Talk to anyone who has ever lived or just visited Paris, and you’ll hear nightmare stories of encounters they’ve had with customer service. Whether it’s calling a company to try to buy a part or a product and being charged a per-minute fee to wait on hold and/or speak with an actual person, or trying to return something they’ve purchased, one gets the sense that there really is no “service” working for the French.
I’ve never had such an encounter. In fact, my experience has been just the opposite, all singing cartoon animals and flower petals raining down on me. Then again, I don’t live in Paris full-time. Once I do, I assume the law of averages will force me into more than a few close encounters of the frustrating kind. But I feel like I’m getting plenty of practice over here in the U.S., because, with a few notable exceptions, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to walk away from an encounter with a company’s customer service with any degree of resolution.
Airlines require you to submit complaints and refund requests by fax or email. Don’t even get me started on insurance companies. Even my bank and credit card companies offer endless electronic menus with automated information, making it virtually impossible to speak with a real person.
Speaking of banks …
I’m getting spoiled by my U.S. bank. They like taking my money. They have no problem giving me my money back. They’ve made it easy for me to deposit checks without having to wait on a line or fill out a deposit slip. Last night, I even wrote a check to myself from one bank and deposited it in another … using my iPhone.
Opening my account couldn’t have been simpler. All I needed was money, a social security number and a mailing address and, voila, instant bank account. They didn’t ask for proof of income or address. I didn’t require any notarized forms, visas, depositions, notes of introduction, personal references or a letter from my employer.
This is why I’m absolutely dreading opening my bank account in Paris. Dread. Ing. From what I’ve come to understand, it’s easier to get elected President of France than it is to open a bank account there. My Paris friends have offered to introduce me to their bankers, which may give me a slightly better chance of being accepted into the bank. But I will most definitely need proof of a Paris address before they’ll take my money, only I can’t get a Paris address without having proof of a Paris bank account.
I’m assuming that all my connections will ultimately pay off, and I’ll get that French bank account. Then all I have to do is pray that they’ll let me take my money out, and that I won’t do anything wrong that leads to them “firing” me as a customer. It doesn’t take much, apparently. My friend, Richard, was expelled for depositing cash into his account. Cash. (As a tour guide, he was frequently paid in cash.) It wasn’t a lot of money, maybe a thousand or two a month. But they didn’t like that, so he was a goner. Another friend was told he couldn’t make any transactions at any branch other than the one where he opened his account, while another was told she could only withdraw funds from her account at certain hours of the day.
I thought I was being smart when I opened my business account at an international bank (HSBC). No such luck, because despite the fact that there are HSBC branches on just about every corner of the French capital, I can only make transactions at the branch where I opened the account. In Miami.
So I’ll take my chances with customer service in France. It’s the banks that make me think that keeping my money inside my mattress may be the easier solution.