Saturday, February 09, 2008

Those Crazy Frogs #2:
"French means never having to say
you're sorry."

The thing about the French is---nothing is ever really their fault. Where Americans are constantly apologizing for things that aren’t necessarily their fault, the French see no reason to apologize for things that are clearly their fault.

It’s one cultural difference I have yet to get used to, but it’s a very important pretext to understanding the story that follows:

So a few months ago my favorite everyday purse broke. (Yes. I have an “everyday” purse and a “fancy” purse.) A seam on one side just opened up and the lining was kinda hanging out. Now, I’d only had it for a few months so I decided to take it to the cordonnier to see if it could be fixed. (For you non-Francophiles the cordonnier is traditionally a shoe maker. But since all shoes are made in Chinese sweatshops these days, now cordonniers mostly repair shoes and leather goods and sometimes make keys. Go figure.)

The munchkin–like lady at the counter said she wasn’t sure if it could be fixed at all, and certainly it wouldn’t be done before the holidays. I told her no problem I wasn’t in a hurry. I call two weeks later. It’s still not done. I go into the shop a week after that. It’s still not done. I call a week after the shop visit and still the leather they need hasn’t arrived. I call a week later. The leather finally arrived but it’s still not done. Finally I go into the shop, ask to see what progress has been done on my bag. He brings my bag up to the counter and it looks like THE F*CKING PURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Complete mutilation Jeffrey Dahmer style.

I promptly demanded a refund and he gave it to me without a fight. I guess he could tell by the look on my face that it was a fight he would certainly lose and it might entail bloodshed. But then, instead of apologizing for the two month delay he says: “If you had brought it in right away I could have fixed it.” Uhm, What? I promptly corrected him and let him know that I wasn’t in the habit of carrying around busted ass handbags and that I brought it to him immediately. He was in the middle of making yet another excuse for why he couldn’t do his job when I loudly “Oui, Oui,Oui’d” him and gave him a wave of the hand and a“Bonne Soiree” that clearly meant “Go f*ck yourself”.

I then walked 2 minutes up the street and bought a new everyday handbag for less than what I was going to pay the cordonnier to fix my old one!

So, children. What have we learned thus far?

First, sometimes crappy situations can turn into good ones.

Secondly, Sad to say it, but products these days aren’t made to be fixable. When they break you’re supposed to just toss’em! We live in a disposable world. The same thing happened with my Epson printer awhile back. To repair it would have costed 85USD….which is more than the price I paid for it! (Epson if you’re reading this: your print heads suck.)

And last but not least, we learned that no matter how black and white the situation may be, the average French person will never, and I mean NEVER admit to having made a mistake. And they would sooner gouge out their eyes with a spoon than apologize. Consider yourself forewarned.

Aaaah, those crazy frogs. Can't live with'em, can't strangle them with piano wire.


Samantha said...

I agree 100% - and this was something it took me a LONG time to get used to. It's so funny, because a certain co-worker of mine drives me insane b/c he is always apologizing to our customers, for things that aren't even his fault (like their machine not working b/c THEY broke it). I keep telling him he has to stop doing that, because people who apologize here are seen as weak & needy, but it's just so ingrained in our Minnesota nice that he can't help himself. I finally just stopped translating what he was saying and started responding like a French person would, because the minute he would apologize, they'd start asking for a refund, etc even though it was their own fault.

On a positive note, Fab has been working really hard to try to change his mentality and take responsability for his actions and not automatically blame someone else everytime something goes wrong - he's making progress, but it's not an easy habit to break!

PS. I don't know about where you live, but here in Bretagne, most of the cordonniers are run by chinois - so it always makes me laugh because the Chinese are winning out twice - they're selling us crappy products and then we're paying them even more money to repair them!

Megan said...

Oh my god. This so reminds me of my "idiot tailor" experience.

Basically, I took in a quilt that I just wanted him to finish off with the binding around the edge. It was a square shape, and the moron folded it in half, sewed the binding right across the center monogram. Duh! He said it was because "there was a pin there" Ok, maybe. But I think the average person would have figured it out.. Moron. I stupidly gave him another chance though, and he sewed the back of an advent calendar upside down in comparison with the front. Never going back!

cara said...

this is why i about sh*t my pants when the lady at the post office actually did apologize to me. here she had been charging me outrageous prices to mail books ( rocks! if you're a reader)and then i asked her about this livres/brochures tariff. there was such a difference in price (.89 centimes to send a book to the UK!)that she could not help but let a desolee escape her lips. i was shocked. but then i almost did something stupid. i almost said, "it's ok." what the hell? i'm not from Minnesota, but i do have that damn niceness gene. guess France hasn't beaten it out of me yet.

Anonymous said...

Madame K : you are absolutely right. It's something that shocks us "Anglo-Saxons", this refusal to accept responsibility or fallibility and the passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) attitude you have to deal with any time you point out, nicely an constructively, how something might have been done just a little better or differently.

It also relates to the French infantilist mindset of "I'm not responsible for anything, l'Etat has to look after me."

It is also at the root of the dismissive Gallic shrug, the pervasive cynicism, lack of "civisme', mistrust of everyone.

And it all just exhausted and disillusioned me so much that after 7 years I called it quits and came home.

The Late Bloomer said...

Oh man, do I agree on this one... And I only wish I had the gumption and the assertiveness to handle a similar situation in the same way you did! When I went to have one of my boyfriend's jackets repaired a few months' back at the drycleaner's, I left it for 2 weeks, having paid the cost for repair ahead of time -- 32 Euros for stitching up the torn pockets, in addition to the drycleaning cost. When I returned to pick it up, the woman told me it had turned out to cost MORE than they originally intended -- and I was like, um, how MUCH more? Another 32 Euros!!! And I said, hey, I already paid 32, what is this about? And she said no, you only paid 27 or something like that. Well, I had my checkbook there, and I pulled it out and showed her how much I had noted, which was clearly 32... So she told me I then owed another 27.

I asked her if they had ever heard of phoning a customer before proceeding to do repairwork that was DOUBLE the original foreseen cost, because I never would have agreed to that. She just shrugged, said they realized that maybe it was more than they had expected, but refused to apologize for it!

I SOOOO wish I had been able to refuse to pay that extra money; I didn't know what to do... At that point I realized that my boy's jacket probably wasn't even WORTH that much, but I was caught between a rock and a hard place. One thing is certain: I will NEVER be going back to that place again! Even if I have to go WAY out of my way to get my drycleaning done, which isn't all that often anyway.

ARGH, never admitting they're wrong or apologizing for mistakes -- that's for sure!

Crystal said...

hey, I started reading your blog through a link from Sam de Bretagne's blog site, and I just wanted to say that your blog is really entertaining and you are a great writer. Keep them coming!!

jchevais said...

My cordonnier yelled at me recently because he couldn't fix the knee high boots that I had brought in to be fixed. He said to just toss them and then lectured me on how I should have taken better care of them... The irony? If I had, I wouldn't need a cordonnier!

Since, they're suede, I thought, toss em? No way. I'll cut flowers and hearts out of the leather and I'll use those to decorate something instead.