All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Umshini wami

Airbus A380 taking off during Paris Air Show 2007Image via Wikipedia
South Africa's President, Jacob Zuma, has just completed a state visit to France where, among other matters, he was due to discuss French involvement in the supply of nuclear power to his country - though why anyone would want the leaky products of Areva when South Africa had its own super Pebble Mill nuclear project is beyond me.

Well, it isn't really beyond me. I just wish it were.

Why develop your own projects, encouraging your own R and D talent and resources when more people (people who matter, you understand, not ordinary people) can get their hands in the till by encouraging international commercial cooperation.
What has efficiency, safety and value for money to do with it?

This is part of the Alice Through the Looking Glass world of the financial and political nexus model which has superseded democracy as the mode of government in first world countries.

Still to return to the visit.
It is devoutly to be hoped that the French head of protocol managed a better job of rendering that stately and haunting South African national anthem 'Nkosi sikelel' iAfrica' than did his counterparts of the French Rugby Union when France played South Africa at home in 2009.

He probably did, while as the FRU's aim was, as ever when France organises a tournament, to disrupt the opposition, the aim of Sarkozy is to keep Zuma happy.

He'll be happy with the dosh dished out by France, to be sure....but he is looking for more.

South Africa ordered six of the new Airbus 380s...but thanks to technical cutting the wiring too short...and financial shenanigans...there were delays.
The delays were such that South Africa cancelled its order.
But Airbus kept the deposit, and South Africa would like it back.

Now, anyone who has lived for sometime in France and has had a problem with white goods will know that Zuma is on a hiding to nothing here.....and even more so because the sums involved are large.
As are the white goods at issue.

merewoman will confirm this after her epic batttle over the Philips Senseo coffee maker which didn't..make coffee, that is. She had to threaten to bring in the heavy mob.

I too have experience of the delights of French customer relations, from the woman who upped the price of the embroidered sheets at a vide grenier while I was still buying them on the grounds that I liked them and that I was English......the shock and insult to Scots blood was such that she made no sale that commerce proper.

The first was when I was new to France, in the days when bricolage - DIY - was a serious affair of men dressing in special overalls to hide in their sheds and take six months to make a bread board.
None of the big chains, the Bricodepots and Bricomans, existed and the smaller ones, like Mr. Bricolage, catered only for the six months bread board makers.

So, needing paint, I went to town and found a shop which not only sold paint but mixed it as well...which was handy as the colours on offer ready to go as it were were less than inspiring.
There seemed to be vast quantities of eau de nil, which had featured largely in the houses of my youth to the extent that I never wished to see it again and certainly not on the shutters which I had taken from their hinges and brought to the barn to work on.

There are moments when you find yourself on a ladder at a first floor window heaving an oak shutter as tall as yourself off two sets of iron hinges when you wonder if there is some sort of mathematical formula for how far backward you can lean with the shutter in your hands before the ladder decides to follow your general direction.
If there is, I don't want to know about it. Making fear concrete would be more than I could bear.
Especially when you have to do it another eleven times or risk leaving the house look uneven.

I had decided on a sort of drab olive colour and found something approximating to it on the chart offered by the lady with the mixing machine.
I decided how much I wanted and she duly mixed paint and banged down paint pot lids...those special French ones which prevent you from closing the tin properly after use in the fond hope that the paint will dry out and you will be forced to buy a new tin when touching up your paintwork a year later.
She wrote the mix number on the bill...thus confirming my suspicions that I would be needing more the next year and I paid up, wondering how it was that I was funding the French national debt singlehanded while just seeking to paint my shutters and went on my way.

That oak soaked up paint the way traditional fast bowlers supped ale.
It swallowed the primer....equivalent in cost to buying France a new nuclear submarine.
It slurped the undercoat.....enough to fund half an Ariane missile.
It turned its attentions to the olive clearly liked it - a cheeky little number with turpentine overtones and a long finish.

I returned to the paint shop.

I handed over the bill with the mix number and Madame got on with mixing. She seemed in an awful hurry to bang on the lids when she had finished and I could see why.
The colour was nothing like the olive drab...more like a matt black.

That's not the right colour!

Yes it is.

It's not. Look at this paint stain on my hand.

It is. It has to be. This is the colour for that number.

Then the number must be wrong. I had olive green paint and this is nearly black.

It will settle when you stir it.

No it won't. I'm not taking that.

But I've mixed it. You have to. Anyway, you can use it for undercoat.

I don't want black paint. The whole point of putting the mix number on the bill was to avoid this.

You must have written it yourself and made a mistake...being a foreigner, you didn't understand French.

The handwriting for the number and the rest of the bill are the same....

As I left the shop I saw something I had previously overlooked......the notice on the door for the chamber of commerce publicity drive.

The customer is king.

So now we know why Louis XVI ended up under the blade of the guillotine....he must have kicked up about the paintwork at Versailles.

Given that persistence at tin of paint level...what chance does President Zuma have when it comes to millions of euros worth of white goods?

There is a chance that they might try to divert him with a bunga bunga which he is as partial as Signor Berlusconi...but as it is unimaginable that an African President could be bribed by anything so trivial I suspect that he will have to invite those concerned to an evening at the South African embassy in Paris to explain the realities of the case. I am sure that once EADS directors and French government ministers hear him singing his favourite song, the advisability of coughing up will become apparent.

He will entertain them with his rendering of 'Umshini wami'...

Loosely translated as 'Hand me down my machine gun'.

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  1. What an appalling way to do business. It's like paying a deposit to have a gang of dodgy workmen to patio your drive and then have them apologize for ordering the wrong type of bricks but thanks very much for the cash advance. However, I guess it works. Wonder if I can use the same technique on my employer - turn up for work, complain the work they've given me in unworkable but still get paid...?

  2. French and customer service there's an oxymoron if ever there was one :-(

  3. LOL LOL where did you track down those videos, :))))) Diane

  4. Oh why doesn't Sarko pipe up with a jolly number at the end of his speeches?

    I'm with you on Zuma getting the deposit back - no chance. The French will not cede on anything.

  5. Haw hee haw hee haw. Katanga there is on a ‘non’ brainer. Not unless they do a deal and ship him out a few thousand tons of unwanted ‘black olive drab’ paint to disguise his nuke power storage barns at night.

    There’s an even chance he might actually fall for that one. Especially if he spots an opportunity to make some tasty wonga on the side by re-selling the black paint as ‘oil’ to Signor Berlusconi, who right now is, miserably bearing witness to all the zillions of lire he’s been back handing Gaddafi these last two decades - in order to secure his supply of high grade unrefined oil from Libya – dry up right under his very own ‘nose job’.

    Trouble is, they’ll end up doing a deal through some shady back door, when Katanga gets all tribal and starts threatening to spike Sarko with something that’s unflattering to his galactic ego.

    And at mere shutter level, we wonder why the excessive cost of paint?!!

    And then “Bollocks!” said Old Zebedee – and – “Time for bed” said Florence. xx

  6. Steve, not a problem. You install a French public service 35 hour week, which involves job sharing.
    Any files you don't like the look of stay in the in tray for your job sharer who will do likewise,
    You both get paid.
    Thus the boxes of wine which figured recently on your blog would stay on the stairs forever.

    Rosie, no, they seem to think it's a one way transaction..your money to their pocket...while the fitness for purpose of the object bought doesn't come into the equation.

    Diane, I watched the France SA match on the box and couldn't believe my eyes or ears!
    Someone else must have thought likewise as it's on youtube.
    As to the Zuma one, I was looking for footage of his triumph outside the court after his acquittal on rape charges where he sings this song, but this was the only one youtube had.

    Sarah, it would have to be something from the seven dwarfs...and I don't think he'll get his hands on the dosh either.

    Phil, we'll have to set Dougal on the lot of them...

  7. I heard Miriam Makebe singing the SA national anthem in Australia. It sounds nothing like that hopeless rendition. It's a tad disrespectful.

    I have fond memories of buying a pedestal wash basin in Bricomarche. The pedestal didn't fit but they refused to refund my money on the basis that I must have changed them myself, which of course makes perfect sense... to a Frenchman at least!

  8. As we have to hoist our shutters back in place tomorrow, I hope we hit on your mathematical formula for staying on the ladder. Enjoyed reading your paint-buying experiences pre-Bricomarche, Mr. Brico etc...though seems like not a lot has changed, just more of it.

  9. Wylye Girl, the anthem was a disgrace...but only part of French organisers' tactics aimed at disrupting the morale of opponents, like booking team hotels miles from practice grounds which in turn are miles from the stadium...
    Oh, and I can just hear the Bricomarche salesman, too.

    Amy, good luck with the shutters...I now can't remember which was worse, taking them down or putting them back!

    What you do not need is an audience of one or more at ground level making audible gasps as you sway back and forth with a ton weight of oak in your hands trying either to remove or to attach said to the iron spike and band laughingly known as a hinge in France.
    And suggestions that you rope yourself to the chimney don't go down too well either...

  10. Fly, now I know why there are all the pleas on French expat forums, begging people to bring paint from the UK!

  11. Perpetually in Transit, it doesn't help that, apart from inventing paint tins that once opened cannot be properly sealed again, French technology has also invented non stick paint.
    I always thought that one could have run a decent business just delivering paint to the Brits in France...

  12. Great videos. I rather like the French curmudgeonly attitude to service - but only in moderation, as sort of tourist attraction.

  13. Mark, they are fun, aren't they? I saw Zuma singing this after his acquittal, with a cardboard machine gun in his hands, but can't find it on youtube.

    The service thing is fine for post holiday anecdote...but not for living with.

  14. Well, as a naive North American my first time in France and, quite honestly, having been spoilt by the generally benevolent attitudes one finds towards customers on this continent the "I absolutely don't give a shit" attitude took a while to get used to. Eventually expectations diminished so we got on OK, though rarely enchantedly.

  15. mrwriteon, as long as you expect the worst you can be pleasantly surprised by French customer service...about once in every hundred years.