Image by bijoubaby via FlickrOur friends have just returned to the U.S.A. We exchange e mails. We are delighted that all is going well for them...then they, and we, compare life in the two countries.
The bank staff, still the people they had known before, were pleased to see them again and fixed their mortgage without a problem.
They could even have got a grant from Obama towards buying a house, in that they have not made a house purchase for three years.
They are refurnishing, refurbishing and have the delightful experience of helpful staff and cheap or even free transport of their purchases to their home. They even have guys to set it all up!
They bought a car. It was delivered to the door complete with a full tank of petrol. The same day. They have the garage owner's home number in case of problems.
They go shopping...guys pack their free carrier bags and take them to their car.
It makes me think about life in France.
First,the positive side.
In the days when we were running holiday cottages, we bought a fair amount of white goods from one of the major supermarket chains and their regular delivery guys could not have been better. They arrived when they said they would, unloaded, unwrapped and where posssible, tested the appliance before leaving.
Our relationship with them was good...we would see them when shopping at their branch, exchange news and, on the odd occasion later when buying something for ourselves that they delivered, it was always good to see them and have a coffee and a chat.
The supermarket had a first class after sales service as well...a man who lived about three departments away, who understood what holidaymakers could do to equipment and knew how to put it right. He also knew how to find the letting houses and knew where the keys were so we didn't even have to go out to see to things.
He rescued us when one holidaymaker decided to make a claim that her cashmere jersey had been boiled in our washing machine, by declaring to the holiday company who were acting as our agents that her claim just did not stand up. What she said had happened was completely impossible given the machine she was using.
A lovely man.
That, however, is about it.
I closed my accounts with Credit Agricole after experiencing their incompetence - an earlier post http://http//real-france.blogspot.com/2009/06/post-it.html explains the whole murky business.
The staff changed at frequent intervals, the unfortunate young things had no experience with my sort of business and I had no wish whatsoever to be constantly pestered to buy insurance I did not need.
La Banque Postale have started to shift their staff about too...but I've managed to follow the financial counsellor I like to her new post up the road, so that's O.K. Just don't let anyone further up the greasy pole know that she is dealing with someone outside her area, that's all.
I don't buy new furniture in France.
My first and only experience was when I thought I would buy a bed. What I did not realise was that the price I had seen referred only to the base.
I'm only surprised they didn't charge extra for the little clips that held the two parts of the base together. Probably didn't think of it.
Even then, it was cheaper to take a car and trailer to the U.K. and return with better quality beds for less than just the base in France. So that's what I did.
I used to go to the depot ventes - the places where you put your unwanted goods up for sale and the boss takes a commission. At that time, French farmers were getting rich and discarding their family furniture in favour of nice clean formica, so there were some lovely items around, well worth poking one's nose into the shop if in the area.
These days it's the formica that's turning up for sale, so I've stopped looking.
Just general shopping could be an experience in my early days in France.
The weekly publicity for the local supermarket would be delivered by the Post Office.
Intrigued by an offer, I would toddle in on the first advertised day of availibility, only to find that there was no sign of the item.
It hadn't been delivered yet. It would be there tomorrow.
I had to skip 'tomorrow' but went in again on the next day.
It had all been sold. Yesterday.
Then there were the 'promotions'. Reared on the U.K. way of doing things, I thought this would mean cheap offers. No. It meant 'promotions'...something expensive that the supermarket hadn't stocked before which would disappear for good once the stock was sold.
There were cheap offers, but you needed your wits and your spectacles as by some strange chance the bit of the shelf marked as containing these goodies usually actually contained a similar item at full price.
Thwarted by promotions and special offers, I would head for the charcuterie counter where what was sold as smoked belly pork - poitrine fume - made excellent breakfast bacon...I've always preferred streaky.
As I didn't go in very often, I used to ask for a kilo to be sliced, so that I could parcel it up for the freezer when I got home.
Now, bear in mind that I have been waiting some little time behind ladies who are ordering two slices of this, four of that, oh and a little slice of pate, no, not that big, and, yes, a little slice of pate en croute...no, perhaps not, the farci poitevin instead since it's available for once, no a bit more than that........not just one lady, but several, and the woman serving has executed all these orders without blenching.
My turn comes, or, rather, I elbow yet another queue jumping woman away in best jumble sale style.
I ask for my streaky bacon to be sliced.
'You'll have to telephone ahead for orders like that!'
This was not the only time I had problems bringing home the bacon.
On another occasion, the same woman was dourly slicing my order when another customer arrived, asking brightly if she could place an order with the 'takeaway' section, for a party she was to hold.
Leaving the slicing machine, the woman not only brought the catalogue for the customer to see, but started discussing with her just what she would need for her party of twenty.
I walked away.
Hoy, Madame! What about this bacon?
Sell it to the customer you're serving. She can make devils on horseback.
I bought a slicer in the end. A real finger eater. The sense of freedom was wonderful, even if I did always manage to slice chorizo the wrong way, so it came out in long ribbons. Looked super on a buffet table.
Off to the fish counter. They have grey shrimp on offer at a low price. I ask for a kilo.
I've only got two kilos.
Well, I only want one. Where's the problem?
But that's got to last the week (!) and everyone will want them.
Well, everyone will have to make do with the one kilo, then.
Over to the fruit and veg section. Ladies are poking and prodding the produce with gay abandon. I pick up a melon to see if it is ripe.
You can't touch the fruit. You'll damage it.
I wave an arm at the company assembled, poking and prodding at will.
They know what they're doing.
It has to be said that the attitude towards a foreigner was unpleasant generally in this supermarket.
I was shopping with a French friend who went through the checkout ahead of me. She paid and received a lottery ticket to fill in.
I went through, paid, and did not receive a lottery ticket.
Why didn't you give her a lottery ticket?
She's a foreigner.
Why don't foreigners get lottery tickets?
They're tourists, they won't be here to get the prize.
She's not a tourist. She lives here.
She's still a foreigner.
I hear things are better now, but I transferred my purse to another supermarket in another town long ago.
Just thinking about it brings more and more to the surface, like scum rising from the chicken stock......the garages, the television repair man, the builder's merchant...there just seems to be no conception of good customer service as a commercial practice.
If you have a good experience it seems to me that it is rather because the person with whom you are dealing is pleasant and helpful. Go there the next time and as likely as not you get the surly colleague.
The French seem used to it.
I'm not, even after all these years.