Customer service in France

Last week, I went looking for a new bed. I need a new bed for a new house I’m moving into. The house also needs a phone line, as, bizarrely, no previous tenants have required a landline, and so the house as no wall socket. But let’s start off with the bed.

Three of us walked into a bedding shop and were quite happy looking around when a lovely saleslady came over to help us. She was on for the chat in French, and while I didn’t quite get all she was saying, I understood enough to obediently go to the next bed she demanded we sample. She even turned to my friend and said: “They’re so cute!” when my partner and I discussed the bed we were laying on. She was, to be blunt, ridiculously sugary-sweet towards us, as you’d expect in someone trying to sell you a product which is clearly overpriced. She sat us down, then totalled up how much it would cost for the mattress (of non-standard size after she had convinced my partner that he needs the extra length despite him surviving this long without needing a long bed), then the bed base, then the wooden slats as they’re not included with the bed base, and then delivery. Did we even mention we wanted delivery? All up, it was more than €1000 and she wanted us to leave a deposit there and then. I explained that this was the very first shop we’d been in and that I’d like to look around for a bed base I liked a bit more, and she started going on about how much time she’d invested in explaining the way of beds to us. After a five-minute rant (seriously — it really was five minutes), she stopped. I opened my mouth and got as far as: “I think it’s quite normal—” she started again, speaking over my accent-ridden French and looking only at my partner, who somehow failed to notice this massive faux pas on her part. Our accompanying friend gave me a look of agreement and as soon as we left the shop (thankfully without any purchases), my friend had already named her “The Witch”. She went from oh-so-sweet to extremely nasty as soon as it became clear I was being a stick in the mud about actually wanting to ensure I was making an educated decision about my investment. We will not be going back.

According to another friend, in France, you are far more obliged to buy something if you’ve spent time with a salesperson. She ended up buying a bra that she’d been fitted for, even though she didn’t like the bra and she didn’t think it fitted all that well. In fact, the saleslady tried to sell her three. She escaped with just one, but took it back days later, and was given the third degree from the same woman who was clearly not happy about the return. This might also explain the dismay on the faces of the couch shop people who told us that if we took a couch away today, it would cost us 35% less! We escaped that shop too — all three of us scared by the pushy staff. So perhaps The Witch was indeed in the right. Still, we’re not going back.

Now, France Telecom. Well, there’s a story I’m saving for another time! Let’s just hope that the woman from the bed shop one day has to go and work for France Telecom: she might appreciate her current cushy job a bit more then. Meanwhile, the hunt for a bed continues…


I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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6 comments on “Customer service in France
  1. Kelsey says:

    I encountered the same thing in Korea. The staff there either ignore you or smother you, and if they show you much of any attention at all, it’s considered quite rude to not buy at least something.

  2. Ah the trick I find is to shop just between 12 and 12:30 as they just don’t have time to sell you anything for some perculiar reason! 🙂

  3. Richard says:

    I sympathise completely, this has always made me giggle but on a much smaller scale; when in a super/market I often encounter a little plate of taster slices of meat etc (which I can never resist) I have found that I now wait for the sales person to be with someone else or at the other end of the counter so as I can sample without feeling extraordinarily rude not buying the product!

  4. April says:

    Ooh, Richard, my Mum used to do that. There’s definitely an obligation to buy in Australian supermarkets if you sample. Perhaps not as much as Kelsey pointed out in Korea (thankfully!). But your comment, Provence Properties has me confused: do the shops let you continue browsing past midday? I thought it was almost a religion for them to leave work at midday on the dot.

  5. Aurélie says:

    There’s another thing that the French are not really fond of: it’s “généralités”, or stereotypes. That type of behavior is seen throughout the world, not just here. ^^

  6. April says:

    Yes, you’re right Aurélie, and if I was living anywhere else in the world, I’d be writing about my experiences there. Inevitably, stereotypes happen (indeed, you just stereotyped the French as not liking stereotypes!). It’s really hard to write without doing so.

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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