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him that there was no such dame at this number and I would be most grateful if he would remove it from whatever outdated list he was calling from.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?


Get lost

Paris directional signsMy phone died today. That is, it ran out of juice. Hardly surprising as it’s an iPhone – you know, the really expensive ones with the crap batteries? Cursing Steve Jobs’ name, I left it behind as I set out to run my errands across the border in Geneva. Flying without a net, as it were. Turned out it was the best thing that could’ve happened.

Traffic in town can be difficult so I decided to park the car by the lake and walk.

At first I felt lost without my usual electronic crutches: Google maps, email, contacts and various other apps. Then I noticed how much lighter I felt. I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of wet trees in the park. Enjoyed the view of the sailboats bobbing on the lake without worrying about taking a picture.

First stop: dentist appointment. It was just a checkup so I was actually hurrying to get there rather than dragging my feet. I have a tendency to over-optimize my time management, i.e. arrive late. Assuming I knew where it was I had plenty of time, but my memory of the exact location proved, well, inexact. Probably because the last time I went there I had my nose stuck to my iPhone for directions.

There’s nothing like getting lost to help you get to know a place. I’ve lived in this area for a few years now but never seem to be able to map anything. Geneva is not big, but like many cities in these mountainous parts it’s built on multiple levels. Also, there are no right-degree angles. Each intersection has multiple roads shooting off in various directions.

I took a couple of wrong turns and became increasingly disoriented. The two streets that I thought should intersect didn’t seem to, so I had to make an executive decision. Left or right? Always follow your instincts, I thought, and headed left. A few minutes later I had massive doubts, so I did something unprecedented. I asked a nice looking fellow for directions.

Excusez-moi? Do you happen to know how to get to Rue de la Terrassière?

That way, he said, pointing in the opposite direction. Sometimes my instincts kind of suck.

I got there just a few minutes late. My dentist was waiting for me. “Just a checkup?” she asked, sounding disappointed. The last time I’d seen her she’d shot me so full of Novocain I’d looked like a stroke victim the entire day.

The experience made me wonder: How did we manage before? Or were we perhaps smarter without our ‘smart’ phones?

When I first came to France back in the pre-internet days, there was nothing for it but to get out there and get lost. I became quite good at it. Even though I always carried a map, it was so much work stopping, unfolding it and trying to figure out where exactly I was, I usually just kept walking. It was trial and error, and a lot of wear on the feet, but you always reached your destination sooner or later.

After the dentist, I had an hour free so I wandered down to the main shopping area and stopped for a coffee. As I didn’t have my phone, I wasn’t tempted to check for messages. Instead, I sipped my latté by the window and watched the people going by on the street. Came up with the idea for this post and scribbled down a few thoughts.

Then I stopped at the optical store to get my sunglasses adjusted, picked up some things at the pharmacy and went to meet my lunch date. My friend was waiting for me at a café in Eaux-Vives, and we spent a pleasant hour or so catching up over moules-frites.

All in all, I was without my phone for about three hours. Nothing earth shattering happened. No urgent emails or phone calls came in that couldn’t wait until I got home.

I did get lost but I found my way. And I’m pretty sure I’ll remember it next time.

What about you? When was the last time you got lost?