petite anglaise

July 27, 2005

bristling

Filed under: french touch, parting ways — bipolarinparis @ 12:59 pm

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that separating from someone you were not married to is actually more expensive than divorce.

Take France Telecom for example.

A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that my phone number was still registered in Mr Frog’s name. As I have always harboured a burning, secret desire to see my name in print (even if it is only in the pages blanches), and didn’t particularly want to speak to any old flames or schoolfriends that might look up Mr Frog at some point in the future, I decided to have the entry amended.

The lady from France Telecom who explained the procedure to follow was uncharacteristically helpful. A fax, signed by Mr Frog, authorising a transfer of the line, plus a copy of my bank details was all that was required. A couple of days later, I noted that my name already appeared in the online phone directory.

That was fiendishly simple and efficient, for France, I thought to myself.

And then I received the first bill bearing my name.

€ 55.00 – Services ponctuels ou occasionnels (ouverture de ligne)

I phone France Telecom, to report what I am – in my misguided optimism – determined to see as an error. I haven’t just moved in, and I don’t have a new telephone number, so I can’t possibly be charged a “connection fee”, can I?

First, I explain my problem to the service clients in a calm, almost cheerful manner.

“But you were informed of the cost when you enquired as to what the procedure was to carry out the name change.” states the lady, voice dripping with boredom.

“No, absolutely not. I was informed of no such thing!” I splutter, suffering from an acute sense of humour failure.

My call is transferred to the service facturation, where I have the pleasure of starting my complaint all over again from the beginning, minus the cheerfulness.

The man ascertains that I have not changed my telephone number, and (pretends to) consult with a supervisor. When he returns, he tells me it is absolutely normal to have been charged in this way.

I am livid. “It’s daylight robbery,” I shout, trying desperately to think how to say “preposterous” in French, but making do with a forceful “c’est aberrant!”

Getting worked up like this makes no difference whatsoever to anything except my life expectancy, which is considerably shortened.

When he can get a word in edgeways, Mr France Telecom gleefully delivers his parting shot:

“There are some cases in which the transfer of a line is free. If a line is transferred between spouses, or if you were PACSé for example.”

I knew Mr Frog and I should have got married.

July 13, 2005

definition of frustration (#2)

Filed under: french touch — bipolarinparis @ 1:07 pm

I open the letterbox, and, to my surprise, pull out two identical envelopes, both containing train tickets. Upon closer inspection, I realise, with a sinking feeling, that they are duplicate tickets for the same journey.

I curse the SNCF and their wonderful, shiny, new website.

Later that day, I phone 3635 to see how the situation can be remedied. First, I am told that it has nothing to do with the SNCF whatsoever, as the website is run by another company, “Voyages SNCF”. Well I never! A French fonctionnaire merrily* shunting the responsibility for my problem onto another person/department/company. How novel.

I persist, undeterred, and manage to establish that although any complaints about the shortcomings of the website should be addressed to Voyages SNCF, to obtain reimbursement of my ticket, I simply need to take it to any station, before the date of travel.

This was yesterday. Date of travel being today. After which I would no longer be able to obtain a full refund of my € 100.

I resolve to spend my lunch hour in St Lazare station, the nearest mainline station to my office. As I approach the guichets grandes lignes, I am not a little relieved to note that there are only three or four people in each queue. This should be painless, I think to myself, idly wondering which sandwich I will by from Paul for lunch once I am done. A Dieppois? A fruit tart, to celebrate?

The employee listens patiently to my explanation, without interrupting, and when I have finished points silently to a very small sign: “Départs Normandie uniquement”.

I am not going to Normandy.

Nor can I strangle this man with my bare hands, because he is protected by bulletproof glass.

I make my way, stomach growling, to the opposite end of the station, where there is another sign marked “Billeterie Grandes Lignes“.

Oh. My. God.

Picture a large, windowless, dimly lit room with ticket desks lining three sides. The room was last refurbished circa 1960. The colour scheme is brown, on brown. There are fourteen desks, lining three sides of the room, of which only six are open. The queue zigzags back and forth across the centre of the room, in a decidedly orderly fashion for France, the irritated, overheated people having been shepherded into submission using barriers and red tape. I start to count how many irritated, overheated people must be served before it is my turn. I stop at 50, deciding, on balance, that I’d rather not know.

The time is 13.20; I left the office at 12.50.

Some people in the queue came prepared, and nibble on baguette sandwiches, or read books. I have no such means of sustenance or entertainment at my disposal, so I content myself with fuming inwardly at the number of SNCF employees who are milling about behind the ticket desks seemingly unoccupied; chatting, or just standing around with their arms folded, calmly surveying the mayhem, in full view of the people queuing. Hardly very tactful behaviour.

Occasionally, an employee comes on duty and deigns to sit down at one of the empty desks and pull up the blind to start work. But not before they have sauntered around the room at the speed of a snail and kissed both cheeks of every single fellow fonctionnairein the room.

For every blind that is pulled up, another is lowered, elsewhere in the room.

I finally reach the front of the queue at 14.02. A pleasant and efficient young gentleman with a ponytail refunds my ticket in seconds. I smile, pathetically grateful, as all along I had been imagining what I would do if once I got to the front of the queue, I was told that I was in the wrong place for refunds.

I arrive back at the office at 14.20, looking forward to consoling myself with a sandwich and a strawberry tart.

I see that my boss is back from lunch, looking pointedly at his watch, so I return to my desk, stomach still protesting, crestfallen, and consign my lunch to the recesses of a desk drawer.

At that precise moment in time, I would gladly have paid in excess of € 100 to be able to eat my fruit tart in peace.

*a figure of speech. There was nothing merry about the voice of my interlocuteur. Disinterested, slightly dim and very bored would all be more apt descriptions.

May 26, 2005

the end of the affair?

Filed under: french touch, navel gazing — bipolarinparis @ 1:58 pm


For today’s post, kindly follow me.

And my I point out at this juncture that I categorically do not wear red nail varnish.

May 9, 2005

supermarket sweep

Filed under: french touch — bipolarinparis @ 1:07 pm

My secondary school French teacher could barely contain his excitement when we got to the section in our textbook devoted to French hypermarkets. He hopped from one foot to the other and gesticulated enthusiastically as he extolled their virtues. They were vast! You could buy a TV along with your weekly grocery shop! They constituted a shopping revolution! All of his sentences ended with exclamation marks!

Well, I moved to France ten years ago and I must confess that thus far, I haven’t manage to work out just what it was that my teacher was getting himself worked up about. I think that the most sensible explanation for this – the one not involving my teacher being in need of sedation – is that in the meantime, Tesco and Sainsbury’s superstores in the UK caught up with French hypermarchés, overtook them, and raced on ahead, turning only to make a triumphant bras d’honneur in the direction of the rapidly receding Auchans and Leclercs.

I can’t claim to have frequented many proper hypermarkets, as living in central Paris and not owning a car, I have always been more likely to shop in the Franprix/Leader Price that seem to be located every 500m or so throughout the city. The choice of products is relatively limited, but they do sell all the basics we need, and the prices are somewhat more reasonable than slightly more upmarket Monoprix. But when we visit the Evil In-Laws (as we did this weekend), and it rains (as it always seems to, making the promises we have made to Tapole about being able to play in the garden/on the slide/in the paddling pool/on her bike null and void) I can usually find a reason to visit Géant Casino at Chateaufarine for some much needed respite from the Evils.

Chateaufarine is one of those soulless industrial estates which exist the world over, populated with sweaty sports shops and ‘bargain’ clothes stores, housed in vast hangars, interconnected by a labyrinth of roads and a roundabout every 20 paces. Invented intially as a traffic jam free alternative to town centre shopping, these trading estates are now a victim of their own success: the enormous carparks are always full, the access roads are choked with stationary traffic. I curse myself every single time for forgetting just how depressing the Chateaufarine experience is.

Just because Géant Casino is located in a gigantic hangar, doesn’t, in this case, mean that I stand a better chance of finding just what it is I’m looking for. Vast does mean that the yoghurt aisle is ten times longer than the one in Franprix. But all this really means is that the same flavours are repeated over and over for again for the length of an Olympic sized swimming pool, the only difference being that they have different brand names on. Shopping becomes exercise. As far as I can see, there doesn’t seem to be any more real choice than in Franprix. On this occasion, there was no Thai green curry paste to be had for love nor money.

It also proved to be nigh on impossible to buy a regular-sized pack of nappies for Tadpole’s use at the In Laws’ house. The optimist in me shied away from buying a 92-pack of huggies, just in case we are successful in potty training her before the end of 2005. But the only packs on sale were of the “mega multi family value bulk buy” variety. If this principle is applied to the rest of the merchandise on offer, these places must be every singleton’s nightmare.

And last of all, I could not help but compare the in-house store fidelité cards, a relatively recent phenomenon in France, with their equivalent in the UK. My parents, through astute use of their Tesco credit card, recently managed to wangle themselves a week away in the Channel Islands, all flights and accommodation courtesy of Tesco Plc. When I consult the balance of my s’miles points (Monoprix, Galéries Lafayette and Géant Casino), they serve only as a grim reminder of the indecent amount of money I must have spent shopping there to get them, only to be rewarded with a free cinema ticket for every 1,000 points accummulated. If that is all my fidelity is worth, I shall be sleeping around from now on.

The only upside to visiting the souless trading estate is that I immediately felt like a fashion goddess, conspicuous in my understated, but oh so terribly chic, Parisian clothes. Now far be it for me to say that country folk have inferior dress sense, but if my options were limited to the best that Kiabi, Pimkie and La Halle aux Vêtements had to offer… [sentence best left unfinished so as not to cause offence to rural readers]

Anyway, I would like to point out at this juncture that I wasn’t the one muttering “pramface!” and “chav!” at fellow shoppers. I didn’t know whether to chastise Mr Frog for making the risky assumption that no-one in Chateaufarine speaks fluent English and regularly reads popbitch, or to be proud of his impressive knowledge of English vernacular.

Perhaps Mr Frog should be awarded honorary British nationality?

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