Just before Christmas I decided to do some communications ‘spring-cleaning’. It was long overdue because my TV, telephone and internet were with one operator, and our family’s 4 mobile phones with another. Clearly there were deals to be had if I put everything under the same operator and a few savings to be made. Turning overpayment into patisserie had to be a good idea!
If you are not ‘au fait’ with French ‘abonnements’, or membership contracts then you have a thing or two to learn about France. Number one, there is a certain amount of legalised ‘theft’ going on with most mobile contracts. Firstly ‘pay as you go’ doesn’t really exist in France. It is possible to buy a pre-payment card for mobiles, but really they are just a mini contract. For example if you wish to top up your mobile with a fiver, the credit will not last until you have made five euro’s of phone calls or internet forays – oh no! The five euros will last you 5 days, and if you have only made one euro’s worth of calls, the other four euros will be swiped at midnight of the 5th day, no matter how much you might have wanted to talk to your boyfriend, mother or missing child at 12.01am.
The second thing to know about the French is that offers for a reduction an a new phone, or an offer for reduction if you change contact type is not as clear cut as going to the till and having the reduction taken off the bill. Oh no! That would be far far too simple. And this is precisely what happened to me when I decided to do my communications spring-cleaning!
A charming lady in the phone, internet and TV shop told me about the remarkable offer they had if I changed from a contract (forfait) bloqué to non-bloqué, which became even more exciting if I also joined them for TV and internet and ‘land-line’. In the process I would gain a juicy percentage reduction per mobile, and one mobile absolutely free as part of the TV and internet package. Then I was also going to get lots of euros off per phone from changing from bloqué to non-bloqué. Marvellous, it was a new year master-stroke of savings and increased consumption of Tarte aux Fruits! Or so I thought!
Did I mention that these great reductions were not done at the till? The charming lady gave me a special form for each phone to fill out, and another even more special form for the TV package. I left the shop with 5 new contracts and five new forms, which is clearly quite a large amount of paperwork for one day.
At home I carefully filled in the forms, photocopied the contracts, photocopied the receipts, cut out and added the cardboard barcodes from the boxes, added the RIB (Relevé Identifiant Bancaire – or bank account details on a special print out – visit to bank required) and once I had completed this multiplied by 5, and very very carefully checked the small print of the forms, I headed off to the Post Office to send all the information in a big envelope by recorded delivery to the ‘big men in suits’. A month passed before I discovered in my post box an equally fat envelope waiting for me. When I opened it up I discovered all my carefully organised documentation plus a letter which stated:
Je suis désole de vous informer que nous ne pouvons pas faire suite de votre demande. Vous n’avez pas conformé aux réglementations comme requis.”
I am sorry to tell you that we cannot deal with your application. You have not conformed to the requirements”
Once you have lived in France long enough you will be familiar with ‘the groan’ – a sort of inward mixure of irritation, annoyance, frustration, and incomprehension which is very quickly followed up by a sense of grim determination whilst at the same time maintaining an outward appearence of charm and serenity and cool.
I had mastered myself somewhere between the 4th and ground floor of our lift; Sadly I forgot that the phone and tv shop would be far too engrossed with their lunch! They assurred me that whilst they were happy to take the wodge of paperwork from me, they couldn’t possibly look at it for more than an hour. I left to stare wistfully at the Patisserie window down the road.
“Well” I said when I returned, “Have you worked out what I did wrong”
“Ah OUI, Madame” came the reply, “Vous n’avez pas conformé” (you haven’t conformed)
“Chaque application doit avoir également son envelope à lui” (each application must equally have it’s own envelope)
“Mais Vous, Madame, You have put all your applications into the same envelope”
“On doit conformer, Madame!”
“Well” I said “Can I send them back in separate envelopes?”
“Mais NON, madame” she replied, C’est fini.(it’s finished) We are not at ‘liberté’ to accept late applications, It would not be “equalité” for tout le monde …..
……On doit conformé.”
It seems I cannot have my cake and eat it after all!