My most recent gripe was how my bank here in St. Remy--a branch of one of three biggest banks in France--no longer takes or gives out money in the afternoon. No cash in, no cash out, any afternoon.
Before that, I was grumbling about my phone/internet provider, who told me--after three of their modem boxes crashed within two weeks--to find another company if I didn't like their service. Oh, and I should stop breaking their modem boxes. Because if this one stopped working, they wouldn't give me another. (Anyone who has ever switched phone companies in France knows that's not an option any sane person would pursue.)
Every expat has a tale--or 20--of woe. One of my favorites: up in Paris, blogger David Lebovitz writes about leaving his apartment more than once only to find a ''Sorry you weren't home when we tried to deliver your package!" sticker on the front door.
And whatever you do, don't ever ask an expat about the process of getting a French resident card, long-stay visa or carte de sejour. By the time the teller gets round to the end of the story--cataloging for you every time-wasting hassle and indignity he/she suffered along the way--you'll have decided that getting the visa itself couldn't be anywhere near as painful as listening to the story is. Trust me on this one: Do. Not. Ask.
But come to think of it, my French friends do this too...meaning, complain about customer service. Not to go down that road but it does sometimes seem that businesses here (what with lunchtime closings, Sunday closings, seasonal hours, bank holidays, no-return policies, etc.) operate more for the convenience of owners and employees than customers.
So it's always a nice surprise to have an experience that goes the total opposite way... meaning, you get treated exactly how you'd like to be treated. So here's a shout out to my new favorite clothes shop and its charming owner, who completely won me over with her warmth and cool attitude before I even had a look at her beautiful clothes.
Back in July, my friend Steph gave me a very-generous birthday gift: a 200€ gift certificate from a St. Remy boutique called By dé Bo. I noted the December expiration date, which of course I had to whinge about just a bit: I only had five months to use it? And what does 12/14 mean? Does that mean Dec 1? December 31? And how lame is it to make a gift certificate by simply scribbling on the back of your business card? Never mind--I was thrilled with the gift and taped it to my desk so I wouldn't lose it or forget.
So with that vague December deadline looming, I popped into town a month ago hoping to get a coat. Only to find that, after 15 years in business, the shop had closed and another had taken its place. But then I noticed that the gift certificate said "St. Remy and Uzes." So maybe all was not lost...maybe, just maybe, the other By dé Bo lived on! So the next morning, I called. Yes they were still in business. Yes they were open on Saturday. And so I drove an hour to the pretty town of Uzes, fully prepared to be told ''sorry, that gift card was good in St. Remy only'' or that the ownership had changed or that the gift card was fake or the manager's dog was sick so she stayed home...or something.
Instead, the British owner Deborah Tunney couldn't have been sweeter. Of course she would accept the gift card, she said. And when I didn't find a coat that fit or anything else that grabbed me, she--wait for it--offered to extend the deadline. Extend the deadline! In France! I thought I was hallucinating! And just as I was going to take her up on it and leave empty handed, Deb started bringing me the most beautiful tops to try--soft colors, elegant fabrics--and before too long I had found the sweater of all sweaters...and a new favorite store.
Deborah's clothes (and shoes, boots and handbags too) are beautifully made and a bit edgy. She carries 40 or so different labels at a time, and another 40 brands of accessories and shoes. She stocks European designers only, with a focus--always--on high-quality fabrics. "I love quirky," she says, "pretty niche and charismatic stuff. The more unknown and beautiful it is, the more it appeals to me. I just love the idea that no one else has picked a new label up and I found it! So you can find established designers like Sarah Pacini sitting along side a new guy that no one knows like A.B. (Italian from Rome in stunning fabrics) which just happens to go with a German knitwear collection like Hannes Roether and a crazy Italian like Maliparmi… and then a bag from Campomaggi or M0851. Basically it's about breaking the rules and buying everything that catches my eye...things that shouldn't really all be in the same shop…but it works! And I pick up five or six new labels each season so there's always a new toy to play with!"
So there you have it: a French customer-service story that ends with a happy customer. Ladies, next time you're in Uzes, do pop in; Saturday is a great day because that's when Uzes has its big (and wonderful) weekly market. Deb knows what will work for your coloring and body type...and will do her very best to hook you up with something fantastic. And as your reward for reading all the way to the end here, there's this: the shop will be having "a mega Saturday bash" on January 3rd. "It's total havoc!" Deb reports, "with pretty much everything at 50%, which puts everyone in great spirits to start the New Year."
By dé Bo
22, rue Jacques d'Uzès
30700 Uzes, France
04 66 03 43 99
Open: 9.30 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 7 pm, Tuesday to Friday. Open all day on Saturday. From April to September, open on Mondays as well.