VIVE LE FRENCH CUSTOMER
August 22, 2011 9 Comments
It’s not easy being a customer in France as the concept of customer service is not something that is deeply embedded in the French psyche (See “Vive le French Customer Service” posted November 29th, 2010). The underlying issue is that the French do not buy into the maxim that “The customer is always right”, nor the concept that the person providing the service is actually there to “serve” the person paying for the service (See “Vive le French Artist” posted January 12, 2011).
The French revolution of 1789 won the French the right for equality, and therefore the concept of being there to serve smacks of subservience, and this is not acceptable under any circumstances.
This means that visitors to France often get the impression that the French are rude, which is not the case at all, and knowing how to behave appropriately can make a visit more pleasant, so here are some tips on how to handle French service providers.
1. Cab Drivers
French “cabbies” use their cabs primarily as a newspaper and magazine reading room and therefore see potential passengers as an intrusion on them keeping up with the latest scandals of the French ruling class. They will reject your fare if you are not going anywhere they would find interesting, if you are only planning on travelling a short distance or if you are a group of four, and therefore need the front passenger seat as well, as this will mean having to rearrange their life’s detritus scattered on the front seat beside them. You will also need to load your own luggage as the driver will be suffering from a back injury, and he will disregard any requests to turn down the volume on his radio as it is his car not yours.
Survival tip: If you can afford it use a limo service or, if not, use public transport (such as the metro when in Paris), where service and civility are not given nor expected. This will also enable you to get used to being jostled and pushed around, and to learn how to live without the use of queues. If you must use a cab take your own ghetto blaster and hit him with “I come from a land down-under”.
Butchers hold a position in French society well above those of medical practitioners and they generally earn significantly more than them.
People will dress up in their Sunday best for a visit to the “Boucherie” and will allocate a whole morning to the excursion. As this is akin to meeting royalty, locals once there will take their time and discuss every item on display before ordering their one sausage, one slice of ham and their wafer thin slice of boudin.
Survival tip: Walk into the butcher shop holding two €50 notes aloft, greet everyone in the shop as though they were your wealthy maiden aunt, address the butcher as “maître” admiring his red sash of valour, and offer to buy everyone in the shop a round of foie gras.
Waiters in the US will come over and tell you their name and the fact that they are there to look after you and to make the evening memorable enough for you to remember them in your will. French waiters will try and keep away from you for as long as possible, usually arranging and re-arranging the settings on any empty tables around you until you take it upon yourself to go and collect your own menus. After being threatened with industrial action, you will then be asked to order immediately as the kitchen is about to close in the next 3 minutes. You will need to address the waiter as “Monsieur” and not “Garcon”, as you are at best his equal, and he is doing a job which does not necessarily include being of service to those that patronise the establishment. He may ask you how you want your meat cooked, or he may just decide that he knows best based on your hair style, and will generally talk you out of your own menu selections for what he would order if he deigned to eat there, which he doesn’t as the French these days prefer McDonalds (See “Vive le French Cuisine” posted May 23, 2011).
Survival tip: Do whatever he says even if you don’t speak French and never send any food back to be re-heated or cooked some more, as you will regret it. If you have sent your meal back for any change at all and it comes back with any added bean sprouts, drop €200 on the table and rush out of the restaurant. Also remember that the term “Fast Food” in France has nothing to do with how quickly it will be served to you, only how quickly you are meant to eat it.
4. Phone companies
Employees who work for phone companies are not there to help customers, only to sell multi-year usage contracts. They are very knowledgeable about these contracts, particularly how much commission they make on each one, but know absolutely nothing about any of the plethora of phones that they have available for sale, think that the internet is a fishing supplies subsidiary of the supermarket chain“intermarche” and that broadband is what fat people wear to keep their culottes from falling down.
Survival tip: Buy your i-Phone from Apple, preferably in another country, and just buy a pay-as-you-use sim card for when you are in France.
The literal translation of “pharmacien” in French is “person who could not get in to medical school and carries a hatred of the world to their grave”. On top of this the French medical system has a tendency to over prescribe for any and all ailments meaning that every customer in a pharmacy will leave with a full pallet of medications covering every possible condition known to man at that time. Elderly people in France have the highest incidence of curvature of the spine created by the weight of medications that they have to take home after every visit to a pharmacy.
Survival tip: Do not park your fork-lift in the disabled parking spots by the front door in the mistaken belief that it will only take a few minutes to get a packet of pain killers. Studies have shown that no one has ever made any purchase in a French pharmacy in under 90 minutes, and you will leave having also been convinced to buy a year’s supply of Preparation-H, “proven” weight loss pills and support-hose for the whole family for the flight home. Remember that the French prefer to take medication via suppositories, so no matter how bad is your headache, you should wait till you are back in the car to administer.
You will also need to get used to French bluntness. In the US a shop assistant will tell a size 22 that she looks fabulous with a bare midriff. In France I once asked a shop assistant whether the trousers I had tried on looked good on me. She told me that my arse was too big and that I should lose some weight first and then try again.
I prefer the French approach.