Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Miettes of Miscommunication

The basic fact: my phone (and Internet) has been off since late April. There's a very good reason: France Telecom Orange billed my bank account, and when three in a row bounced, they cut off my line.

That, however, assumes I have service from Orange. I don't. I never really have. Oh, because there was no record of any previous renter having a land-line, I had to open up an account, but then the telecom I do have service with, Free, took the line over.

It still didn't really work, though; sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldn't. I finally got a Free technician over in January of last year, and he realized that Orange had never really surrendered the line and both telecoms were sort of alternately using it. He called Orange, got put on hold for 20 minutes, and finally had words with them. Everything worked well from then on. Until it didn't in late April of this year.

Something was odd: I kept getting spam from Orange offering me deals on new cell-phones. I figured this was due to my having a contract for my iPhone. Then I started noticing something was really wrong: I was being billed €19 a month on my bank account from Orange. Stupidly, I didn't do anything about this, which led to the demise of the bank account: Orange would bill me, it'd bounce, Orange would charge me an additional €20 for the bounce and the bank would do likewise. Then, when Orange got no response for three months, they took revenge.

See, the nice words they told the Free guy notwithstanding, they never cancelled my account.

At any rate, I paid my May bill with Free, although I had no service for the entire month, and I'm about to pay my June bill, even though I've had no service so far, and Free will send another guy out. There is no way the couple of hundred Euros that Orange has eaten will ever come back to me, though. Former monopolies never admit to making mistakes, as I know from Deutsche Telekom.

Meanwhile (and this is good to know), I found out that I can buy a SIM for my iPhone and not have to subscribe to a plan. I'm using it now. I bought it from...Orange.

* * *

So, you ask, if I don't have any Internet connection, how am I able to blog and do e-mail and Skype and all? Well, up until recently, I was stealing bandwidth (with permission: I had to have a password, after all) from my next-door neighbor, a nice Moroccan kid named Yazid. However, last week, Yazid, fed up with les Lunkheads, moved to the suburbs to his sister's house, where it's quiet.

While waiting to get the problem with Free resolved, I started going up to the Bar Vert Anglais, where, when I'd first moved here, they'd kindly let me use the in-house wi-fi and not necessarily have to order anything. Of course, when I wasn't flat broke, I always got something, and it was the smell of the famous Vert Anglais Burger being delivered to nearby tables that induced me to buy my first one.

Sunday afternoon, while negotiating a complex problem via e-mail, I was asked to leave immediately. There was virtually no one else in the bar, and I hadn't intended staying much longer. Fortunately, my e-mail was finished, so I pressed "send" and left.

There's a problem here, and it's not just people mooching their wi-fi. In fact, Nick and Sarah, who are two of the three owners and work the morning shift Monday through Saturday, are still perfectly okay with my being there. Their kindness saved my bacon when the Nasty Little Man pulled the rug out from under my plans and the Orange/Free thing hadn't been resolved yet. The afternoon-night guy, though, Jody, has never really wanted me around.

I both do and don't know why. Certainly I've never gotten in trouble with him, and when I had money and hung out there, I spent the money. But the problem goes deeper, and it's one I've encountered before: some British people overseas really, really don't like Americans.

My most notable encounter with this was in Berlin. There was a guy I got to know, pretty friendly, helped me adjust to moving there, and gave me work from a British-owned project which came up every two years. We hung out together, drank together, talked endlessly into the night together. I worked on the project five times. I considered him a friend.

Then one night, we were in E-Werk, the legendary techno palace, when he erupted at me. "You bloody Americans! You in particular, Ed: get off my fucking patch! You're poaching on my patch, and I don't like it one bit." I was aghast. For one thing, I had no idea that Berlin belonged exclusively to him. For another, he'd taken some Ecstacy, which I thought was supposed to make you love everyone, although I've never tried it. And for another, I was writing for American publications, which need an entirely different slant than British ones. In fact, the British press is next to impossible for Americans to break into, so it's usually not an issue. Even MOJO, a magazine you'd think would welcome American contributors (since it was, at the time I was involved with it, trying to break into the American market), has explicity stated that it doesn't welcome Americans because it's a British magazine. (These days, of course, it's been bought by the insane Bauer publishing group from Germany, and lost nearly all of its top writers by attempting to make them sign a horrible surrender of rights agreement, so you'd be a fool even to want to write for them).

The culmination came when it was time for the project again. He came over to my house, flopped down on my couch, lit up a huge joint without asking if it was okay (it wasn't; it was afternoon, and my landlord's mother, a horrid Gorgon of a woman, was occupying the apartment across the hall, and if she'd known what dope smelled like she wouldn't have hesitated in calling the police), and said "I know you think you'll be working on the project again this year, but I've decided your work's just not good enough. So it's no use asking for any; you're off the project." He stubbed out the joint, stuck the remainder in his cigarette package, and left. A couple of phone calls confirmed that other Americans who'd worked with him in the past got similar treatment. He wound up having to do nearly all of it himself, which led to drug consumption, which led to horrifying health problems.

What's this all about? I have no idea. I take people on a case-by-case basis, and I've found that when I encounter this anti-Americanism in British people the best thing is just to walk away from it, because there's really nothing you can do. Thus with Jody: there are too many bars in this town if I want to meet friends for a drink, so that's where I'll go from now on. And, since Nick and Sarah don't have a problem, I'm not really hurting myself by avoiding lunch there (they don't serve dinner), so there are more burgers and excellent salads in my future when I can again afford them.

No moral here. Other expats take notice, and let's move right along.

Oh, and thanks to the young woman upstairs for her wi-fi. She's moving in the middle of next month, though (les Lunkheads again, plus the guys next door who tried to break down her door at 4am one night, frustrated that their keys didn't work and too drunk to notice that it wasn't their apartment), so this must get resolved soon.

* * *

Regular readers will notice that the PayPal button is back. The previous one led to the now-deceased bank account, and this one should work with my American bank. I'm not a huge fan of PayPal, and if the huge project I almost got last week had become a reality, the button would never have returned. As it is, though, things are still day-to-day, so I'm still broke, but not poor. Not with all that sunshine out there, and black cherries being as cheap as they are.


  1. Dont sweat it Ed. That Jody guy isnt anti-american, he's just a complete cock to some people regardless of nationality.
    He's the reason why many expats dont go to vert Anglais (although there are plenty that dont go to Fitzpatrick's, O'Carolan's where Jody used or the Shakespeare either, but thats more down to being integrated into french living than dislike of a certain aloof barman)

  2. Also, don't consider him typical of the British - we don't all hate Americans, or America, I promise!
    The only US-related thing that really, really gets up my nose (but, take note, it's the fault of the French, not the Americans) is when the French claim that the Americans liberated France... Yes, they did, sure enough, but they weren't alone... there were Brits and Canadians and Aussies and Kiwis and countless others... The French (particularly those old enough to have been through WW2) really seem to hate the Brits (one old fart hated me (really!) because "I left him on the beach in Dunkirk"... er no, I wasn't even born till 1969...) whilst endlessly praising the Americans for "saving France". Yeah, this pisses me off more than I can say...
    But, again, that's a crappy French reaction, nothing to do with the US. I've only been State-side once (a week in NYC in April 2001) and I LOVED every minute of it!

  3. To be fair it was a Canadian who had words with you, not Jody or any English person. Jody wasn't working that night.

  4. Bart, he said specifically that Jody had asked him to throw me out.

    Expat, I'm still working on the integration, but it's harder here than it was in Berlin.

  5. Ed, I am no fan of Deutsche Telekom either (it's really 3 or 4 companies, which makes it unpleasantly complicated to do business with them) but I did get a refund from them just a few months ago and it was as easy as going to one of their stores to complain.

    Magic27, maybe the brits seconded the americans during the Liberation but first there was Mers-el-Kebir... People of my grandparents generation never forgave that, which I think is understandable.


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