Liste rouge


The phone rang yesterday just as I was getting ready to go out.

“Allô?” I answered automatically, without checking the caller ID. Too late I saw that it said ‘privé’, a sure sign that someone was going to annoy me with a sales pitch.

And he did.

“Bonjour Madame. Blah blah blah – important information about your electricity bill – yada yada yada – produce your own solar powered energy – blah blah blah….”

I let him run on, too polite to cut him off, too tired to nicely interject. When he paused for breath, I asked, rather bluntly: “Vous appelez qui s’il vous plaît? On est liste rouge.” ‘Liste rouge’ being the magic words in French for unlisted phone number, or ex-directory.

“Uhh…Madame Fayard?” he replied.

I have been haunted by the ghost of Madame Fayard ever since we moved here three years ago. Regularly, despite the fact that we pay for the privilege of an unlisted number, I get calls from salespeople desperately seeking the dear lady. Clearly France Telecom waited all of five minutes before recycling the number after she moved away. Or left this world.

“Ce n’est pas le bon numéro,” I announced, curtly advising him that there was no such dame at this number and I would be most grateful if he would remove it from whatever outdated list he was calling from.

Undaunted, the brave fellow pushed on with his narrative. It really didn’t matter, he said, because the information he had was very important and could certainly be of interest to me…

Canadian I may be but my politesse wears thin in the presence of telemarketers.

I cut his spiel short, explaining that the whole point of having an unlisted number was to not have to listen to such information, however interesting. He had the good grace to chuckle at this and hang up.

No matter who is calling these days, I don’t do well with telephones. I’m not sure why this is, other than the fact that I am deaf in one ear, dislike being interrupted and struggle to make myself understood in French. Maybe it’s because I spent half of my youth with a phone growing out of my ear.

Back in the prehistoric days before the internet, I used to spend hours on the phone. Way before technological innovations like call waiting and voicemail, my teenaged marathon phone sessions sometimes went on all night. I didn’t have a phone in my room but there was one in the hall with a very long cord that just reached to the bed. People trying to call our house got the busy signal so long they assumed the phone was off the hook. I remember the parents pounding on my bedroom door in fury: “Get off the phone before I have to get it surgically removed!”

“I have to go,” I’d say with regret to the tragically bored girlfriend or amorous fellow on the other end.

When I first began working in the corporate world in France, I had to use the phone professionally. I was terrified of either cutting off an important caller or not understanding what the person on the other end was saying. Somehow I managed to get my employer to send me on a training course to Paris to learn the proper use of the telephone. This involved role-playing on fake phones while parroting a lot of phrases like ‘Patientez, s’il vous plaît’ (please hold) or ‘Puis-je demander qui est en ligne?’ (May I ask who’s calling?).

Now my main connection to work is an iPhone 6 with unlimited calling capacity. I rarely use it to talk to people, however, and it’s probably just as well. Let’s just say that you don’t want to be around me when it rings. I’m not able to walk and chew gum at the same time, so multitasking is not a strong point. First I have to find the bloody thing somewhere in a pocket or a bag, a challenge when you can’t tell what direction sounds are coming from (oh the joys of single-sided hearing!), make sure my glasses are on so that I can see who it is, figure out what button to press to take the call. By then it has usually gone to voice mail.

As for my home phone, it almost never rings. May Madame Fayard rest in peace.

How do you feel about the telephone? Do you still have a land line or are you entirely mobile?



  1. Food,Photography & France · January 28, 2016

    We’re liste rouge and have been since we came here…but we still get our share of unsolicited calls …I don’t know what they’re about, in fact I may have won Lotto two or three times, as I don’t give them a chance to get past the first word…:)

    • MELewis · January 28, 2016

      Ah, if only I had your chutzpah! In the unlikely event of a lottery win, please feel free to transfer the call to me 😉

  2. coteetcampagne · January 28, 2016

    We have a landline in UK but I never answer it for fear of cold callers.Since Trev has been workless since October last, he has now realised that picking it up is pointless and annoying. To be frank, I don’t know why we have it.

    Trev has only very recently joined the mobile phone fraternity; having resisted this essential item as long as possible, but it is not always with him or even turned on.

    Much of my dayjob is conducted on my mobile phone & I rely on it en France, so sadly, it is always with me.
    I have just started getting callers on this number tryiing to switch my utilities or handle my pension lump sum (what pension lump sum would this be?) & it makes me really angry as they tie up my workline when I could be sorting out someone’s genuine crisis.GGGGRRRRHHH!!!

    • MELewis · January 28, 2016

      Bravo to you for being so adept with the phones here in France! As for Trev, hope he is able to adapt to the mobile world better than moi. 😉 BTW, I also got calls about the pension thing for awhile – I think it was UK companies trying to make money off expats, but as I’m French now I was able to get rid of them tout de suite!

      • coteetcampagne · January 28, 2016

        No, I refer to our UK set up! haven’t yet got a landline in France, though I have plenty of the neighbour’s cables swathed across my front wall

  3. poshbirdy · January 28, 2016

    Hilarious. We have been less kind in our office, and we feel that cold calls are fair game if they won’t hang up at the first request/invitation. We used to have the number 5:32 on a board because this was the time to beat for keeping someone on hold for an imaginary contact. Eventually we all got bored of this childish behaviour, but my hubby can be very rude indeed to nuisance callers!

    • MELewis · January 28, 2016

      You are cracking me up – that is both well-deserved yet mean. I love it! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  4. Blair (The Shameful Sheep) · January 28, 2016

    Ah, you are helping me brush up on my French lol. It’s nice. I don’t have a landline here in the US. Mainly because I’m too cheap to pay for two phones when people barely call me on either of them 😀

    • MELewis · January 28, 2016

      Tant mieux! 😉 Glad you enjoyed it. As for the landline, I agree but our mobile service is so patchy here in the sticks it feels a lot safer to keep a low-tech connection!

  5. Osyth · January 28, 2016

    I love the phone. When I am in control of it. I do not like cold calls. In England I was supposedly on the ‘Telephone Preference Service’ which somehow blocks unsolicited calls. It didn’t. In France I just ignore the landline unless I recognise the number because it’s all far too stressful in French – though I do find that waiting for them to waft on for about two minutes and then saying ‘J’suis Anglaise’ does the trick with many. Here in the US it’s another league again. I have had debt collectors, political canvassers, people who swear to me that my husband must call immediately or risk death from something they can’t divulge to me … As for mobiles …. I loathe and detest them. All three of them. Which I have in my handbag at all times. Just in case 😉

    • MELewis · January 28, 2016

      Ha, ha, I’ve often felt tempted to reply in English to try and scare them off – but I’m a bit of a sissy when it comes to breaking social barriers (in contrast to my big mouth here on this blog!) 😉 Glad to hear I’m not the only one who gets stage fright answering calls en français. You are right though, whether it’s a landline or Skype, it’s a matter of making the time and enjoying the conversation. Easier said than done!

  6. A.PROMPTreply · January 28, 2016

    Totally mobile here now…..doesn’t make sense to have landline at this point….too expensive and much easier to call exactly who you want to speak to directly!

    • MELewis · January 29, 2016

      Oh I do admire your ability to cast off the trappings of cables! Makes perfect sense. And yet I fear that I will be forever ‘land-locked’… 😉

  7. Lisa @ cheergerm · January 28, 2016

    Ha, great description of a telephone obsessed teen. All a bit different these days! We still have both but I am no fan of cold callers. I too am never rude, UNLESS it is the bloke who has rung three times now and starts the conversation by ‘I am from the (insert official sounding company name) and we believe that somebody in your house has had a car accident recently.’ Totally untrue of course and I told this creepy scamming ill wisher never to ring again or I would get the police to trace his calls! (Umm…of course I am pretty sure they can’t do that unless you are being stalked, and even then, I was stalked back ‘in the day’ and they still didn’t do it….)

    • MELewis · January 29, 2016

      Thankfully we don’t seem to get scammers quite that sophisticated here in France (touch wood!). A stalker? That is creepy. As for the police – pfft! I doubt they’d do anything unless you had a real live burglar at the door and even then it would probably take them so long to get here he’d have vanished.

  8. Susanne · January 28, 2016

    I long for the days of a land line when my kids friends’ called and I knew who they were and what their voices sounded like. We still have a land line because we live in central Canada, land of ice storms, freak Hydro One blackouts, and blizzards that last for days. Some day we’ll give it up. My best line for intrusive telemarketers was this:
    TM: “May I speak to the person in charge of the gas bill?”
    Me: “I’m terribly sorry, there’s no one in charge here. It’s complete chaos.”

    • MELewis · January 29, 2016

      Ha, ha! Great line. Sounds like you’re a comedian at heart.
      As much as I’ve missed the winter snows here this year, I am glad we rarely get the ice storms and power outs. Still, our mobile network and internet coverage is way too patchy to rely upon for regular communications. I find the phone difficult enough without all the static and call drops!

  9. davidprosser · January 29, 2016

    I have a landline for the sake of the computer and a mobile for the sake of texts or being reached urgently by my daughter.I can’t speak on the telephone so never make or answer calls,
    When we first moved here about 6 years ago now i think, the place had been empty for some months as the previous occupant had gone in a home and his wife had died,Ju had a new phone fitted and chose ex-directory and BT had the humour to give us the number of the previous occupant. Even now there are still calls on the house phone for them though I never respond to their messages. The UK Government have a scheme to give everyone a free eco-boiler and of course there have been the claims for a refund of charges made for insurance when buying loans or credit agreements. Ex-directory or not their calls come through in large numbers on both phones, enough to drive you insane ( a short journey in my case).
    I’m never sure if the mobiles are a technology too far for me.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · January 29, 2016

      Eco-boiler? What will they think of next! Whatever it is, you can be sure some poor fool will get paid to call and try and scam you into it. Not answering may be the best strategy, although I hope you would be able to use the phone in an emergency. It does sound like BT have the same sense of humour as FT! Gros bisous! xo

  10. Kat · January 29, 2016

    I”m on entirely mobile. Besides, nowadays whenever people ask for contact number, majority (99%) would give mobile phone number, very rare for people to give landline number as the main contact number.

    • MELewis · January 29, 2016

      Interesting point. That may explain why contacts always want my mobile, while for me that is secondary to the land line. I fear it’s a generation thing! 😉

      • Kat · February 4, 2016

        I don’t even have a landline phone in my apartment 🙂

  11. Piddlewick · January 29, 2016

    Thanks for the post! We have an ongoing battle with our phone here.

    We’re expats in France and have an internet phone, e.g. one of those packages that includes everything including a landline where you can phone elsewhere for free. The downside at least 99% of our phone calls are sales pitches or, well actually, goodness knows what. When we first moved here we didn’t know enough French to feel we could answer the phone. But we quickly came to realise that the plethora of phone calls we were receiving, when we knew no one in France, were not actually meant for us. Now we simply don’t answer anything that is prive, withheld, 01, 04, 05 etc, and have in fact turned the ringer right down. We put in all the numbers of those we do know so we can recognise if they phone and then assume anyone else will leave a message.

    Althought our French is getting better, talking on the phone is stil the worst and most difficult aspect, so we keep it to just our mobiles and those numbers we know.

    • MELewis · January 30, 2016

      Communicating on the phone in a second language is tough – even harder than speaking to children and pets in an acquired tongue! 😉 I’d say you have the right strategy – although it can be good practice for your French. I think once I knew I could handle people on the phone, I felt a lot more at home in France. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  12. wanderingcows · January 31, 2016

    I’m with you. When I was a teen, I’d spend hours on the telephone. Nowadays, not so much. In fact, I have a friend who has the propensity to call when I’m just about to go out the door. She’s lovely and just wants a chat and tends to go on about all sorts of things, which I’d rather talk about over tea rather than hanging onto the handset. I think, these days, I prefer to talk on my terms. As for salesmen, forget it. One tried to sell me windows, even though I told him they were effectively the walls to my 3rd floor apartment.

    • MELewis · February 3, 2016

      *Prefer to talk on my terms* – yes, that’s it exactly! The phone can be a life line but it can also be a huge source of interruption. There are times of the day, usually in the early evening, when I feel like chatting for a few minutes…the rest of the time, who needs it? 😉

  13. midihideaways · February 1, 2016

    What a fun post!! I used to be on list orange here in France, and also listed the number with Pacitel. Then Pacitel got scrapped recently, and the number of calls increased :(. I used to listen politely to the cold-callers, it’s a rubbish job and I imagined that having rude people on the phone would be very demoralising. BUT my patience has worn thin, nowadays I usually tell them, politely but firmly, that they should not bother me again…

    • MELewis · February 3, 2016

      Politely but firmly – that’s the attitude! I also try to be empathetic and remember they’re just doing a (presumably low-paid) job but, in the end – they are interrupting your life with a sales pitch and that is NOT acceptable. Merci for the comment!

      • midihideaways · February 4, 2016

        There’s another tactic too – most of the people ringing up about home improvements (insulation, windows, you name it) are after the “proprietaire”. When I tell them that I am only “locataire” they usually can’t get off the phone quick enough 🙂

  14. acflory · February 1, 2016

    My very first job was as a receptionist and I’ve hated the phone ever since. I use it when I have to, but I do not /enjoy/ speaking to people on it. So I’m with you. The damn thing is only good for emergencies!

    • MELewis · February 3, 2016

      I love people with professional telephone voices – my mother was a receptionist for a while too and always taught me to speak up properly and politely on the phone. That doesn’t mean you have to like it though! Let’s hope there are no emergency calls in the near future! 😉

      • acflory · February 3, 2016

        Yes, even now, 40 years on, whenever I pick up a phone it’s that professional voice that comes out. Some habits just can’t be broken.

  15. Mél@nie · February 1, 2016

    @”Canadian I may be but my politesse wears thin in the presence of telemarketers.” – same here: even though I’ve lived in France longer than in my native country(Romania), I act just like you and before the person starts the “bla-bla”, I ask him/her:”vous vendez quoi, qu fait?!” 🙂 et là, une pause… et je termine avec:”vous ne devriez pas nous déranger avec vos appels, car nous sommes sur la liste rouge de! bye!” – and afterwards, I dial a 4 figure-code and the last number is banned!!! et voilà… 🙂

    • MELewis · February 3, 2016

      Sounds like you’ve got those callers covered with your French repartée! Did not realize you were from Romania, just like one of my good Swiss friends! La classe!

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