TRAVEL with pat and lew

France Telecom and Wanadoo

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

It’s June 2006 …

Collioure is glorious. We renew our acquaintance with the outdoor restaurants along the beach, beautiful shops and art galleries, thirteenth century castle and fourteenth century church.

We also renew our acquaintance with France Telecom and Wanadoo, a far less pleasant experience.

We had established a working telephone and internet service in January, and expected that when we re-attached in June, everything would work as it had before. Not so.

The problem, when we finally understood it, was financial, not technical.

I had, so I thought, arranged to have our France Telecom and Wanadoo invoices paid automatically by a deduction from our bank in Collioure, thus avoiding the problems of receiving and paying bills in a timely manner. By telephone, speaking with people who seemed to understand English, I gave the bank numbers to both France Telecom and Wanadoo in February.

However, no deductions appeared on our bank statement, which we can view on the internet. So I again called France Telecom and Wanadoo from the U.S. (thank you, Skype), paid the outstanding bills by MasterCard over the phone, and once more communicated the bank instructions for automatic deduction.

Towards the end of April, I had yet another conversation with France Telecom, once again paid the outstanding bill by MasterCard, and was assured that this time, all future bills would be automatically debited to my bank account. 

Back in Collioure in June, I plug in the telephone and the wireless router provided by Wanadoo. The phone seems to function but when I call the English speaking France Telecom line, I get a long message in French. No other calls are possible, and there is no internet connection.

Pat suggests that I have our neighbor Brigitte listen to the message and tell me what is being said. Not wanting to trouble Brigitte, I decide to wait until Monday when I expect to be able to call the English speaking France Telecom line. But that call produces the same message, and a justified “I told you so” from Pat. Brigitte, meanwhile, has gone to work.

Fortunately, the night before we had met our neighbor on the other side, an Englishwoman named Rose, who speaks French. Rose listens to the message, and informs me that our telephone account had been suspended for failure to pay the bill. No calls are possible, except to the recorded message, which, if you can understand French, provides an extension to dial for further information. Rose calls that extension, and after the normal long wait, someone comes on the line.

“Mr. Weinstein has paid his bill,” Rose says, “and has arranged for all future bills to be automatic bank deducts. Why has telephone service been suspended?”

After an extended conversation, Rose informs me that I owe 35 euros for what seems to be the May telephone bill. Apparently, the bank deduct was not scheduled to begin until June, and I had paid by credit card only through April.

I hand Rose my credit card and she pays the May bill over the phone. She is assured that telephone service will be restored by the end of the day. And, lo and behold, telephone service is restored by about 6:00 pm.

Phone yes, internet no

Unfortunately, even after phone service is restored, the internet still doesn’t function, and Rose has returned to England. Not to worry. Wanadoo has a 24/7 tech support line.

“I cannot speak English,” the Wanadoo service tech explains to me in perfect English.

“But you are speaking English,” I say. She explains, in English, that Wanadoo has a policy not to conduct tech support business in English.

I repeat our mantra: It’s all part of the adventure.

We go back and forth several times. She speaks French. I speak English, calmly and slowly. Then a remarkable thing happens. She answers in English. I compliment her on the quality of her English. She laughs. We’re friends. But she still can’t solve my problem.

“I can’t help you. Your account is closed.”

“Why?” I ask. No understandable answer.

She tells me to call the commercial office for further information and I reach another person who will not speak English. It is at this point, emboldened by my previous success, I decide to ignore all the French I can’t understand, and simply speak English, always slowly and calmly, with humor wherever possible. Every time, answers come in English. Remarkable!

I’m now informed that my Wanadoo account had in fact been closed, not for non-payment, but because I have a new account number. Why? Don’t ask. Why was there no automatic transfer to the new account? Don’t ask. She gives me the new account number.

“If you call tech support,” she says, “and give them the new number, they’ll help you.”

I call tech support again, now two hours further into my deepening frustration.

“Yes,” she says, after I gave her the new account number, “your account is open.”

“Then why doesn’t the internet function?”

She tries. Her English is much better than my French. But in the end, she says, I think quite sincerely, that she’s sorry, but her English is just not good enough to deal with the technical questions.

“What should I do?”

“Find someone who speaks French and call back.”

This problem is not trivial. All of my financial transactions for the next five months require use of the internet. I go to sleep with visions of unpaid bills, cancelled credit cards and general chaos.

Eventually, after many more phone calls, Wanadoo agrees to send a new wireless router, but their promise to actually install it and see that it works was apparently never communicated to the man who made the delivery.

I’m on my own. I go through the installation instructions again, and this time it works.

Was the router the problem? Who knows? I resolve that when we leave in November, I will not disconnect anything. Check back in June 2007 for the sequel.

Post script – lawyer letter

A week later, I go shopping in town and on the way back, pick up our mail. There are two notices regarding a judgment against us for failing to pay our phone bill. I’m furious, because we paid the April bill referenced in the judgment long before the legal notices were sent in early June.

Pat, sensing that my mood might not produce the best result, calls the lawyers. No answer except a message in French. I give her the English-speaking France Telecom help line number. A person answers, speaks English, and immediately tells us that we owe nothing.

“Why then did we get these notices?”

“I cannot explain that.”

Pat drafts a letter to the lawyers, explaining the facts, and we hope for the best. I expect more aggravation on this one before it is over, but we soon get a return letter. I scan the letter, enter the text into Google translate, and learn that our payments are acknowledged  and we need not respond to the judgment.


2 Responses to “France Telecom and Wanadoo”

  1. Have you had similar experiences?

  2. imparare said

    Interesting comments.. 😀

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