Beware France Telecom

This piece of advice applies equally to the short and long term visitor to France.   

When I try to explain to people who have not yet had contact with France Telecom (the most unpleasant form of baptism you could ever imagine) I always find myself frustrated.  Coming from North America, or even England, it is impossible to conceive just how frustrating and distressing this French institution can be to deal with.  For an objective glimpse, just have a peek at Lisa’s blog post today. 

We have unblocked phone and Internet lines at all of our vacation rentals, but the service and line reliability of France Telecom is so pathetic that we are now going to have to start putting a caveat on the “telephone and Internet included” part of our rental conditions that reads “subject to France Telecom”.  Lines stop functioning for no reason then start up again, months later, for reasons equally as mysterious. 

The main part of the problem is that in the interim you have wasted a good portion of your life though cardiac-arrest inducing visits to the France Telecom offices and phone calls where you get shunted around from department to department for hours while you are paying by the minute for the privilege of being on hold.  Then you inevitably get to the death knell – the recorded voice that says cheerfully after you have racked up a 300 Euro phone bill from being on hold for three hours “Nobody can help you right now.  Please call back later.” 


The thing I try to explain about France Telecom is that there IS no concept of customer service – I actually think the majority of employees garner considerable job satisfaction from making as many people’s lives as miserable as possible.  And the laziness…mon dieu…the laziness… 

To me what sums up our dealings with France Telecom is a visit we made to the Beaune office a few years ago to have the billing address corrected for one of our gites.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Ah, but you forget, we are dealing with France Telecom.  

We waited in line for about an hour and at about 11:30am a haughty France Telecom employee (who are also all civil servants, which is a massive part of the problem methinks) in a knit sweater listened begrudgingly to our request.  Franck outlined it in as few words as possible, as you would to a child.  The man heaved a large sigh, rolled his eyes and consulted his watch.  “I’m going on lunch in half an hour,” he said.  “And I really don’t want to be late.  You’ll have to come back later.”                    

I had a past guest who stayed at my gites who ending up buying a home of her own in Northern Burgundy .  I had warned her about France Telecom but I don’t think she entirely believed me.  Well, in her three years of French property ownership she was never able to set up a functioning phone or Internet line in her house.  She ended up selling and moving back to Canada; she sounded completely unhinged the last time I talked to her.  I often wonder just how many people France Telecom have sent to the insane asylum. 

So, if you are traveling to France and the phone or Internet lines are not working, have pity on your poor vacation rentals owners (us) who are trying their best to deal with the stonewalling of France Telecom on your behalf.  Secondly, if you are renting a place for a long term stay, rent a place already equipped with a phone and Internet line.  Sadly this doesn’t always guarantee you will have phone service (Lisa is the proof of that, much to my chagrin) but at least you are putting all the chances on your side.  And don’t – unless you want to waste years of your life – try to set up a phone line by yourself. 

There have been a lot of new Telecommunications companies arriving in France over the last five years.  Problem is that France Telecom still has a monopoly over all of the equipment and lines.  These companies simply rent line space from France Telecom.   If you have a problem with them France Telecom gets vengeful and takes even LONGER to fix it.  This is the juncture where my eyes start spinning in their sockets and I start tearing at my hair like a character out of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.  The Horror…THE HORROR!!!!! 

And you can’t really go postal on France Telecom employees either.  It is an urban french myth (one which I totally believe) that there is a secret “blackball” list and if a France Telecom employee puts your name down on it you can kiss au revoir the idea of every getting a functioning phone or Internet line again in your ENTIRE LIFE. 

So my advice is buy or rent a cell phone for the duration of your stay in France, and also to locate your nearest Internet cafes.  And if you DO have an encounter with France Telecom even after these precautions, serve yourself a nice glass (or two) of good French wine and remind yourself that they will Burn In Hell one day.  It is surprisingly comforting.