The French Complexity of Simplicity
Last week there was so much ‘hullabaloo’ about the stolen iPhone and the condom-jammed “sanibroyeur” that there was no emotional or mental space left to tell you the story about taking the train to Louviers, nor what it took to set up an EDF account (electricity) for one of our clients.
To all of you who have written in with your many wonderful suggestions on how to do this and that to alleviate the problems, thank you. Just know, however, that anything that seems simple Stateside, is complicated in France.
I won’t bore you with the details of ongoing saga, but no, the phone nor the SIM card is yet to be replaced, nor have I been successful in reporting the IMEI number of the phone — because the phone was bought at SFR, but the phone number on it was FREE. One company will not take responsibility for the other and I’ve been in no man’s land all morning long just trying to resolve this one issue.
The train story is intended to provide a warning to those of you who take the regional trains and may have purchased your tickets online. Like a fool, with recent experience of traveling on the TGV where the tickets are downloaded and printed, then the bar code is scanned at the station, when we set out for Louviers from Gare Saint-Lazare, I failed to retrieve the actual tickets at the station before boarding the train. I had the printed receipts in my hot little hands and never thought another thing about it…until the conductor came along and asked to see them.
I spoke French, badly. He smelled of bad BO and was unforgiving… proceeding quickly to charge me 2.3 times the online cost of the tickets no matter how I protested, using my debit card to process the charge. Upon the return on Sunday, we went to the station 1.5 hours earlier than the train departure we had purchased. The clerk reviewed the situation and refunded all, but 10€ and printed out the return tickets. Then, we asked what would it take to change the return tickets to the train one hour earlier — why wait at the station for nothing?
The response was almost comical, because to change the tickets was almost twice as expensive as the original ones. So we inquired about the possibility of a “contrôle” onboard, as they had on the “aller.” It was Easter Sunday, so we took our chances and found very nice seats with lots of room and a table on which I could open my laptop to write.
All was well until the conductor came along. We gulped slightly and vowed to ourselves not to speak French. He quickly noticed that our tickets were second class and we were seated in first class (honest mistake!), to which we apologized, grabbed our things to move to another car while he click-clacked cancelled our tickets and moved on to the next passengers. Whew!
Then, there was the ‘simple’ task of changing the contract with EDF, the electric company, from the seller’s name to the buyer’s name on behalf of a client. This is a service we provide at a price many don’t like to pay, because they don’t realize what it takes. Remember, what we think is ‘simple,’ is really quite complicated here in France. (The French don’t think it’s fun any other way?)
It took calls to four different phone numbers noted on the previous owner’s EDF bill before finding one where a human answered. This could not be done over the weekend nor on Monday, the holiday. Once there was a real person on line, he refused to submit the new contract without first speaking to his “résponsable,” simply because I made the mistake of calling ‘on behalf’ of the new owner, even though I had all the necessary information and her proxy to do so.
While waiting for him to return to the line with a ‘oui’ or ‘non,’ the phone went dead and I had to start all over again. Using a different customer service number, I found a very nice person who was happy to submit the new contract, but couldn’t do so because their systems were down.
“Could you call back tomorrow?”
This morning I called and pretended to be the new owner. That made all the difference in the world and now, the contract is in place…but someone has to meet the technician there next week early in the morning to verify the count on the meter — a two-hour window.
The time it takes to make all this happen? So far I’m counting four hours in phone calls and on-location time…just to change the electricity contract. Just wait till we have to set up the Internet/VOIP phone/TV!! How much time do you think that will take? I dare not even guess!
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. We really had a lot of fun at Parler Paris Après Midi yesterday when Antonio Meza and Amanda Frost of PSI Communications taught us how to “Make friends with our multiple minds!” Be sure to read all about it and see the photos at Parler Paris Après Midi! Then, mark your calendar for May 15th (3rd Tuesday due to holidays) when Poet and Teacher Cecilia Woloch talks about “The Poetry of Paris.” For more information visit Parler Paris Après Midi. It’s free and it’s fun!
P.P.S. I am very sad to report that Stephane Denner, of Banque Patrimoine et Immobilier, passed away this past Sunday after years of battling cancer. It just happens that I was in his home town on that day — Louviers, Normandy. If it weren’t for Stephane (and Mary Fort, of course), I wouldn’t have my apartment or any of the others, thanks to their willingness to give me financing! I am so sad. He was a beautiful and wonderful man. Condolences to all his family, friends and colleagues.