|Mon père était fonctionnaire et ma mère ne faisait rien non plus.
Colluche – French comedian and actor, famous for his irreverent sense of humour
(fonctionnaire – civil servant non plus – either)
….. a tongue-in-cheek look at the French ‘accueil’
I’ve lived in France for a large chunk of my extremely privileged and happy life. It’s home…and for the most part, I wouldn’t change a hair on its hexagonal head. But, like all that is human, life in France is not perfect, particularly on the administration and customer services front.
Reputable French admin and retail outlets will tell you that ‘le client est roi’ (the customer is king) – but we all know what France did to its kings don’t we?
Now don’t get me wrong, I have had good service as well as bad, smiles as well as frowns, thoughtfulness and cooperation as well as unpleasantness and rigidity – but the ‘customer is always right’ banner frequently sags under the weight of a nation of retailers and civil servants, (fonctionnaires), who tend to believe that, actually, the customer is usually wrong.
Some might even suggest that the least likely place to get satisfaction, or assistance in the French retail or admin sector is the desk marked ‘Service Clientele’.
When up against blank faced disinterest, complaints made with irritation, anger or indignation in France simply do not work. Nor does being smiley, warm and friendly. Far better to tell a sad hard luck story of broken hoover, parts missing, papers lost or non-functioning Internet, in a defeatist, ‘how-useless-am-I’ manner, with a pathetic little smile to prove that you are not blaming the item or the person. Appeal to your opponent’s sense of pity and pray for absolution, I mean resolution.
Unfortunately, once a job offer comes with a full time contract or CDI (Contract Duration Indeterminée), French law makes it virtually impossible to get rid of a lazy, incompetent or uncooperative employee, which is why we may regularly come across bored looking receptionists, cashiers or admin clerks. They don’t NEED to please us. Their job is assured forever and a day, so why make that extra effort?
So do I have any useful advice to ease your passage along the thorny path of admin, exchange and return? Heck no! I would like to tell you not to take ‘no’ for an answer, to fight your corner – but in truth, I’m not sure that would improve your situation. Maybe the best solution when faced with poor customer service, rather than spend the rest of the day and most of the night fuming and going over what you should have said, is to give a good old ‘Gallic Shrug’, accept that ‘c’est la vie’, and save yourself a fortune in blood pressure remedies!
What the French have to say…
Ayant vécu pendant plusieurs années à l’étranger, je me suis aperçu en revenant en France, que l’idée de service n’était pas vraiment présente. Je vois souvent des exemples ou le client n’est pas bien accueilli.
J’ai souvent l’impression de déranger quand je demande un renseignement ou fais une réclamation. Je pense que la région a beaucoup à apprendre d’autres pays.
Brigitte, Le Boulou
Je travaille chez (large supermarket chain) depuis 11 ans. Franchement, il n’y a aucune motivation pour me persuader de faire plus que le minimum. Je touche le SMIC, si je fais plus de travail, personne ne l’apprécie ou me remercie. A quoi bon? Le client est roi ? Vous plaisantez! Moi aussi, je mérite un peu de respect !
ayant – having
Je ne suis pas content/e (chuh nuh swee pa conton/contont)
I’m not happy
Ce ne marche pas (sanuh marsh pah)
It doesnt work
Ca ne va pas (sanuh vah pah)
It’s no good
Je voudrais faire une réclamation/me plaindre (chuh voodray fair oon ray-clam-ass-yon/muh pland)
I want to make a complaint
Je ne suis pas du tout satisfait (chuh nuh swee pah dew too satisfay)
I’m not at all satisfied
C’est un abus de confiance (sate an abbu duh confee-onse)
It’s a breach of trust
Ca fait une heure que j’attends (sa fay oon euhr kuh chaton)
I’ve been waiting for an hour