Shortly after moving to New York from Paris, I landed my first “real” job, working in a low-level capacity for a minor branch of the French government. The position didn’t pay very well, but it had certain perks: a nice office, compulsory wine tastings, and — best of all — a cohort of young, single interns who were roughly my age. At an after-work happy hour my first month on the job, I started chatting with a Dijon native named “Nicolas,” who had recently completed his M.B.A. in some sort of food-related marketing.
After a few drinks, I noticed that Nicolas’s hand was resting on my leg. This helped me to feign interest as he expounded at great (great) length on Tariffs Imposed on Refrigerated and Non-Refrigerated Milk-Based Products Exported by E.U. Nations. (Don’t say I haven’t suffered in order to get laid.) In the course of the evening, Nicolas had somehow managed to remove my underpants under the table — all without missing a beat in his discussion of dairy import regulations.
At the end of the night, Nicolas whispered that he had a contraband wheel of unpasteurized camembert back at his place. He asked if I wanted to come back and, ahem, “déguster du fromage.” (That’s “taste some cheese.”)
I burst out laughing. “That’s the cheesiest line I’ve ever heard,” I said, in English.
He didn’t understand the term. “Qu’est-ce que ce, chee-zee?”
Running my foot up his leg, I said I would love to (making air quotes) “déguster du fromage.” Again, he didn’t get the joke, but I felt certain that his invitation had nothing to do with the promised wheel of illegally-imported cheese.
Sure enough, back at his apartment, the closest thing to cheese was an unfortunate collection of Oasis CDs. This should’ve been a warning, but I slept with him anyway. He was one of those people who talked a lot during sex, making frequent and distracting use of the subjunctive case of various French verbs, kind of like a filthy, interactive version of some language-learning software.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Nicolas and I ever dated per se, but over the next few months, we would occasionally go home with each other after a night at the bar. After each of our encounters, Nicolas would go off on a diatribe to clarify that we were absolutely, in no way ensemble (i.e., dating), for what he called “obvious reasons.”
“You mean, because you talk at great (great) length about dairy-related tariffs?” I started to ask, but bit my tongue. It was like being rejected for a job you never applied for in the first place.
“Not to worry,” I assured him. “I’m just using you for sex.” For once, Nicolas laughed hysterically at something I’d said. Ironically, I wasn’t joking.
A few months later, yet another intern appeared on the scene. He was a tall, handsome Breton who was bald as a cue ball, and he, too, was named “Nicolas.” He and I hit it off immediately. Unlike Nicolas Un, Nicolas Deux got all of my jokes, and matched them one-for-one with his own. He invited me out for a drink after work. At the end of the evening, Nicolas 2.0 asked if I wanted to come up to his apartment to “see the view.” I knew that by “the view” he meant “…of his penis,” but as it happened, I did want to see it.
At this point, I should tell you that the two Nicolaseseses actually shared an apartment owned by the French government (which, incidentally, did have a lovely view). The next morning, I woke up early and tiptoed out of New & Improved Nicolas’ room, hoping to avoid crossing paths with Original Recipe Nicolas.
It was barely 7 a.m., but Nicolas Un was already sitting at the table, sipping coffee and reading the morning paper, wearing an expression stolen from Glenn Close in the third act of Fatal Attraction.
“Tu t’es bien amusée hier soir?” He asked. This could be translated/interpreted as either, “Did you have fun last night [at the party]?” or “Did that amuse you [sleeping with my roommate, you ketchup-loving American pirate-hooker]?” I noticed that the newspaper was crumpled in his hand.
Before I could respond, Nicholas Deux emerged from his room. Instantly, any trace of ill-will vanished from his roommate’s face. They discussed scores from a recent match of le foot (soccer).
The next week, at work, Nicolas Un avoided all contact with me. He “didn’t get” my work-related emails, and waited until the last possible second to furnish information that I needed to compile various long, boring reports, which required me to work until late in the evening (by French standards, anyway). He “confided” in the most bavarde (gossipy) assistants about my wanton ways, conveniently leaving out the part about how we were “absolutely, in no way dating” in the first place. I endured a lot of amused, knowing glances as it became common knowledge around the office that I was one of those heartless American sluts who the movies had warned them about.
For the sake of keeping the peace with his roommate, Nicolas Deux and I decided to put the hookups on hold. However, we became good friends, albeit sans benefits, in the months that followed. I learned that he had recently broken up with his first and only long-term girlfriend, and had come to the States hoping to “sow his wild oats” (“assuming I have more than one,” he smiled). Somehow, I became the New & Improved Nicolas’s unlikely sherpa to the world of dating in New York City.
At some point in early summer, Nicolas 2.0 was out on a date with a Latvian girl he had met in an elevator. That same night, Nicolas Un and I found ourselves at a bar after work, where we stayed until the others had all left. Our conflicts forgotten after a few glasses of wine, we made the unspoken decision to go “see the view” from his bedroom. During the act, all I could think of was how much I would rather be “seeing the view” from the room across the hall. (On the upside, there was no danger of calling out the wrong name in the throes of passion.)
Around midnight, Nicolas Deux returned home, alone, from his date. The other Nicolas fast asleep, I tiptoed into the living room. Nicolas and I burst into the kind of comforting laughter that needs no explanation. We started chatting about his failed date, and ended up talking until dawn about women and men and everything under the sun (except, thankfully, tariffs on French dairy exports). At that point, I wanted nothing more than to crawl in bed with the funny, prematurely bald Nicolas. But, even by French standards, going directly from one roommate/coworker’s bed to another’s would be a bit, well, gauche.
For a series of obvious and less-obvious reasons, I didn’t hook up with either Nicolas for a while, although Nicolas Deux and I had lunch together almost every day. About a month before he was scheduled to go back to France, N2 looked at me in the elevator after work.
“You wanna have zha sex?” he asked, in charmingly-accented English.
“You had me at ‘zha,'” I said.
The next morning, Nicolas Un actually laughed when I emerged from his roommate’s bedroom. We all went out for bagels, which the guys thought were “très bizarre.”
For the next month, Nicolas Deux and I continued a casual, off-and-on fling that involved defiling government property. Rumors about L’Affaire Nicolas abounded among incoming interns and French government employees. In addition to the lousy pay, this prompted me to get another job — one where, I vowed, I would never sleep with any of my coworkers. No matter how good “the view” was.
And, in the intervening years, I’ve never simultaneously dated two of my co-workers who shared the same name, and the same apartment owned by a foreign government. Not even once.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.