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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Buying a phone in France.

If you're ever watching a movie and you see a spy, say Jason Bourne, parachute into a boat drifting down the Seine, dive into the water and swim to shore, slink through a crowded plaza next to the Louvre and slip into a tobaconists' shop to immediately buy a new phone so that he can call the CIA on an untraceable line, you'll know it's a load of hollywood nonsense.

The reason being, Jason Bourne would not be allowed to own a phone because he would not have a gas bill.

I’m about to tell you a story, but you have to listen carefully, so grab a cup of tea and get comfortable. Are you ready?

About three months ago I arrived in France to start a new job. I signed a contract for a mobile phone. Since I’d already used a pre-paid phone for more than three months in France last year, SFR (the phone company) offered the first two months of my contract free. What a nice gesture of fidelité! Tally ho!

But wait, there’s more!

About a month ago I received a letter at my apartment telling me to come to the SFR shop because they needed proof of my address in France to complete my “dossier”. “This is weird, I thought I already gave them a bunch of documents proving my address” I thought, unaware of just how weird things were going to get.

Now my rental situation is a little complicated. Having just arrived in France, my work has provided me with an apartment whilst I find one for myself, which means my work is paying for my rent or electricity bills.

So about three weeks ago, in order to prove my address to SFR, I dropped into the SFR shop and re-supplied them with:

  1. a copy of my lease (which is in the name of my employer)
  2. a letter from my employer attesting to the fact that I am living in the apartment.
  3. a copy of my contract, saying that I’m employed by my employer
  4. a letter from the real estate agent saying that the lessor was leasing the apartment to my employer and that he was aware I was now living in it.
  5. my passport and visa.

So, Problem solved I thought. This belief was shattered when about a week ago I tried to make a phone call, only to find my phone had been disconnected.

I went into the SFR store to try and see what was wrong. This is a translation of a conversation I had with the shop assistant.

Me: Hello
The SFR Guy: (very politely) Hello sir, thank you for waiting. How can I help you today?
Me: Hi. I’ve been in before. I received this letter saying that you require further proof of my address. In response, I gave you a bunch of documents last week. The letter also said that if I didn’t supply you with proof of address by the 19th of January, you would disconnect my phone line. However, for some reason, despite the fact that I have now given you multiple documents proving my address, my phone was nevertheless disconnected yesterday, the 8th of January…
The SFR Guy: Right.
Me: …and no one told me that would be happening.
The SFR Guy: Right.
Me: … so my question is, why did SFR do that?
The SFR Guy: Well they’ve suspended your line now. But it will be disconnected on the 19th.
Me: Shoudn't someone have told me they were going to do that? I mean, why did they cut my line? I gave you all the documents you need to prove where I live.
The SFR Guy: We need a gas bill in your name dated within the last two months.
Me: I don’t have a gas bill in my name.
The SFR Guy: You will have a gas bill in your name, believe me.
Me: No. I don’t. I don’t pay the gas bill.
The SFR Guy: Well you need to ring the landlord and get a gas bill from him.
Me: For his house?
The SFR Guy: No. For your house.
Me: I’ve already rung the real estate agent. The landlord lives in turkey. He doesn’t have a gas bill.
The SFR Guy: Well he should have one.
Me: …He doesn’t!
The SFR Guy: Well I’m sorry. They’ll disconnect your phone on the 19th.
Me: It’s already disconnected!
The SFR Guy: Suspended. But on the 19th, they’ll rip up your contract.
Me: (Deep breath) You’re saying that the only way I can prove my address is to give you a gas bill?
The SFR Guy: Or a telephone bill.
Me: You’ve suspended my telephone line!
The SFR Guy: Oh right, so a gas bill.
Me: Look, I know everyone in France probably does have a gas bill in their name, but because of my situation, I don’t. So instead, I’ve given you the lease for the apartment which is signed by my work, a letter from my work attesting that I live in the apartment, a letter from the real estate agent on behalf of the landlord attesting that I live in the apartment, my work contract saying that I work for my work, my bank account details stating that I get paid by my work, my passport and visa stating that I am in France on a work visa. I mean, aren’t they enough? Why do you still need a gas bill?
The SFR Guy: To know where you live.
Me: But you know where I live. The letter telling me that you needed proof of my address was delivered to my correct address. I’m here now because of that letter! Having read the letter that was delivered to the place where I live, I came here!
The SFR Guy: (shrugging shoulders) You won’t get a phone without a gas bill. That’s the way it is in France. Maybe it’s different in England.
Me: Australia.
The SFR Guy: (shrugging shoulders) England, Australia. I don’t know. In France, having a phone is complicated. It requires you to have a lot of paper work.
Me: No it doesn’t. Apparently you just need a gas bill.
The SFR Guy: Well, those are the rules.
Me: The rules don’t make sense. I mean, we’re not in the middle ages. We’re in 2009. (admittedly a bit childish, but I was losing it by this stage)
The SFR Guy: (shrugging shoulders) That’s the French state for you.
Me: But it doesn't have to be like this. I mean, it’s illogical, even from your business point of view. You gave me this 300 euro phone for free with my contract. Now you’re going to disconnect the phone and cancel my contract. But you’re not going to take the phone back and I haven’t paid anything yet. Not one bill! So you’re effectively giving me a free phone. All because I haven’t got a gas bill.
The SFR Guy: (shrugging shoulders)You need a gas bill. There are rules. The French state.
Me: (calming down) I know that now, but imagine, just imagine, that for whatever reason, I don’t have a gas bill. What can I possibly give to you to prove my address.
The SFR Guy: Nothing.
Me: Do you know how crazy that sounds? (hypothetically, losing it again) Why don’t you want my business? I’m going to be in France for two years. I need a phone. I have money in the bank, which I will give to you every month in exchange for the phone services that your company provides. That is what your business is about. I can show you five documents which prove my address, but I don’t have a gas bill.
The SFR Guy: I’m sorry. It’s not me. (shrugging shoulders) It’s the French state.
Me: (giving up) Ok… Thanks. See you later.
The SFR Guy: (the ultimate insult from customer service who know you're pissed off) Have a good day.

I think what disappointed me the most, was that this guy agreed with me, that cancelling my contract because I couldn’t provide him with a gas bill that I don’t have was ludicrous. But nevertheless he didn’t want to think about a possible alternative solution. He just rolled his eyes at another “immigrant causing trouble” and said, “sorry mate, them’s the breaks”.

Anyway. Consider this vent over.

Friday, January 16, 2009

France: legalité, inflexibilité, absurdité

I was looking into the etymology of the word France the other day and came across this:

France, [frans, frahns; Fr. frahns], derives from the ancient Celtic word Fraingh which means to clutch desperately to a firmly entrenched but horribly inefficient way of doing things, out of a singular fear that to change would be to admit that the way you have been doing things has been making life more difficult than necessary.

Equality is great. Sex is better.

I recently went to a bar here in Paris where, in order to encourage females to frequent the establishment, a rule has been instigated that all girls drink free.

The logic is clear. Free drinks for girls means more girls will come, which will mean that guys will want to come, which will mean that guys will pay (through the nose) for their drinks, which mean the bar will get a good reputation as a place to meet girls.

Call me a tightarse, but I was struck by how flagrantly discriminatory this rule is. If the rule was "whites drink free" or "asians pay double", we'd all be up in arms.

The message is clear:

A world where all humans are treated equally would be great. But the prospect of having sex is better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Waltz with Bashir wins

Waltz with Bashir, a film already mentioned on this blog here, just won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. The film tells the story of Ari, a former Israeli soldier involved in the 1982 war in Lebanon who, as a 19 year old, witnessed the massacre of Palistinean refugees at Sabra and Shatila. Twenty five years later, Ari continues to be haunted by his memories and as he seeks out his old comrades, he realises he's not the only one.

When viewed against the current situation in Gaza, the complete and utter tragedy of war, and its effect on the human spirit, which is depicted so beautifully in this film, is all the more real.

Bravo to this brave brave film! As Glenn Hansard said on accepting the Oscar for "Falling Slowly" in the film Once, "Make art! Make art!" (and not war!).