So I know I said I was done with the vacation posts, but there’s one aspect of French culture that we have not yet discussed, and I believe it bears discussion.

French customer service.

I’m not even sure if I should call it that because, really, customer service doesn’t really exist in France.

The French get a bad rap for being rude, smug, and snooty. In most cases I resist generalizations, but in this case, the French actually seem fairly proud of their above-it-all attitudes. And part of being above it all means refusing to deal with the plebes who come into your country asking all kinds of questions (usually in the wrong language).

Both times I’ve gone to Paris, I’ve encountered some variation of this attitude at least a few times. The first trip, it was a man at the metro ticket booth who (even though I had just heard him speaking English to the people in line in front of me) got snotty with me for speaking English to him. That, I can at least understand. I should have just asked first to be polite. FINE.

My friend Diana had a much worse experience when she lived in France where a woman at a car rental agency charged her and her friends over 2,000 euro for a car without telling them beforehand that it would cost that much. She then literally smirked in their faces while they sobbed and begged for mercy. And then charged them anyway.

And then there was my most recent trip.

I’ve mentioned a few times that my bags didn’t arrive until the fourth day of our trip. This was annoying (and distressing for the marathon), but it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if I had been able to get any assistance from our airline. The day after we arrived (and after they had tried to deliver me the wrong bag), Diana, who speaks pretty great French, tried calling the airline to ask about the status of my bad. She was told that there was nothing they could do (MY ALL-TIME LEAST FAVORITE PHRASE) and that they didn’t know anything. Politely, Diana said — in French — that she was hoping to speak to someone in the baggage department who might have more information. The woman on the phone replied — also in French — “Well, don’t hope.”

And then our brains imploded.

That would have been bad enough, but the French weren’t quite done with us.

The day of the race, Joey actually managed to get a helpful person on the phone who told him that my bag would be delivered that day. Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen. But at least we had some reassurance that we were in some system somewhere. It turns out that they actually delivered my bag to the same wrong person again.

The day after the race (after I’d purchased an entire outfit at a nearby store because I couldn’t just keep wearing my new race shirt forever), I called the same number Joey had, and that is when I encountered the worst woman in the world.

I actually started out the phone call speaking with a different representative. But when I pressed her for a few details (you know, like where my bag was and when I could possibly expect to receive it), she passed me to another rep without telling me. The new rep (the aforementioned WWITW), liked to interrupt me mid-sentence to remind me that she was a new rep so I would have to start from the beginning and shouldn’t expect her to know what I was talking about. (She actually said this.)

With the very last of my patience, I explained my situation and that my bag had been sent to the wrong person multiple times. I wanted to know where it was to see if I could possibly go get it myself.

“It’s far away,” she replied.

Come again?

The rest of the call is honestly a bit of a blur to me. I know she interrupted me every single time I was speaking to tell me that it didn’t sound like I wanted to hear what she was saying (I mean, she wasn’t wrong), to tell me that that I was wasting her time (she said this twice), and to again tell me there was nothing she could do (ROAR). She also, at one point, told me it would take three more days for me to get my bag. Also known as the day I was going home. (This turned out to be a total lie. She may have just been screwing with me.)

The highlight was when I asked if she could at the very least tell me when they expected my bag to arrive back at the airport — silly me believing there was any kind of system in place to track these things.

Her reply?

“I can’t tell you that — I am not God.”

Well, THANK YOU FOR CLEARING THAT UP.

Now that I knew I was dealing with the antichrist, the call dissolved even further. I was basically crying into the phone begging this woman to show some sympathy and give me any kind of information, while she kept cutting me off and telling me I wasn’t listening to her (repeat herself for the seventh time). Then she hung up on me.

Let me repeat that: Customer service hung up on me. Customer service got upset with me for getting upset that they had lost my bag for half of my vacation.

I may have had a tiny breakdown in a French cafe.

In the end, things worked out. I actually got my bag the next day, thank the not-God. And the trip went on as planned. The rest of the trip was actually so good, we joked that France had been having a little fun with us. But they were sorry now, and here’s a park filled with puppies and rosé and sunshine!

BUT BE FOREWARNED. The French do not want to help you. They don’t really want to deal with you. So don’t take it personally — and please stop assuming they are all God.

8 Responses to How I met the worst woman in the world.

  • Isabelle says:

    Wow. I got high blood pressure just by reading your post. lol Parisians do have pretty bad customer service skills and it is not a language issue. French is my first language and I still got shitty service… I’m gonna have to quote Meg Ryan in French Kiss on this one: “The key to French waiters: If you’re nice to them, they treat you like shit. Treat them like shit, they love you. ” :P

    That being said, I assure you people in some of the more “rural” areas of France are absolutely lovely people.

    • Justine Lorelle says:

      I’m glad to know it wasn’t just that I don’t speak very much French! That quote perfectly describes my experience haha. Apparently I just need to spend more time outside of Paris :)

  • Hawley says:

    This actually amazes me. I have never had an experience like this. I agree that the French can be somewhat aloof, but I have been to Paris twice and both times had exceptional service- from waiters to hotel staff to airport staff. And I mean things like comping my overweight bag fee for no reason. I feel badly that you had such a horrible experience, but I do think you’re generalizing!

    • Justine Lorelle says:

      Well, of course you’re absolutely right :) We also had great service at some of the other places we went. This was more a commentary on the different cultural views of customer service in the U.S. and abroad. (I’ve also had horrendous customer service in the states — you can read about it here.

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