How Things (do not) Work in France, continued

So don’t get me wrong. Not everything is ass-backwards in France. All things food-related, for example, totally rock. And tradespeople are shockingly young, trim, polite and reliable (aside from Ikea kitchen installer who is now 2 days late with his estimate. But he did meet all the other qualities).  Thank gawd because I’ve had to deal with more of them here than I have in 36 years in Canada. They shake your hand and call me “madame” – both of course are the norm for any social interaction in France but never fail to amuse me when it comes from the furnace repairman. And they all have fruity French names that to me seem more appropriate for a florist in the Marais than movers and electricians: Stephane, Fabien, Etienne, Gaetan. But again, these are just normal French names, like Mike and Steve for us.

Anyhooo. People are asking me whether there’s a number where you can call, or whether I’m skype-enabled. Alas, not yet. As we have opted to save some Euros by not getting a land-line, as long as we are without internet, we are also without phone, as well as TV (yes, I know, we didn’t even have a TV in Canada, but when you spend most of the day alone except for interactions with various repair people that sorely reveal your limited capacity for constructing multi-clause descriptive sentences, a TV that blasts both news and shows featuring people speaking fluent French suddenly takes precedence over almost all else).

The Saga Continues

Still without internet? Yes, and apparently c’est absolument typique. We have learned from first-hand experience, and the stories of others, to assume that anything involving French telecommunications will cause pain and possible permanent damage to your soul. Read on to hear how my quest to contact my ISP’s customer support devolved (for the first part of the saga, click here).


Step 8 (still in local cafe): Look at non-working-but-fully-charged phone and assume there’s a massive problem with the SFR cell network. Go home for lunch & to regroup before facing next round of errands, namely unblocking HerrKaa’s old Canadian cell phone, because the ancient French cell he was issued is prone to losing the signal inside our apartment unless plugged into the charger. 

Step 9: Emerge from apartment, resolved to get something done today. Go to a nearby store helpfully called The Phone Store (in English). Alas, they don’t unblock phones, but there’s a store 10 min away that does. I then ask if anything is wrong with the SFR network, and show clerk my phone. Clerk immediately turns it off, turns it on and phones resumes normal operations. He then looks at me like I am a complete MORON. I do indeed feel like a complete moron, but dear readers, please understand: there are times here when you become so innured to delays and things not working that both fretting & trying to fix anything seem pointless. Instead, you look for workarounds (like using another phone, if I could get it unblocked).

Step 10: Even though my phone now works, I still want to get the other phone unblocked, so, wrapped in long scarf and tuque, I walk uphill in windy, sleeting weather to other phone store. Uer friendly clerk happily confirms he can unblock the phone, for a fee of 25 euros. Our previously-agreed limit had been 20 euros, but 5 euros more wasn’t a big deal. But as he begins writing up the ticket, I realize that I had heard wrong and it’s actually 35 euros, which is well over $50 Cdn and hard to justify. So now I have to explain this all to the clerk, who thankfully remained uber pleasant and waved away my many “desolées de vous dérangé“.

Step 11: Skid down hill to apartment, and use my now-working cell to phone our ISP’s “roving technicians” (toll) line. Go through the usual phone-tree hell, and then, halleluha! I’m speaking to a real live human! I spill out the saga of the listless router. Unfortunately, the mademoiselle on the other side must have been paid slave wages, hated her job and all Freebox customers and wanted nothing more than to get the call over with ASAP. Boggled by the verbal torrent, I ask her to speak more slowly. A long pause ensues, then (in French):


Step 12: Get off phone as fast as possible and take a deep breath. Remind myself how much I hated working in a call centre. Take another deep breath to brace myself for the next round of technical French over the phone. Call the number that had been shouted to me. Wow, it works. Another human answers, and this one seems to not hate me and also speaks clear french at a normal speed. Joy, rapture: I’m going to maybe accomplish something today! I start describing the situation.

Then, CLICK.

My pay-as-you-go cell phone had run out of credits.


==TO BE CONTINUED (yes, there’s more!)===


Escape from Paris

So the internet saga continues, but it’s time to give both you & me a break from moving exploits.

We took a break from installing curtains and reshuffling boxes today and headed out of the city. Since the weather has been cold and clear, we figured it would be a good time to check out the famous stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral, about an hours’ train trip southwest the city.

En route to the station, we stopped by Shakespeare & Company (the iconic English-language used bookstore across from Notre Dame that is also a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare) to scan Fodor’s for anything vital we should know before we headed out. Remember doing this in the dark ages before the internet? Anyways, it was useful because it advised we bring binoculars, so we zipped back to our place to get them to better see details on the stained glass. 

The train ride was smooth and easy, and even if we didn’t know the name for our stop, it would have been easy to know where to get off because the cathedral dominates the skyline, set as it is on the highest point of the town. We ogled the windows — there are 176 of them, apparently the best collection of gothic stained glass in the world  — and the way even the pale winter light made that famous ‘Chartres Blue’ glass glow.

Bionoculars in hand, I was was able to geek out for a bit, comparing stylistic differences between the original 12th c. windows and the ones done in the 16th c., but after a while stained-glass enthrallment was replaced by sudden & acute realization that a high-ceilinged stone cathedral in January is not the warmest of hang-outs.

After an unremarkable, but warm, meal in a resto across from the cathedral, we had thawed out enough to endure a quick walk around the surprisingly bustling town befor joining the exodus out of town & back to Paris. Waay more people were on the train back to Paris then we on the train heading out, it was like being on the Metro trying to board the train. Not sure why. Weekday commuters? People coming back from Sunday lunch chez grand-maman?