Dancing monks

Soon after we moved to Paris, I responded to a Craiglist ad from a 30-something French woman looking to do a French-English language exchange. We met in a bubble-tea restaurant in the 9th arrondissement, and bonded over cat-ownership, love of asian food, and being only children.

So P really digs the theatre – plays, music, dance, mostly contemporary stuff. She even went to some crazy play this spring that was 11 hours long that was last performed in 2003 . And lately she’s been telling me about this very original dressage show coming soon to the Tuileries. The thing is, it’s called Lever du Soleil which means “sunrise” and which also means you must be there at 5 am. Funnily enough she’s having problems finding company for that one.

However, she has also invited us to less-extreme but still very original events, such as the dancing Buddhist Shaolin monks we saw last Friday at the Theatre du Chaillot, in the Palais du Chaillot (for those of you who’ve been to Paris, you’ll know it as the massive art deco structure opposite the river from the Eiffel Tower.) Who woulda thunk Buddhist monks could be so adept at sabre-wielding and baton-brandishing? Perhaps this is how they purge themselves of any excess passion before comitting themselves to a lifetime of Zen….

The audience behaviour was also interesting. The show was a bit late to start, so some started to clap rhythmically as their way of saying “Get on with it, already!” No one applauded during the show, not even when little-boy-Buddhist executed a series of sommersaults and round-offs right across the stage. And at the end, while some people gave a standing ovation at the end, it was not the automatic audience-wide reaction as it has for every opera and dance I’ve seen in Vancouver. Instead, people stamped their feet and made a lot of catcalls, and the cast took about 5 bows while grinning crazily. It sounded like a stampede, not a Parisian theatre in the sedate 16th arrondissement.

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Talkin’ ’bout Michael

We spent the past week in hosting-mode, and hadn’t been watching the news. So today over breakfast we tuned into France24 to learn what’s going on with the world, see if Iranian students are still rioting, etc…

Hah. Today it’s all about the death of Michael Jackson. There was a brief mention of a Baghdad market bombing, and then back to Michael. Footage of worldwide mourning, crowds gathered at the LA hospital, survey of shocked headlines from papers around the world. After explaining that the press was still waiting for Obama’s reaction (!), they then showed a video of the French minister for Culture delivering his thoughts on Mr. Jackson’s premature demise to the press. 

Ok, now the Business section just came up and they are discussing how much money his records and tours earned, accompanied by excerpts from the Beat It and Thriller videos.

It is sad that he died so young, but it’s now been a straight hour of news about Michael Jackson. And this is France, where he isn’t hugely popular. What’s going on back in Canada?

Customer Service?

Around the end of April, I received an unusual letter. Instead of the usual financial statement or request for additional paperwork to prove my existence/address in France/married state, this was from our cable company.

“Your satisfaction is our priority and we will do everything to retain your loyalty” was how it began. It went to on to describe how they had created a dedicated phone line for customer concerns, assuring the reader that the cost for all calls will even be reimbursed and that requests will be processed within the lightening-fast speed of a week. 

This is not normal. The French are not proactive about customer service. They rarely admit to mistakes, and will only do so grudgingly. When I emailed our bank manager copies of our statements as proof of being double-charged bank fees, her reply was “You are right, an error seems to have slipped by us. We would, however, have surely found it eventually”.

So I took this as an ominous sign. My cynicism grew after I received another copy of the same letter two weeks later. 

Sure enough, we came back from our vacation at the end of May to a modem with blinking orange lights. A few times we coaxed it back to life long enough to download a few emails, but then it would resume blinking helplessly. So last Thursday I braced myself for an earful of rapid-fire jargon-laden French and phoned tech support (on HerrKaa’s cell phone, since our ‘fixed’ phone line was also dead as it relies on internet). After 5 minutes of me requesting at regular intervals “Could you repeat that please?” a home visit was set up.

Yesterday morning, the technician shows up more or less on schedule. He does some tests and confirms that our 100 MB modem is not working, due to problems switching over to fibre-optic. “You need to go to the Numéricable store on boulevard Montparnasse and get a 30 Mb modem.”

It is grey, cold, and raining. March weather. It will take a good 30 minutes each way to get to there. “Can’t you leave this one?” I ask. 

“Yes, but then I will have to charge you 50 euros. If you get it yourself it is free.” 

“Even though the problem is entirely on the part of Numéricable? After all, when I signed up, the salesman gave me a 100 Mb modem, even though he should have known the fibre-optic cables weren’t fully laid in our neighbourhood?”

Malheureusement, oui.” The technician gave me a sad look and an apologetic semi-shrug. He probably hears this reaction a lot.

I was annoyed, but relieved: at least there was a solution, and so today we are once again connected to the WWW.

But overall, I must say that signing up with this ISP has been like ordering a brand-new car, only learning upon delivery that the steering wheel and brakes are extra. There was a 40 euro ‘registration fee’ on top of the  monthly charges. Another 50 for the a technician’s visit, which was necessary to connect to their network. During this visit, the tech assured us we could use one jack for our internet & phone, and another at the other end of the room for the TV we planned to buy. Of course, after we bought the TV and tried to hook it up we had to call in another techie, who revealed that the second  jack was from an ancient cable line and now totally useless. 50 euros for the visit, plus another 50 for the splitter that went on our sole functioning jack. 

So obviously, I have a lot of reasons to call this magical customer service line. It will be draining to explain this on the phone, and I think I am getting into the French habit of wanting supporting documents for, well, everything, so I might be better off writing. 

However, I have no intention of switching to another ISP. Even after all the visits and 190 euros in extra fees, their customer service is still way better than the others I’ve dealt with. It’s almost enough to make me miss dealing with Rogers.