Operation Undercover in Paris : Get Things Done

PARIS (Herald de Paris) – Some say that the French “fonctionnaire” is one of the most dangerous things on earth.  I personally strongly believe that one single “fonctionnaire” can be more dangerous than a weapon of massive destruction hidden in North Korea, combined with biochemical anthrax and a Dr. House sickness – without Hugh Laurie to cure it.

‘Busy’, by me.

A group of sarcastic people created:“Merci Service Public”. This website calculates how many minutes were wasted thanks to the fonctionnaires.  As of the time when I am writing this, the French estimate their loss to 4 months 6 days 20 hours 15 minutes.

Just to get our facts straight, roughly 1/5 of the French work as fonctionnaires.  That is a lot.  If we did some math, we’d divide the French population like that: 1/5 fonctionnaires, 4/5 anger management specialists. I belong to that last category.

“Use your reference number to find your file? Ah, but the computer can’t do that. Not with your name either.  Because you’re a girl, we need to use your father’s name and his reference number.”

“We miscalculated your rights for medical assistance.  You owe us 7.000€. Please pay by tomorrow.”

“Change your social security address?  No problem.  It should be done in around 6 weeks.”

There seems to be no end to what they can tell you with a straight face.  Every time I get this intense urge to answer:“I’m sorry; was that a joke?” Just in case you wondered, it wasn’t.

And it gets worse.  Lately, people working for private companies have begun to react to exterior elements just like afonctionnaire would.  This is where my crunchy anecdote comes into play.  I’ve been stopping myself for weeks, not wanting to write about it, thinking it wasn’t so bad, it wasn’t so horrible.

But now it’s just gone overboard.

I won’t say the company’s name because I should respect people working there – some of them are actually trustworthy.  Let’s just say the company is very Orange.  December 13th, I order a cell phone on the net.  It’s my Christmas present; I’m pretty excited.

One month later, January 13th, I still don’t have the mobile phone.  There actually is a reason I can accept behind that: getting the delivery address right was problematic.  I work every day, week end included, and the delivery company guy (which name I shouldn’t give so I’ll whisper:  Chronopost) actually gave me a tongue lashing about how I should, “Make myself available for them.”  From that moment on, needless to say, we became much less cordial.

We change the delivery address to my sister’s. “You should receive it in a week at the latest.” I should hope so, because the law says that one month is the latest delay for delivery of something you paid for.

Two weeks later, my sister didn’t receive anything.  I phone Mr. Orange, who tells me my delivery address was never changed to my sister’s.  Right then and there, I decided to begin an anthropological study of their system to see just how far they can go.  I calmly gave them, one more time, the new address and followed this with a letter.

Angry client not happy, the letter says.  For any business, that would translate as, “We really need to get it right this time or we’re going to lose this client.”  You’d give extra attention to this one. 

I spent roughly 6 hours on the phone with your company.  Seeing that the phone call is 0,16€/min, that would be a grand total of 57,6€.  Now, I work in a line where I’m paid by the hour and I couldn’t work when I was on the phone.  I estimate the loss to more than 167,6€.  For a mobile phone that costs 49€.

No reaction, no polite word, nothing.  And above all, no mobile phone.  But I did receive a letter from Orange.  It said, “You ordered a mobile phone from us on December 13th, this is what you must pay for your first month of phone calls.”

I phoned them and asked them if they were joking.

Obviously, they were not.

So I began using big nasty words like trial, consumer’s associations, illegal, etc.  I screamed for more than hour.  Thankfully they understood my position and said I didn’t have to pay the fees.  In itself, screaming was a mistake, because rule No.1 in dealing with a company is to never get angry.  “Let your voice never be louder than the soft murmur of a sleeping baby,” says the – completely invented – proverb.

To conclude, I would say to the foreigner who wants to get things done in France: give up.  Natives can’t get it right; I’d be surprised if you did.  Today, February 2nd, I receive a new letter. “Your mobile phone was sent. You should receive it in a week at the latest.”

Yeah, right.

Journaliste Marine Caillault Vidal lives and works in Paris without a mobile phone.


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