Image via WikipediaA friend has just had a scary experience.
She and her husband are converting their barn into a house for their daughter and grandchildren who are, God help them, moving to France for a better life, and had engaged professionals - les artisans francais - to do the bulk of the work. You are almost obliged to engage what is laughingly called a professional these days if ever you think you might want to sell your project as otherwise you will have to buy insurance to provide a ten year guarantee of work done by your good self, which costs another arm and a leg. You can soon become financially tetraplegic in France. Apart from which, there are the 'norms'...which change with alarming regularity...and then there is French plumbing, which is incredibly primitive in its conception. Tubes and fittings are labelled as 10/12, or 14/16, whatever that might mean....and every piece you want is sold separately, so you spend hours in the DIY store matching it all up and then find they have run out of one of the parts vital to your project. Also, although this did not apply in their case, if you are installing electricity for the first time in a building, you need to have an inspection and you can bet your boots that if the inspector doesn't see the name of an electrician on the request, your installation will be turned down, meaning that you have to pay for a further inspection. If he does see the name of an electrician on the request, it is also a fair bet that there will be no inspection at all, as the body responsible permits itself to pass installations performed by 'reputable' firms without its' inspector ever setting foot on the premises. You still pay.
For reasons which now escape me...I think I dozed off during the original description of the project...a waterpipe had to run across the premises, which meant it would be under the new floor....under the plastic sheet, the wire mesh and the concrete. This had been explained to the plumber, with emphasis on the importance of the pipe not leaking, and he had made no demur, which in itself was unusual as they normally insist on everything being visible for 'when' whatever they have installed springs a leak. That pipe and all the others having been installed, they called the builder to get on with the floor and the other work necessary before the plumber could return to connect up the sinks, baths and showers. The builder took a bit longer than they had anticipated, by which time the plumber was agitating, so they paid him half of the estimated sum, as the bulk of the work was done, and this kept him quiet until they were ready to proceed.
He duly arrived, connected everything that needed connecting, turned on the water and everything worked. They took a glass of wine together and he left, saying that his wife would send out the bill during the week.
During that week, they did not do much in the barn, but one day the husband went in and discovered a damp patch on the concrete. His first thought was a leak in the roof, as the patch was under the cathedral ceiling section of the conversion and there had been heavy rain. He went up, could see nothing, but put a bowl down to catch the drips, just in case. Well, the next day the bowl was empty and the patch was wetter...you don't need me to tell you that the underfloor pipe was leaking.
They called the plumber. His wife said he would call them back. He didn't. He was incommunicado for days, so they called the builder, who said it wasn't his problem. The plumber's bill arrived. They called again, asking him to come out and see to the problem. The patch was now definitely wet. Their neighbour dropped by with some veg and they showed him the mess.....something had to be done, but no one seemed to want to do it. He called his son, who works for the water company. The son came round in his works van with his colleague and said that if they could take up the portion of floor affected he and his mate would mend the leak - just tell the Dad when they were ready. They tried the plumber again, but the wife replied that he could do nothing until his bill was paid. The builder, who had been paid - his wife being a bit smarter with the billing - reiterated that it was nothing to do with him, so there was nothing for it but to take up the floor. They were lucky in that English friends had family visiting and a couple of young men volunteered to do the work. The picks went at it, the wire cutters were employed, and the leaking pipe was exposed. What was not exposed, however, was the anti-damp plastic sheeting specified in the builder's estimate and paid for. It had not been laid.
The Dad was alerted, his son and colleague came round in the works van and the pipe was repaired. As always in France, it had been brazed, not soldered, and there had been an incomplete seal. The water went on again, and the pipe held. Son and colleague refused payment, as the couple were friends of Dad, and went off again in the works van to continue their legitimate employment, having had a frolic of their own on the company's time. There was still the problem of the plastic sheet and the hole in the floor.
They called the builder. They called several times before he came to the 'phone and blithely announced that it was, as it happened, a good thing that he had not laid the sheet as otherwise they would not have discovered the problem for a long time by which time they would have had an enormous water bill. But they had paid for the plastic sheet to be laid. Well, that was all in the past...they had paid the bill and that was that. End of conversation.
Taking up the whole floor was out of the question...who would do it and how would they pay for it? Their budget was tight enough as it was. The young men filled in the hole with concrete, levelled it off, and that was the floor problem solved. Not ideal, but the best they could do in the circumstances.
That left the plumber. They had paid half the bill in advance, but surely he would make a small allowance for the extra work caused by his incompetence? They called and the wife said he wouldn't. They called again, and said that they would make a deduction for the cost of the repairs. She said that they could not do that. They went round to the neighbour to see what he thought could be done and he suggested that they make the deduction and send a cheque for the rest, accompanied by a registered letter making it clear why a deduction had been made. They discussed what it would be reasonable to deduct and did as he suggested. He helped them write the letter so that there would be no misunderstanding due to language. The letter was sent.
Three days later, my friend had her scary experience.
She was in the garden when the plumber arrived, bursting out of his van like a rocket, shouting and waving their letter. Her French is not bad, but not up to situations like that, though even if it had been perfect, she could not have slipped a word in edgeways. He wanted the rest of his money....she and her husband were cheating foreigners, taking advantage of poor working men....no wonder they could not pay their bills, just look at the luxury in which they lived....coming over, taking advantage of France.....couldn't even be bothered to learn the language.... Suffice it to say that the stream seemed endless, well laced with words she either knew or guessed to be extremely impolite, but the gist of it was that he wanted his money and he wasn't going until he got it. She was frightened but eventually managed to tell him that he wasn't getting a penny more than they had already paid and at that point the solids really hit the fan. He grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her against the wall, aiming a kick at her as she went down, then, perhaps realising that he had gone a little too far in the art of gentle persuasion, he left, still shouting as the van drove away.
Where, you might ask, was the husband during all this? Every woman knows the answer to this. Whenever you need a man, he is in the lavatory. Apart from which, it had all happened so fast that there would have been very little he could have done. Shocked, they made tea and wondered what to do. The neighbour was out. They telephoned the gendarmerie to make a complaint.
'Are you injured?'
'No, not really, just shocked.'
'Well, why don't you pay your bills if you don't want problems?'
That was the limit of official intervention.
When the neighbour came back, they went round to see him. He suggested seeing a lawyer, and made an appointment for them.
The lawyer listened to their tale and then told them to pay the rest of the bill.
'But we explained why we were making a deduction. We sent it by registered letter.'
'What difference does that make? He's just going to lose the enclosure and say that you sent the cheque and bill by registered post. It's more trouble than it's worth. Pay him.'
'What about the floor?'
'Did you get a bailiff to certify the state of the floor?'
'Well, how are you going to prove anything? Forget it...put it down to experience.'
They went back to the neighbour. They drank a glass of wine. They put it down to experience.