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The French Way September 24, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille.

This is the start of week I-have-no-idea without Internet. The latest news on that front is just too funny — I can’t wait until I have Internet so I can post what is going on! Otherwise, I seem to be down to about one blog posting a week. I miss posting!

When I was in India (I’d provide a link, but I’m writing this offline right now and can’t get a link to a previous post I wrote on this) one of the (many) things that struck me was the use of human labor. When a ditch-witch for several hours would do, they would hire 30 people for a week instead. This was a conscious choice (as it was explained to me): India has a huge population and this is one method they use to address unemployment.

France, and Europe, are by no means the same. However, I do notice that people are much more involved in day-to-day interactions than they are back in the USA. For example, to get a good train schedule it was much more efficient for me to talk to a person and have them book the ticket than it was for me to do it online or at one of the SNCF kiosks. In the USA sites like Expedia and Travelocity have almost made travel agents irrelevant for frequent travelers. But the human touch was nice – even if it took me much longer than it would have taken at one of their kiosks if it had enough power to arrange my schedule (why wouldn’t it route a trip to Geneva through Lyon!?).

Another example: my cell phone broke — it looks like the display cracked somehow. Turns out I can get it replaced under warrantee. Something similar has happened back in the USA — there Cingular over-night shipped me a new phone and then I shipped mine back. They said they would charge me full price if it looked like I’d dropped it. Here, in order to setup the warrantee exchange I had to go to a Orange store (see below for the Catch-22 reason why) and then to actually do the exchange a person will arrive at my apartment on Tuesday morning and do it in person. That is right — a real live person!! At first I was flattered that they would spend the time of a person to do something like that. They are willing to spend that kind of money on this. Neat! But then I realized the flip side: I have to be home between 9am and 1pm. I have no Internet; so I will loose basically half a day of work. I like my work; I don’t particularly want to miss half a day.

Doing business in the USA is definitely more impersonal than here in France. I suppose there are both ups and downs to that. I wonder how much more the French way costs? My cell service would be cheaper if they went the FedEx route, right?

Catch-22: So, your cell phone broken? Then from any Orange mobile dial 700 and you’ll get someone to help. Oh, but wait — their automated phone system tells you to hang up and dial from a fixed line. What if your house doesn’t have a fixed line (it is part of my Internet package… remember? I don’t have Internet). Great, call from work. Oh — that special number only works from fixed FranceTelecom lines. FT owns everything here so that shouldn’t be a problem… except, at least, for the lab where I work! So, after the Orange store told me to go home and dial these numbers, I had to return and tell them to dial them for me. If you want a double catch-22, imagine me, in broken french, trying to explain all of this to the Orange people in the store! And then they got to listen to me, in broken french, explain what was wrong with my phone to the people on the other end of the phone line. On the flip side: one came to my rescue by correcting the way I was using one word – which converted the situation from me having to buy a brand new mobile to getting a warrantee replacement. Thanks, Orange boutique people in Marseille (on Rue Paradis).

UPDATE: Dude showed up about 10 minutes before the end of the 4 hour window. Grubby teeshirt and shorts, with a box in hand. The box had clearly been shipped to him. The whole operation took less than 5 minutes. Why couldn’t they have just shipped the phone directly to me? Well, I have a new phone and it works just fine. Now, if only the Internet would start working too! I am just too demanding!


1. carlbrannen - September 25, 2007

I wonder how many theoreticians know what a ditch witch is.

2. gordonwatts - September 25, 2007

Ha! I bit a bunch. I’m living in the appt of a math theorist right now — he is one of the best ceiling plasters I’ve ever seen. The ceilings are amazing, 14 ft high, and he did them all himself.

3. Carl Brannen - September 25, 2007

I was thinking physics theoreticians, who are famous for witching experiments when they walk into the room.

I’ve known a lot of mathematicians who were good with their hands, including my father. Having been in physics and math grad school both, I think the physics theorists are not at all like the mathematicians.

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