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Technical Hell in the City of Light

I was set to write more about idyllic France — having had a glorious morning in the bright sun on the Ile de Ré, where the sun shines as many hours as on the Riviera. And so it did Monday morning where we had a “plateau de fruits de mer” donning our darkest sunglasses before heading back to Paris on the A10 Autoroute. It was an uneventful drive home, snacking all the way. We found a parking spot IN FRONT of my building (how cool is that?), deposited our luggage, had a drink with a friend, drove the car back to Gare Montparnasse, had dinner at a favorite Korean barbeque restaurant nearby…and then all technical hell broke loose.

First the “Freebox” Internet and VOIP (voice over IP) phone wasn’t working, so I called and scheduled an appointment for the technician to come Tuesday evening after “Après Midi,” our monthly coffee gathering that meets from 3 to 5 p.m. Luckily the apartment is equipped with a back-up system — Numericable Internet and VOIP so that work is virtually uninterrupted.

Here in France, several companies offer high speed WiFi Internet + VOIP phone (free to hundreds of countries) + satellite TV (hundreds of channels) all for under 30€ per month. It’s a very efficient and inexpensive system that when it works is amazing, but when it doesn’t, you could find yourself in technical hell. We have tested just about all the companies: Free, Orange, Neuf, Darty, etc., etc., and have found no one better than the others, but have settled on Free as the service provider of choice for all the Parler Paris Apartments. Numericable offers the same service, but it’s cable-driven, rather than DSL line — for all you who understand the ‘lingo’ — not that I do!

Nonetheless, I trekked off to lunch and our gathering, on route stopping to extract cash from a “distributeur” (ATM) of which there are dozens along rue de Bretagne. I chose the closest one at “Caisse d’Epargne.” Imagine my surprise when the American debit card I had used came out, the receipt came out and the money DID NOT come out! And it was no small sum of cash — 400€ to be exact — the most one can take in one day based on today’s rate of exchange from an American dollar account.

Naturally, the bank was closed for lunch. Now, you may think that highly unusual — as I can’t think of a sing

le bank in the States that actually shuts down so everyone can go to lunch for an hour or more, but in France, it’s standard procedure. So, I waited until the moment they opened to make my complaint. Imagine, too, what it feels like to have only the proof that the money was taken, but no proof that it wasn’t received!

In flustered French, I explained to the clerk what had happened and showed him the receipt, to which he politely replied that there was nothing he could do until 1) I had checked my account to see if it had been debited and 2) they had checked the machine to see if the 400€ was left in excess. Meanwhile, I was out the 400€ with no way to get more, since it had reached the limit for the day.

“Après Midi” went on as it always does. We’ve been doing them since 2002, but the first recorded coffee gathering at La Pierre du Marais was on October 28th, 2003. If you want a chuckle, especially for those of you who might recognize yourselves, click here to read all about it and see the photos.

We had a very respectable turn-out of both regulars and newcomers who appeared to be getting along very, very well, indeed — one can tell from the level of din you could hear from main level of the brasserie downstairs that we were having a great time getting to know one another. From all the technical hell stress, I opted to have a “Pastis,” an anise-flavored liqueur and apéritif containing 40% to 45% alcohol by volume. (Wikipedia.org: “When absinthe was banned in France in 1915, the major absinthe producers (then Pernod Fils and Ricard, who have since merged as Pernod Ricard) reformulated their drink without the banned wormwood component, a heavier focus on the aniseed flavor using more star anise, sugar and a lower alcohol content creating pastis, which remains popular in France today.”)

Click here to read all about yesterday’s meeting.

That evening, the Freebox technician didn’t show up…par for the course. With a phone call, the “rendez-vous” was rescheduled for Thursday morning…another day without Internet and phone, but still with the auxiliary Numericable in place, thank goodness.

This morning I awoke early with anxiety (of course) to check the bank account in the hopes that the 400€ had not been debited, and instead of being able to access the Internet in order to do so, there was more technical hell to strike. Numericable was now no longer functioning.

Trying every trick I could think of got me nowhere, so I called and scheduled a technician to come — the soonest was Friday. Luckily, the renters at “Le Provençal,” my little studio vacation rental apartment on rue Charlot, had JUST been vacated and of course, is equipped with Freebox Internet, VOIP and satellite TV, just as they all are.

It didn’t take long once logging on to the Internet to discover that the account had, in fact, been debited for almost $537, based on today’s rate of exchange. There was no way to print out the statement, so instead, thanks to Efax.com, I was able to fax it to the bank branch before heading over there to file a formal complaint.

The good news is that they were very kind about the problem and have submitted a request to credit the account for the $537 (could take one week or one month — who knows the clerk said!)…that I have Internet and all the comforts of home at Le Provençal, not to mention lots of sun pouring in the windows overlooking the charming courtyard (I may not want to leave!) and that I have a technician coming this afternoon to possibly fix it all!

This is called “Life in the City of Light.” Would I rather be in technical hell anywhere else? What do you think?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
(Visiting the “Viager”)

Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. If I can get the Internet up and running in time for the weekend, I promise an update on the story of the “Viager” — “Viager” with a View, Part V.” Until then, read the first four parts of the story. You’ll find the links to the chapters here.

P.P.S. Sign up now for the Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conferences…London or Paris, coming soon. Visit /frenchproperty/conference for details.

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