The Vacuum Cleaner

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I have just picked up my vacuum cleaner from the After-Sales Service Department (Service Après Vente) of the hypermarket chain Carrefour.   I had purchased the vacuum on April 13, 2000 at Carrefour because they really do have the best deals (I talk a bit about hypermarkets in my shopping guide, Best Buys and Bargains in Paris). A French girlfriend who was helping me to look for a vacuum encouraged me to compare prices between Carrefour and Darty. Darty is an electronics and appliances chain, with stores all over Paris, known for its low prices and good after-sales service. However, the price was definitely better at Carrefour, and with my “fiches de paie,” or pay slips, I qualified for a Carrefour credit card, enabling me to purchase my vacuum in 4 installments, with no interest.  Not a bad deal. The catch, as I mention in my book, is that all the hypermarkets are located outside Paris because they simply take up too much space to be housed inside the city.   At the end of April my vacuum died.  Luckily for me, I had purchased a five-year warranty.   First I phoned Parisnor, the gigantic Carrefour way to the north of Paris, where my friend had driven me to buy my vacuum. I asked if I could take it to any Carrefour to be repaired, since there was no way I could get it to the original store without a car.  They replied, “Of course, Madam.” There happens  to be a Carrefour in Saint-Denis, the city just to the north of my home in Paris.  So, I set out with my vacuum cleaner nested inside a 2-wheeled shopping cart or “caddie” (an absolute must in Paris for carrying heavy groceries and water bottles).  I took the Métro, and then switched to a bus. Then switched back to the Métro.   Now, a word of explanation about Paris public transport zones. When you buy a Métro ticket or pass, it entitles you to travel in 2 zones, including Paris and the area just outside the city on all the Métro stops. Sometimes other forms of transportation serving those same stops ­are classified in a different transport zone! In this case,the Métro stop Basilique de Saint-Denis is 2  zones, covered by my transport pass. The bus, which stops at the same place, is classified as 3 zones–do not ask me why! So, the bus was going exactly where I wanted to go, but I would have had to buy an extra ticket for zone 3. Wanting to be good, follow the rules and save money at the same time, I got off the bus and hauled my caddie in and out of the Métro.   You also need to understand that the buses operate on a kind of honor system. You’re supposed to show your pass to the bus driver or validate your ticket. But nobody checks on a regular basis. What does happen is that every so often there is a contrôle. When this happens, a team of  5 or 6 transport agents invades the bus, blocks all exits and checks all the tickets. Let’s just say it’s better to be legal! You never know when the team might appear, and you can go for days without being “controlled.”  Then, boom! Same thing on the Métro and RER. (You never heard this from me, but it’s pretty easy to enter illegally. However, on the RER you have to use your ticket to exit–or know how to double cheat and exit without it!) Now, I’d like to say a few words here about Saint-Denis. Many of the kings of France, including Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, are buried in the basilica,  a fabulous and stunning gothic cathedral. But unfortunately for Saint-Denis, canals leading into Paris were built right through the town, industrializing the area, bringing in factories and low-income laborers who were housed in hovels–goodbye stunning, hello poverty. Saint-Denis today has a terrible reputation, not entirely justified, but in the center of the town you can see vestiges of what it must have been like in its hey-day. Now, it’s really rather desolate. That day, the bus ride through Saint-Denis was livened up by a very interesting couple. The man had a face like a piranha. Or Yoda. Take your pick. Plus, he was wearing dark blue shades to enhance the effect. After motioning to his girlfriend to take an empty seat, he proceeded to sit in the seat himself just as she moved toward it. It was that kind of couple and that kind of day. She remarked to the rest of the bus, “He’s really strange.” I couldn’t have agreed more, but it did fill the time it took to travel through Saint-Denis on the way to the Carrefour.   After I entered the store, I waited at the After Sales Service counter. Following a rather long wait, a young man arrived proceeded to tell me, “Sorry, Madame, but you didn’t buy your vacuum in our Carrefour, and we’re too small to handle it. We refuse take it.” “But they said on the phone that any Carrefour….” He wouldn’t budge. “Madame, there is another Carrefour in Stains,”  which is at  the end of the bus line that stops in front of the store.  (Fortunately, Stains does not mean in French what it means in English.)   By this time I was not only furious, but absolutely determined to take my vacuum to a Carrefour so they could fulfill their very own contract that they were unwilling to fill in Saint-Denis! I didn’t care anymore about being good. I didn’t care about the risk of being controlled. I had already wasted half my morning getting to Saint-Denis (Métro, long bus ride, Métro again). So, I just climbed onto that Stains zone 3 bus with my 2-zone transport pass, figuring I would make it to the last stop and then ask “OK, where’s Carrefour?”   Fortunately, about 4 stops from the end, I just happened to look out of the bus to the left, and there it was!  I jumped off the bus, dragging my caddie, and found the “service après vente,” where I spent about half an hour waiting while the young woman behind the counter filled in an intricate form.  She then wandered off because she had no staples left in her stapler.  After about 5 minutes, she came back, admitting defeat.  “No problem, I’ll staple it at home.”  I got on the bus to go back home (paying for my ticket, by the way), and who should get on but Yoda and his girlfriend.  Just to…
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