“Washing It Down, Drying It Up, A La Vie Franaise”
One of the shocks when crossing the cultural divide from the other side of the ocean to France is as mundane a subject as washing clothes. Stateside we didn’t think too much about it. There was a laundry room all to itself equipped with a large cubic foot capacity washer and separate dryer, enough space for an ironing board, hanging rack and laundry basin. The washer took about 30 minutes to do a week’s load of darks and the dryer about the same, fluffing and taking out the wrinkles all along.
Then we moved to France.
The idea of laundry in France is as different from ours as are the French themselves. We were lucky to have a machine at all in the apartment we first rented (in 1994), and it performed both functions, washing and drying, neither one all that efficiently. Washing and drying the clothing took several hours and the heat baked the wrinkles in to a permanent state. I opted to hang the clothing, sheets and towels on a rack to reduce electricity consumption, spare the ironing and believe it or not, simplify my life. It became such a habit, that when installing a new machine years later, I opted for a washer-only, a solid expandable drying rack and towels that dry to the texture of cardboard. (I’ve come to love the way they exfoliate my skin!)
The year the 20-plus-year-old Siemens washer-dryer “kicked the bucket” ended in a war with Conforama (a furniture and appliance store with locations all over France) over a machine which couldn’t keep its parts functioning for more than a week. In the course of nine months, five different machines took residence in my kitchen, everyone in the “Après Vente” department at Conforama got to know the “crazy American woman who calls every day” and I learned a new French vocabulary like “lave linge,” “sèche-linge” and “soin du linge.” I started collecting coins to use in the laundromat down the street, bought a cart that I could roll a week’s worth of laundry down the stairs and cursed both Conforama and the system that had me spinning like the clothing in the dryer.
When the last and final machine was installed in my apartment by Darty (the biggest appliance store chain in France known for its excellent service), a Siemens washer with a particularly small 4-kilogram capacity (measured by weight rather than by space), I blessed their good service and vowed to remain “fidèle.”
Over dinner last night, visiting friends remarked about how they chose their rental apartment, “If the apartment has a washer-dryer, then we don’t have to pack as much.” And when you’re carrying bags up several flights of narrow stairs, packing light is ideal, so when furnishing “Le Provençal,” I didn’t consider for one moment NOT to install a washer-dryer in the apartment, regardless of its petit size. To Darty is where I ran, spotted a Siemens brand “sèche-linge” and handed over the “carte de cédit” to a whopping 800 euros and peace of mind.
Learning how to use a French washer-dryer is akin to mastering the French language and all its accents. Don’t expect their machines to perform like ours, just as you wouldn’t expect your French friends to stop smoking for health reasons. Thank goodness, one can order up a Siemens instruction booklet in English so that renters will know how to set the drying cycle for two hours (rather than 20 minutes) and that they can’t open the door until many minutes after the cycle is complete (rather than breaking it open with a crowbar).
When traveling to the States this past Fall, I had culture shock in reverse when spotting friends’ largest capacity machine on the market today, necessary for today’s king-size bedspreads…realizing it would take another studio apartment just to house it
Washing It Down — A True Story:
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. Don’t forget to book your Sunday Lunch in Normandy with
On Rue Tatin Chef, Susan Loomis this coming January 28, 2007. Scroll down or click here to learn more