Le plombier Polonais

Polish Plumber Tour EiffelHave you seen the Polish plumber lately? Let me reassure you: he is alive and well and living in France. The Polish plumber came to life in a cartoon published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo back in 2004. He came to represent everything the French fear most about Europe: unfair competition from cheap East European labour. Le plombier Polonais emerged from the rhetoric as a terrifying idea:

Imagine, a Polish plumber decides to come to work in France. What will become of French plumbers?

The Polish plumber and his cohorts are back in the news again – with the Greeks on the verge of exiting the EU and the Brits about to vote on their future in it. In France, the latest demon is the ‘Uberization’ of French taxis, which will also bring about the certain demise of its trains and buses. Clearly, we need to stop all forms of progress in order to protect the over-taxed and under-worked French system.

Anyone who has ever tried to find a workman in France can attest to the fact that a little competition can only be a good thing. Case in point: I’ve been trying to get some blinds installed on the south-facing side of my house to protect us from the summer sun. I began in March, signed the quote and left a hefty deposit in April. Last week, after begging and cajoling, I reverted to a threat: if the blinds were not installed this month, I would cancel the order. They called back with a date for end of next week.

We also needed some painting done in our basement. Of course we could do it ourselves, but neither husband nor self are particularly handy. I contacted a company that has done various small jobs for us in the past. They provided a quote the next day, then informed me of a date in mid-June, apologizing for being too busy to start immediately. They came when promised with no reminders on my part.

Plombier Polonais
The Polish plumber became a cheeky tourism campaign for that country. Clever Poles!

The man who runs this business in Polish. He is a charming fellow, although unfortunately he looks nothing like the poster from the tourism office. Monsieur V. hires his labour from the home country and supervises the workers in his native tongue. So I have Polish painters, if not plumbers. They were here first thing yesterday and stayed until 8:00 last night to finish the first part of the job. He has built his business up to a point where his easily identifiable if atrociously decorated vehicles can be seen at job sites all over our area. This leads me to think he must play by the rules and pay the Polish workers a fair wage and benefits in keeping with French law.

This kind of competition should be a wake-up call for the French. Unfortunately it is simply another reason to curse the EU and go out on strike.

Et vous? What’s your experience with the Polish plumber – or his equivalent?

13 thoughts on “Le plombier Polonais

  1. Mel,

    Very interesting post, sweet friend! I have heard this about living in France–the snail’s pace at which everything “home-improvement” (among other things) moves. I love your posts so much. They help me feel like I live there. Even with all of its foibles, fears and quirks, I will always love France.

    I don’t have a Polish plumber story, per se, but I can tell you that living in Humboldt County, CA for seven years was beyond frustrating. My husband and I were the only non-marijuana users in the entire county. Trying to get anyone to come to the house on time, do the specifics of the job for which they were contracted, do the job reasonably well, and not “blaze up” in our driveway or on our property was near-impossible. I had to kick many people off of my land, vocally and threateningly.

    We could NEVER find people, in any capacity, that were not stoned out of their minds in that county. They messed up orders in restaurants and coffee shops to special orders at various shops, not to mention the “creative driving” that people there employed. It was awful. I used lots of expletives while living there. I’m so glad to be out of there.

    All this to say that I feel your pain, sis. I do. Human beings are so incredibly weird, aren’t we? Sounds like you have a perfect method of managing the situation, though. Funny, that we’ve both had to resort to threats to get things done. HA! :)Lizzy

    1. Dearest Lizzy,
      So nice to hear your voice! Your experience in California sounds like living in another country, one that I would not wish to live in – nor combine with the French! Very different sets of people, circumstances and cultures and yet the result is the same – not much gets done without threats. Lots of crazy drivers here, too! My few experiences with weed resulted in episodes of extreme paranoia, so it’s a mystery to me how people can regularly use and enjoy the stuff. In France, of course, we have our wine – but I for one try not to mix it with work! Glad to hear this blog continues to offer pleasure to you, and very much enjoyed hearing your version of the ‘Polish Plumber’. Bises XXX

  2. Mel dear, you’re too much… love ya, babe! ❤ 🙂 ah, le cliché et la légende urbaine du plombier polonais… 😉 les artisans de n'importe quelle nationalité – le parcours du combattant = hard obstacle race – anywhere in France, so here, too… 🙂
    * * *
    have a sunny day and friendly hugs… Mel NB

    1. You said it, my dear. “Le parcours du combattant” indeed. An expression worthy of a future post? Or maybe a title for my memoir? Ha, ha….thanks for bringing your sunshine to my blog! 🙂

  3. Having grown up in a massive family of Poles, I am left wondering what happened to my genetic pool? Why do none of my relatives look remotely as engaging as this strapping lad?
    Ah well. That said, I’m also from a family of folks who say, “hand me that there wrench.” It’s an admirable quality, but I can’t recall living in a house that wasn’t always in some state of repair, replacement or waiting for the parts.
    Maybe I should check the yellow pages just to see who’d show up in my neck of the woods? 😛

    1. Not sure, Shelley, but don’t I detect a bit of the Polish plumber’s high cheek bones in your profile pic? I can just imagine you wielding a wrench, which is a skill I’d love to learn. In fact, just heard that the handy-woman trend is taking off in France. Maybe I’ll get me to a plumbing class? Cheers!

  4. My daughter’s best friend is extremely posh and trained as a plumber after several failed attempts to adhere herself to any sort of career. She has a business called Plummy Plumbers in the frightfully upmarket Cotswolds and is making a fortune to her parents pride and relief. I just wish I could persuade her across the channel because here I could grow a very unfetching beard waiting for any sort of plumbing action to transpire 😀

    1. Plummy plumbers – I love it! Those are skills that will always be in demand, she sounds like one smart cookie. Just about any kind of service company does well in our parts – all they basically have to do is show up but sometimes that’s too much to ask. 😉

  5. Ha – great story – I get so tired of people, the oes who are totally unthreatened by them, moaning about ‘immigrants’ – they usually go on to say how hard the Polish tradespeople work. We hired an Albanian painter for two big jobs – he was briliiant if a bit ‘faire la gueule’ when I didn’t offer to pay his fine for driving through a red light when he was trying to save petrol by not stopping!

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