make it a point to leave the key in a small bowl on a small table at the entrance!!

  • Janet
    October 14, 2015 6:51am

    A couple of people have already mentioned about the flyers that strangers deposit in your mailboxes in Paris, ones that list the phone numbers for the police, fire dept, locksmith, etc. It’s all a scam. Throw them all away. I have heard of many cases and especially the case of my dear friends who got locked out of their apt and all they could find was a flyer. The “locksmith” came and changed the lock and the next day, while they were at work, came back and removed all the electronics and iPad. The police can’t do anything as the numbers are not traceable. This is one of the most common scams in Paris, besides the hordes of young people who approach tourists asking if they speak English then they ask for a donation. That’s also a scam.

    • Shaun
      October 14, 2015 9:51am

      THAT is great advice. Thank you. I will remember that. I never realized that could be a scam.

  • Shaun
    October 14, 2015 9:53am

    As I was re-reading this, I just remembered…

    I did stay in a rental apartment in Paris where they had not one, but two digital keypads to the apartment, one on the outside door (not the one to the building—the one to the actual apartment), and then a second one inside that with a second keypad that was blocked from view by the first door.

    It was unsual, for sure, but it saved the landlord from (1) ever needing to meet us when we arrived to hand us keys and (2) people losing the keys.

  • Abby
    October 14, 2015 4:53pm

    My husband and I are about to move to Paris in a few months (new job opportunity for him). I have enjoyed reading your posts since I last lived in Paris ten years ago (when it was just you and Clotilde blogging from Paris!), but have been especially enjoying posts like this about the realities of life in Paris. Given how easily I’ve lost keys in the past, you’ve just saved us 1,000 euros thanks to this warning. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes on the keys at all times!

  • Steve
    October 14, 2015 6:58pm

    David – I hate being locked out. One thing that has saved me now for a few years is that I hide a couple of spare keys in random locations near my apartment in Santa Monica, CA. I usually use a strip of gaffer’s tape and find some weather resistant spot that is not in anyone’s sightline and tape it there. Behind a storm drain, a random railing, etc. It’s pretty much invisible and if anything looks like a piece of random tape. I’ve also put one in a small mint tin and buried it a few inches down in our outdoor garden. If you look around your neighborhood you’ll find some possible spots. It’s not TOO close to my actual door. If anyone were to find the hidden key, it would just be some random key with a thousand different possible locks nearby – useless. I check them every once and awhile and have never lost one. It’s also helpful if a friend calls and needs to get in your apartment. You just describe to them where the key is hidden and viola! They’re in. Best thing I know I can ALWAYS get into my apartment.

  • Beth
    October 15, 2015 12:52am

    Yup, years ago I lived in Paris for a while (in the swanky 16th) and locked myself out of my apartment when the door shut behind me. It was a Saturday evening. Cost me 400 euros and I was livid. Figured I was being totally scammed but had few options. The real thing that got me livid was the guy asking me if he thought he could move to the US, start a business like this one and make a mint. I told him I wouldn’t bet on making his fortune out of cheating people in tough circumstances. That got my price reduced by 30 euros…….

    • October 15, 2015 8:31am
      David Lebovitz

      It is funny when people think they can move their business to the United States and automatically make a fortune : ) If someone were to charge someone €1200 to open their door, they would land in small claims court – or on Judge Judy! Not sure why it’s common here, but I think there is not much they can do about it unless the government makes a concerted effort to go after all the bad guys.

      • Shaun
        October 15, 2015 9:18pm

        Actually, from having just talked to a locksmith I know from Germany, who now lives in the U.S., he says that the training and knowledge needed for getting into a high-security European lock is incredibly extensive, hence the high price. He said standard American locks and lock-picking are peanuts compared to Euro locks. The high price is based on expertise; knowing how to pick a European high-security lock (when a key is lost) takes years of study and experience, and few people have those skills. He explains that no one will lower their price because there is a non-stop flow of work at 1,000 to 1,500 Euros per job. Similar to why no plumber would charge $10/hour when he can get $90+/hour, guaranteed and high in demand with weeks of backlogs of available work. So it’s really about economics. There’s your basic answer.

  • Liz
    October 15, 2015 12:29pm

    You can buy a key safe e.g. from, which enables you to keep a spare key outside your front door, protected by a code you can change every week if you want. I can’t remember what my local locksmith (in Burgundy) charged for the key safe and installation, but the fact that I don’t remember suggests it was way below the sums you are talking about for new keys.

    • October 15, 2015 4:26pm
      David Lebovitz

      Those are great but in Paris, most buildings and co-pros (condo boards) won’t let you attach anything to them, in or out. The other thing is that if you close the door and the key is still in the lock (inside), you’re still out of luck. But you’re right – those things are really helpful if you can keep something like that outside your apartment or near the door.

  • Tanya
    October 15, 2015 6:25pm

    I completely sympathize with your key/lock-out woes. I’d never gotten locked out before my boyfriend moved in because I just kept my key in the lock. He kept his key in his pocket or bag, and one day when we were both leaving together, he just closed the door behind him, forgetting that my key was still in the lock. It was probably around 10pm, so we called one of those con artist locksmiths, and the quote was just too outrageous, when all that was needed was an x-ray to open the door. When I said no, he tried to blackmail me into paying for his travel time, but I just laughed in his face. Eventually, my boyfriend kicked in the door while the neighbor was wedging it open with a screwdriver, and the next day we got a locksmith to repair the damage for a reasonable fee. A few years later, we were seeing our friends out into the hallway, when our 15-month old daughter ran back into our apartment and gleefully slammed the door shut, locking herself inside. Fortunately, our friends had a phone so we called the fire brigade. It was a very fraught 20 minutes while we waited for them to arrive, but they got the door open in 2 minutes with an x-ray. Since this is on your mind a lot, I would suggest keeping the x-ray option in the back of your mind for when the door just slams shut. Also, be proactive, get the phone number of a reputable locksmith and save it in your phone. My local key copy/shoe repair guy in the 11th makes unofficial house calls for about 60 euros.

    • Melanie
      October 15, 2015 6:51pm

      If your door opens with an Xray you do not have a very secure locking system. A less than reputable provider tried this on my door and was completely unsuccessful. In retrospect I am relieved;

  • Babs
    October 15, 2015 10:26pm

    This post (and the comments) fascinated me. I work for a company that helps people rent apartments/homes all over the world (various readers have mentioned it). The standard reimbursement for lock changes in France is between 750-1000€. Paris in particular is the most expensive place, due in part to those lovely “old world” center door locks. It’s not a scam, it’s life. Average cost in the US is between $150-300. Digital locks can’t come soon enough.

  • Jean
    October 17, 2015 6:52pm

    I took the auto lock off so now I have to use my key to lock the door. When I say auto lock I mean I pushed the button on the lock so it won’t lock unless I lock it. Now I don’t worry.

  • October 18, 2015 9:01am

    As a Canadian living in the UK (and having lived in Spain and travelled much of Europe) I too appreciate your phobia around keys! The slam locks they have here are scary. The idea you could be locked in your house and not able to get in is scary – and dangerous for children in a fire!!! (Well, anyone in a fire if you think about it.)
    It might be true that North American locks are cheaper and more flimsy, but I still believe the turn lock on the inside is invaluable. And I truly do not understand how the slam lock could ever be a requirement for any home. It makes sense to have it locked with a key. And why would a lock not let you put a key on the other side for that matter?! (When you forget to remove the other key of course!)
    We have had to rig up a system with a key lock box containing a combination pad and a spare key which is attached outside the house. All because I have a real phobia of getting locked out and having kids inside! …which has actually happened. A few times! Nothing can instill fear quite like that of your child on one side of a door and you on the other with no way of getting to them. You cannot walk off for an hour to find your spare key at a friends either!
    So, I am with you on this one. Give me a bolt lock with a turn knob any day. Meanwhile I have contingency spare key systems set up everywhere to alleviate my anxiety about the whole thing!

  • Pam Cesak
    October 18, 2015 6:15pm

    Just saw you made the NYT best sellers list! So happy for you…love your book, love your blog….like you I’m an American in Love with Paris and just finishing a renovation of my dream apartment in the 16th. You’re writing helped during the many times I wondered what I had gotten myself into! Bravo!

  • Sally
    October 21, 2015 1:40am

    Hi David, I loved your post about keys. I have never lived in France, but visit a long time loved friend and she does seem to have a lot of keys.

  • October 22, 2015 3:47pm

    Life in the big city! Out here in the country, we don’t worry much about locks. Just reminds me why I made the move.

  • October 26, 2015 7:44pm

    Hey, get locked out of your flat again, let us know. A few of us can get you back in for waaaaaay less

  • November 2, 2015 3:03pm

    OMG David! I am living in Paris and like you, I’m terrified of locking myself out. I check obsessively each time I leave my apt to make sure I have my key. It’s an electronic swipe key and there is also an electronic code. Well guess what?! Last weekend the power in my building was out and I have no physical key to enter the building! An epic key fail. My worst fear came true and it wasn’t even my fault!