Living the dark ages
Friday afternoon the electricity to my apartment was cut off. Everything stopped, no lights, no hot water, no TV! On calling the electricity company (EDF) we were told that I'd never opened a new account with them for the new apartment. I had actually called them just before I moved and informed them of the new apartment, but they'd decided that all I wanted was the bill for the old place sent to the new address. Perhaps they'd assumed I'd signed up with another electricity company - oh, wait, EDF are a government monopoly, so maybe they assumed I was going to erect my own windfarm or something.
After quickly explaining the mistake, they said they'd send someone round to reconnect me. The quickest they could do was Tuesday afternoon! 4 days without electricity! When we asked if that was the absolute quickest, they said they couldn't tell us, since the people who manned the phones at the weekend didn't have access to the roster of engineers (who only do visits Monday to Friday). We were told to call back Monday at 8am and ask again. This we did, only to be told the engineers left at 7:30 and there was no changing things.
As appalling as all this sounds, it was actually worse - when I say 'we quickly explained', it was nothing of the sort really. It was about 5 phone calls, 3 of which the phone operators hung up on us. Raise your voice even slightly, and they hang up. Redial and start again.
Shockingly this is not an isolated case. Neuf telecom messed up and disconnected my internet - It took me a month to get reconnected with the cost of calls at 35c/minute and a typical 20 minute wait to reach an operator - that month I ran up a phone bill of 200€ purely on support calls and dial connections to the internet. We were once in a post office and they'd lost yet another parcel from the UK, and as we complained to the person behind the till, they just walked away and didn't come back. With a plumbing problem (toilet wouldn't flush), it took daily calls, followed by daily calls *and* faxes to the landlord to get a plumber out - the landlord is an estate agency, so I'm talking about just a lazy slum landlord, but a proper french company. If we had called one ourselves, we would have had to pay. The agency took several weeks just to get a plumber to give a quote, and then another week to fix it. All during this period the toilet was unflushable, if you can imagine that.