So clever! And so dumb.

French electricity bill sent to Annecy. Copyright LeFrancoPhoney blog 2008
Let’s start with the dumb. This letter from EDF arrived in a letterbox in Annecy last week. You can see from the date circled at the top (click on the letter for a larger image) that the letter was printed a month earlier. This seems to be standard practice with French utility letters: it’s as if companies print out a huge pile of letters, then get someone to stuff one per day or something. Anyway, three weeks after the date, the letter arrived.

Now, three weeks seems like quite a long time when there’s only fifty-two of them in a year. But check out the other circled date. Yes, that’s December 2007 — almost a year ago. What’s the significance? Well, this is the date that the recipient requested a new service. This letter confirms the request, but then requests that the recipient call the number again to confirm once more — more than ten months after the request was made!

I know this is France and paperwork is relaxed, but tenants have come and gone in less time. And what makes the letter even more unbelievable is that it urges the reader in French to speed up the process two times. Great, so if your new service still isn’t working almost a year later, call this number and maybe you’ll get it after a further six months because you get to talk to the person who stuffs one letter per day between taking calls on missing letters and delayed services. Just so you know, the service still remains unused by the recipient.

Postcard to La Clusaz, French Alps, with wrong postcode and address. Copyright LeFrancoPhoney blog 2008.On the other hand, the French postal system comes up trumps. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in service. I received this postcard. As you can see, I haven’t had to blur out the address: it was simply addressed to me, with the wrong surname, in La Clusaz. The postcode is wrong (that’s the sender’s postcode in Thônes, down the road), and no effort was made to describe the address. In the whole of La Clusaz, the French post office workers tracked down the right person, with nothing more than her first name to go by, and delivered the postcard (obviously, Wendy is not a very French name — quite handy).

This certainly counteracts their placement of a large parcel for me in my letterbox. They wedged it in from the side that their key works in, but on my smaller, framed side, I had no way of getting the parcel out. For almost a week, it was wedged in despite the explanatory note on the letterbox. Each day, I’d fish out the new letters from around the wedged box until finally the postie saw the note and knocked on my door with parcel in hand, apologies and an embarrassed smile.

But these things are not so rare. As I type, I have a router ready to be installed, but the letter with my login details has never arrived. An French pinsurance company who demanded I pay my renewal even though I had followed all legal routes to cancel my insurance still send letters telling me that, as a member, I can vote for their board members or something. I did quite like my water bill for 48c (if only they were all like that!), and I’m still waiting for an electrician to arrive, who promised in a letter to be here in October. We’re all, of course, only human, and French utility services certainly show their human side.


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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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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