C’est comme ça

Peintres tour eiffel

I know better than to expect service with a smile in France. Around here, we are happy to be served, period. But lately a few particularly awful customer service experiences have me ranting once again.

First there was the painter who was supposed to redo the south-facing façade of our house. It started out well enough. He showed up when promised, twice, sent me a quote for the work, cashed the 40% deposit and began the job in May. Things quickly went downhill. He began by painting over the chrome bolts that are a design feature of our modern house, and dripping paint on several glass panels around the deck. I explained that he needed to protect the area, so he taped down plastic and used a bit of tape. He got half-way through the job when the skies clouded over and spat down a few drops of rain. Then he disappeared for two weeks, leaving us with a half-painted house, plastic bits on the deck and vague promises to come back soon. August, he swore. We are still waiting.

Then there’s the postman. Not only does he never ring twice, often he never rings at all. I find the slip of paper in my letter box, down by the road, saying that he attempted to deliver a parcel while I was out. Des mensonges, Monsieur! I was there. Deaf I may be but I can still hear the door bell. The funny thing about that slip of paper is that, to look at it, you would think it should be easy to get your parcel (assuming you read French; otherwise, bonne chance in decoding this baby!).

Avis de passageTwo options, it says. Choose a new delivery date online or go pick up your parcel at the local post office, anytime from 3 pm the following day. “Mais non,” says the woman who works at our local post office as she explains it to me with a vague school-marmish air. It doesn’t work like that around here. By the time the postman reaches her small post office, at least two working days will have passed (not counting the weekly Wednesday closure). When I express frustration, not only at the poor service but at the erroneous message on the official piece of paper, I get nothing more than a Gallic shrug.

Et oui, c’est comme ça!

Online shopping saves me from having to deal with such characters. Most of the time. As much as I love Amazon, regardless of their tax issues, I shop some French websites for specialty items like pet supplies. Our two Frenchies are excitable types on walks and it takes some good quality leashes to rein them in. After spending a good while researching just the leash I needed (short, strong, flexible grip), I was ready to place my order on a site called Polytrans (the French are not big on sexy brand names).

The site claimed to offer free delivery on orders over 49 euros, so I calculated my order to include an additional item, bringing the total to just over 50 euros. But when it came time to place my order, lo and behold, the site offered me a so-called ‘loyalty discount’ based on a previous order, deducting three euros off the total and adding in 7.50 for delivery. Gah!

I called the number listed on the website for support, politely explaining my case and expecting that they would simply remove the ‘discount’ and let me get on with it. No such luck. All I had to do, the woman explained in a voice that suggested she regularly dealt with dummies, was order some small item to make up the difference and get free delivery. When I told her that I’d already done this, and frankly, their loyalty points were having the opposite effect, she dropped the mask of customer service and said that there was no way she could change the order anyway. Imagine if they had to do that for everyone?

Needless to say, I hung up and took my business elsewhere.

When the French complain about ‘unfair’ competition from the Amazons of this world, I will point out that little example of customer ‘service’. It is just one among so many others. When they moan about the loss of local jobs and soaring unemployment, I will think about my half-painted façade, along with the handful of other jobs (electrical, roof, cleaning) we’d be happy to pay for if only we could find someone willing to do them.

Et oui. C’est comme ça.

Have you had a memorable customer experience lately, in France or elsewhere?


  1. emilycommander · October 13, 2016

    I’m very sorry for your woes but this had me laughing into my morning coffee. All of the above scenarios are very familiar to me and you are quite right, I am still waiting for the French to notice the connection between people’s fondness for Amazon and the abysmal service available from actual French companies. As for the painter, well. We have found a wonderful French building company, and we’re not so VERY far away, so if you get desperate you could see if they would travel!

    • MELewis · October 13, 2016

      I am envious of you, having a blog to capture all of the ‘French-strations’ from the outset. There is so much material when you add small children into the mix! You’re right: Lyon is not so far, and in fact, some of our neighbours prefer to bring companies in from Lyon for bigger jobs. Even paying for the travelling and accommodation expenses, it’s apparently still cheaper and the level of work superior. So, I may just take you up on that offer… 😉

  2. francetaste · October 13, 2016

    But how do you get your Amazon deliveries? Do they come by the post?
    Our previous mail carrier did the same thing. Rather than ring, she would just drop in the paper. And we never got mail on Friday. Ever. There was a different carrier on Saturday, and we would receive a huge bundle. A neighbor complained, and she stuck their mail on the windshield of a car in front of their house.
    I think she must have finally gotten fired, because we have someone new.
    As for artisans, good luck. A handful are amazing and they are to be kept for life. As for the others, despair.

    • MELewis · October 13, 2016

      Most of our Amazon deliveries are done by Chronopost, a division of DPD group. Among all of the delivery services around here, they are the best. They will come to your door, leave the parcel with a neighbour and keep you updated by email and text. The less I have to do with the post office, the better I feel. You are right about the artisans, sadly… 😦

  3. It is like that…I learned very quickly that the best way to deal with the pépins was to expect no bureaucratic help with solving them. Then, any response or interest was viewed as a victory – even if I had a long way to go to solving the problem.

    • MELewis · October 13, 2016

      That’s a smart approach, Catherine. You take the credit for the wins (however rare!) and the rest of the time, you just go with it.

  4. zipfslaw1 · October 13, 2016

    I try to avoid being a stereotypical Francophile, but must say that your experiences with contractors and the post office sound exactly like my life in America. I can most definitely add one experience to your stories of French customer service woes. I wrote this post very soon after my arrival in France for a several-weeks-long stay in France, expecting it to be the norm for the remainder of my visit:


    It turned out to be totally atypical, and I haven’t had a similar experience since. My postal worker experiences have been the opposite of yours, actually. Case in point (skip down to “professional service” if you’re in a hurry):


    Wishing you a better day tomorrow!

    • MELewis · October 13, 2016

      Your experiences clearly mirror my own. When I go back to Canada (which I’ll be doing in just a couple of weeks), I often bemoan some of the very same things – and miss many others that I take for granted in France.

  5. coteetcampagne · October 13, 2016

    Well this is tempting fate, but I have had two outstanding examples of customer service this week. One with my UK bank when my online banking was playing up(try paying a critical, large, urgent bill on a temperamental, trigger happy”smart”phone)
    The others was the LOVELY young man in Banque Populaire in Quillan, who went the extra mile and even laughed at my Brexit joke

    • MELewis · October 14, 2016

      It must be something in your stars – I’d buy a lottery ticket! 🙂

  6. Osyth · October 13, 2016

    Do NOT get me started on the epic struggle I am having getting ANY work done on the house here in New England. That’s New England, USA home of great customer service with a smile. There will be a series of posts when I am released from the secure ward at the local home for the dangerously insane! But you are right, in France its that blank stare, that painstaking and condescending explanation as though to a half-witted toddler and the top-it-all shrug that gets my hackles a-rising every time. Bon courage mon amie and a rather large glass of something medicinal, I think 😉

    • MELewis · October 14, 2016

      Ha, ha….I may need the whole bottle! Sorry for your frustrations, Osyth dear, but it’s comforting to know these things happen outre-Atlantique! That said, New England is as close geographically as the US gets to France… 😉 Funnily enough, I seem to remember an old sitcom where a New Yorker moves to New England and is appalled by the terrible service (Bob Newhart maybe?). You may have company in that asylum. 🙂

      • MELewis · October 14, 2016

        Just found this clip from ‘Newhart’ – one of my funniest shows from the 1980s. 😀 It includes the famous scene from North American TV culture introducing ‘Darryl, and my other brother Darryl’. If you have 5 minutes, give it a watch. The start is oddly reminiscent of some situations in France: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yyB06HvAjI

      • Osyth · October 14, 2016

        Chin chin …. a bottle each then!!

  7. Suzanne et Pierre · October 13, 2016

    I think services is in short supply everywhere in the world. Maybe a bit more complicated in France but I find that it is difficult to rely on anyone showing up on time even in Canada. I am not certain I understand why it is so difficult for company to understand that services is the key to keeping their customers and their business alive. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · October 14, 2016

      I think you are right, Suzanne. The problem is that in France, the reputation for poor service (or at least a poor service mindset) proceeds the experience, so it almost feels inevitable. To be fair, I’ve had some excellent customer experiences in France and some terrible ones in Canada; at least when the French do show up, they generally know what they’re doing. I think on the whole the world is changing and while our online experiences are improving, it seems there are fewer reliable services offered in the real world.

  8. Dana · October 13, 2016

    Your last paragraph is SO on ☝️ point!!! I want to scream YAAAASSSS!! This!! As I was in the tram 🚋

    • MELewis · October 14, 2016

      Clearly I have struck a chord. Merci Dana!

  9. awtytravels · October 13, 2016

    Sometimes – it happens pretty much every other week – when my British colleagues and clients drive me up to the wall I tell them they’re as organised as the Italians, as flexible as the Germans and as customer-minded as the French. The last bit at least does the trick of getting them to behave, but as for the other two… No chance! 😀

    • MELewis · October 14, 2016

      Ha, ha….those cultural clichés really do have something to them, eh? Wonder what we can say about Canadians. As polite as….? Readers of this blog may beg to differ! 😉

      • awtytravels · October 14, 2016

        Well, I can’t find anything to fault the Canadians. You can’t even accuse them of being smug about being a great nation, ’cause they aren’t!

  10. emma · October 14, 2016

    Oh my gosh, this struck a chord! Ha ha… Sometimes you just have to laugh otherwise you’ll cry!
    I had a great post office experience in France last week. After arriving just after 2pm (after it’s closed for 2 hours during lunch of course), the lady unlocked the front door whilst holding a phone to her ear and talking down it. She continued to er, “serve” me whilst talking on the phone, only briefly interrupting her conversation to let me pay for the parcel that I was sending.
    We’re also in the process of getting French citizenship for our son, and we the clock has now started with gathering and sending all our documents as my partners birth certificate is only valid for 3 months from date of issue! Not too sure why a birth certificate would become invalid 🙂
    Also, we have our favourite French bakery in Sydney that we joke offers the authentic French experience: amazing food and dismissive customer service.

    • MELewis · October 14, 2016

      Well you have surely observed one of the true facts of French life: the customer is a nuisance that prevents hard-working people from getting on with their jobs! ;-P As for the paperwork, I thought there had recently been changes in validity for documents like birth certificates (I mean really, you’re only born once, right?). But I looked it up on the government website and they say that, while the document continues to be valid, it is not accepted for administrative purposes unless issued within 3 months. (https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F10449) Very Orwellian, n’est-ce pas?

  11. davidprosser · October 14, 2016

    I thought it was Global Warming keeping he temperatures up during September but I hadn’t seen the steam coming from your ears at that point. I cross my fingers you get the painting sorted soon before he or another painter has the excuse of Winter Weather as an avoidance tactic.
    xxx Massive Hugs Mel xxx

    • MELewis · October 15, 2016

      Sadly, I think we will not see that particular painter again. Perhaps just as well as he was so poor. He probably delivered about as much as he was paid for, so not great loss there. But frustrating none the less, and the challenge will be to find another one to come and do the work next year. Thanks for the moral support, David. I know you’ve had a few ‘steaming’ moments yourself in recent times but hope all is well with you! Big hugs xx

  12. acflory · October 14, 2016

    lol – I have yet to find a plumber I’d call twice. That said, the electrician isn’t bad and my handyman is brilliant. Always comes when he’s supposed to and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. I’m hanging on to him!

    • MELewis · October 15, 2016

      Lucky you! Good electricians who are willing to show up are very hard to come by around here. I do have a good Polish plumber and all-round handyman, however, for whom I am very grateful. We are rather far to share recommendations, though eh?

      • acflory · October 15, 2016

        -grin- I’d almost pay the airfare for a good plumber!

  13. wanderingcows · October 15, 2016

    OMG the story about the loyalty discount made me want to pull my hair out for you!

    • MELewis · October 17, 2016

      Thanks – hold on to your hair, you’ll probably need something to pull on next time you visit France! 😀

  14. Britt · October 15, 2016

    C’est comme ça! It took me SEVEN years to get an ugly pole with dead electrical wires removed from my yard. SEVEN YEARS. I hope the painter comes back… or that you can find a new one! xoxo

    • MELewis · October 17, 2016

      Seven years! That certainly took persistence! The problem is that most ‘artisans’ aren’t interested in doing things like that. Only nice big jobs that pay a lot of money. Bises to you! xo

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