Thursday, June 12, 2008

Movin’ on Up!

Our lovely provençal skies have really taken a bruising lately. But my recent days have been brightened by the warm wishes that filled my email inbox and post comments to welcome me back into the world!

Thank you – un mille fois!

Now a tour is in store of the rooftop apartment to give a bit of a form to the unintended hiatus from the blog. But first, a little something to balance things out. The loss of connection was also unintended and the experience serves to illustrate the less than lovely side of my little life in provence!

Having given a full 3 months notice (required in France), I began to prepare for the move to the new apartment. Although it was only upstairs, "upstairs" is three flights (otherwise known as 100 steps) with no lift. In addition to packing in smaller boxes to make for easier carrying for those dear friends and neighbors who pitched in and spent a full day running up and down stairs (thank you, again!), I began in early April to prepare for the transfer of my telephone line. I believe I’ve made no secret of my dissatisfaction with a company called Alice here in France. Yup, I'm namin' names here! To put it briefly, from the first connection (which took over 6 weeks to get straightened out and then never really was right) the service on every level sucked. The move was an opportunity to change providers. The research was pointing to Neuf Telecom.

I began taking steps to transfer my phone number to the top floor apartment and then make the connection with Neuf. A call was made to Alice to announce the move. But it would seem that the people in the apartment before me had also taken a "package" deal with another provider where the company takes over the dial tone and hooks up telephone/internet/television connection through their equipment – precisely what I was looking to do. Alice informed me that according to their test on the line, there was no "tonalité" (dial tone) at the new apartment and I would have to go to France Telecom to ask them to establish a dial tone on that line. No problem. With a France Telecom office just a block or so away from my door and more confidence in my French these days to tackle such things, I simply saw it as the next step. The unexpected hiccup was that I was going in as someone who had crossed over to the Dark Side with another provider and had to admit as much to explain the situation and inquire as to how to go about getting the line in the new place up and running.

The notion of customer service in France seems to be as foreign as fish tacos. And it's not looking like either will be imported any time soon. As an American coming from the land of waiters who end up on a first name basis before they’ve rattled off the specials for the evening and wide smiles and hearty welcomes delivered upon walking into the GAP as if being welcomed by long lost friends, the more subtle style of customer service in France can be a bit of a first. But then there is always the moment when you actually need something...and...well, frankly, you’re toast.

It was with sniffs of disdain and heads tilted upwards to actually make it appear that the "customer service" people in France Telecom were actually looking down their noses at me from their perched stools in front of buzzing computer monitors that kept showing them that serving me (a non France Telecom client) would be impossible. Attempts were made to override the system and try to serve perhaps the apartment - since he had not done anything wrong – instead of this person standing in front of them who was capable of reasoning and who had clearly chosen to abandon them. But even those attempts were zapped as the requests for service were moved through the system.

At one point, after I had been promised a dial tone over the weekend and faced Tuesday morning (after another one of the countless May Holidays had eaten an additional day out of my time line to try to get this all handled) with complete and utter silence on the other end of the line, I marched over to the FT office to state that although one had been promised to me, it had not yet arrived. Could someone tell me where we are in the process so I can move this along?

I was handed a telephone handset and after a secret number had been dialed into it, was told to talk to "deez-strez" for assistance. Perfect, I thought. "Distress" would be able to help me because that was exactly the state I was rapidly approaching. And so I stood there in teh FT office on hold...

...for several minutes...


...listening to some perky muzak and various conversations in French taking place around me...

...then an odd silence.

Thinking I had been disconnected unintentionally I approached one of the customer service reps who told me just to wait...and so I continued... wait.

Finally a voice came on the line and expectantly I tossed a quick "Bonjour!" into the receiver only to discover that the voice coming through was a recording telling me that I had been on hold for too long (duhhh!) and I would be cut off immediately. Please try again later. (The only good news in this particular part of the situation is that I was calling from the FT office. Had I been calling from my own phone, I would have been charged 0.34€ centimes a minute for that hold time! And I have a 10€ "hold" bill to prove it! Yup! That’s right – customer service is not only bad here, it’s expensive!)

I’m quite certain that a bubble appeared over my head at that very moment with ‘Arrrrrrgh!’ writ large. But I composed myself and approached the rep who had done the secret dialing to see if I could access that distress line once again. Impatiently she stated that it was "deez-strez!" To which I responded, "Oui, I know. But I do not know the number of ‘distress’." I’ll spare you the Abbot and Costello style back-and-forth that went on until she grabbed the phone out of my hand and dialed "10 13". In French that would be "dix, treize" pronounced "deeztrez". Yes my friends, sadly we were talking numbers and not my state of being after all.

It went downhill from here with the general message consistently being that I was no longer a France Telecom customer and would have to go to my provider to handle the dial tone issue. Except that my provider kept telling me that they had no control over accessing the dial tone...yada yada yada...and kept sending me back to FT.

Like any victim of abuse who doesn’t know how to get out of a destructive cycle, I kept going back until finally one of those now rather hostile customer service reps actually waved me away with her hand as one might wave off a nagging child who is irritating a preoccupied parent with an inconvenient request of "Play with me!" while the parent is involved in finding the solution to world hunger.

(Oh! And there was that ever-so important language lesson in which I learned that the word "bitch" is universal: A man rather rudely interrupted my explanation to a customer service rep at which point she actually stopped our interaction to answer all of his questions and show him various models of telephones to replace his broken phone, turning to me briefly and giving me that French shrug as if to say, “What am I to do?!?” Mind you, he entered the store several minutes after I had been working with this person. I said in very clear French, "This is too much!" and turned to leave, knowing that I had just accomplished two very important things: 1) I had expressed myself in a moment of frustration in French and stood up for myself, (yay me!) and 2)I had pretty much shot myself in the foot to get a dial tone...ever. But it was as I walked toward the door ignoring this rude intruder’s hollow apologies followed by a snarky expletive that I learned that “bitch” seems to have found its way into the French politesse.)

Shocked and shaken, I called in desperation to a French friend of mine to see what could be done to get a dial tone released from the evil grip of France Telecom and get this thing moving along. By now it had been 4 weeks without connection. After a phone call to FT in Marseille, I was promised a dial tone but it had to be established at my old apartment first then transferred some days later to the apartment upstairs. Once I had this precious dial tone, I could arrange for the new operator to take over – and take it all away from FT once again.

Good riddance!

As of this happy moment all of my telecommunication eggs are in Neuf’s far so good. Fingers crossed.

Lest anyone think that my little French life is all charming outdoor markets and locally grown seasonal produce and stimulating cultural events and music in the streets (and in the language) and charming winding rues and lavender fields and vineyards...well...I'm here to tell you: there are days!

With internet connections in place, it's time for a tour of the new digs!

Step in and look to the right and you'll probably see Bodhi sitting in his favorite spot.

Look left and you'll see through the kitchen to the bedroom end of the space.

The kitchen, a bit larger than the previous La Fourchette "playroom", there is room for everything to have a place of its own.

Back from the kitchen and into the living space, even I have a place of my own for various creative projects...and anything else I want to do at a desk separate from where my computer lives.

A fireplace anchors the room in a pleasant way.

And a full wall of bookcases gives home to a few of my favorite things.

From this banquette, you can see directly onto the lower terrace.

But if you wander up the stairs...

...and across the catwalk...(or "dogwalk" in our petite maison!) will arrive at the place where I fell in love with this apartment a year and a half ago!

From here, the views are...well...stunning!

From provençal rooftops... my neighbor, L'Eglise Madeleine... the Palais du Justice... the clock tower at the Place de la Mairie... the cathedral..., of course, my mountain...Ste. Victoire.

Remind me to tell you a story about Ste. Victoire one of these days. In the meantime, the toughest part of the big move is over and one of these days, I'll be wandering back into the kitchen.

For now, the recipe is simple:
Pour yourself a glass of chilled rosé.
Put out a few salted almonds and some olives.
Put your feet up...and enjoy the view!



Anonymous said...

But don't you know. We have been in Mercury Retrograde, and in France this never lets up!!!!!
My favorite picture was with Bodhi outside on the patio. You are really lucky to have such a fantastic companion to love.

Bubba's Person

Tamsie said...

Lovely to have your blog back. The new apartment looks grand.
Nice to have the telephone adventures over but what of Patrice? I think we were getting close.
Hugs, me

Kitt said...

I had some sympathy for your telephone ordeal ... until I saw your views!

Well, OK, I'm still sympathetic. But also very envious.

la fourchette said...

Bubba's Person,
Ah yes. That old "Mercury retrograde" thing! That explains a lot. (open palm slapping center of forehead at this very moment.)
Yes, I am very lucky to have such a lovely companion...and quite the Bodhi. Tu as raison!

Yup! New apartment is pretty special...wait 'til you see!

As to "Patrice", for those of you reading this and curious about the reference: a gentleman named "Patrice" shared my telephone number and connection with Alice for several months. When people would call *my* number, *he* would answer from his home. At one point, he was receiving so many of my calls through the crossed connection that he actually called *his* number to reach *me* to see if he had any messages that I was receiving! It was crazy! But I was lucky because he was very polite (even good-humored) with everyone who called him looking for me. (yeah...that's part of the reason I wanted to lose Alice...but alas, I lost Patrice along with "her"!)

I can understand the drop in sympathy once you see where that dial tone lives! I guess it's all a bit of give and take, non?! To live in such a place, one can forego one's notions of "customer service".


Emma said...

Oh what a lovely apartment! I guess, despite the phone frustrations, perhaps things balance out in the end regardless...

Sprocketboy said...

In the 1950s a French Minister of Post, Telegrams and Telephones remarked: "The telephone? It is a passing fad." And so ever since this is how the French have treated it.

Seriously, I enjoy reading about your life in Provence and am envious. Keep the reports coming and perhaps I will cycle by one day for some Tarte Tatin.

(P.S. I have put a link to you on my cycling blog since people should learn to enjoy life off the bike!)

Alain said...

Great shots...
Now I know where you are.
When I lived in Aix from 1960 to 1963, I did not have a phone... and no administrative nightmares to deal with.
Enjoy your new little spot of paradise with such a view over those dear beautiful tiled roofs.

Tonight, I'm raising my glass of Coteaux d'Aix to your move while eating my lamb stew with artichokes, lemmmon, origan, and orzo pasta.

All the best,


la fourchette said...

Yes, you are absolutely right: it all balances out. Thanks for stopping into the new digs! Glad you enjoyed the visit. We share different rooftop views...always nice to dip in for a city exchange!

"passing fad"...that explains a lot!

It all fades in short order when I remind myself that I may be irritated, but I'm irritated in the *south of France*!

And thanks for the link! Nice to be included in the community on your site. You can stop in to see what's cookin' chez La Fourchette and I'll stop in to see how that World Champion training is going! (Felicitations! That's quite a goal!)

Mmmmm! Dinner sounded delicious and I thank you for the toast with Coteaux d'Aix! Lovely!

I thought you'd be able to figure out the location with a bit more information!

Thanks for stopping in to take in the views!


Deborah Truesdell said...


Loving your most recent post! You must be very happy with the move up! Please come over to my blog to see a little something that has been awarded to you.


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