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What ails France | Sony VAIO story

France is not doing very well these days.

Prices have rocketed sky-high despite wages staying more or less in the same place.

One of the problems is the 35 hour work week. On my trip to Basque country I rode the train with a woman who works in a large Belgian bank as upper middle management. She can’t get her whole staff together for a meeting anymore as there is always someone who is not at work. The 35 hours week legislation even allows workers to set their own hours! Frankly, thirty-five hours is not enough time to do a full-time job, especially on the clock. Between arriving and leaving and lunching and coffee, there isn’t much time left to work.

Moreover, companies are paying a full wage for these part-time workers so no wonder prices have to rise.

Indicative of how things work in Paris these days is the following anecdote.

For a tiny Sony VAIO PCG-161L that I bought from my cousin, I need a power adapter. Graham lost the original power adapter at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean on one of his Arctic diving expeditions.

So I call up Sony France for the part as no one else seems to have it. Proprietary power connector. Finally get the right number and the right person on the telephone. To call one of these French 0800 numbers you have to pay between 15 and 35 euro cents/minute usually. The money extorted is divided between France Telecom and the company to whom the number belongs. So I’m paying a stiff tarif to talk to them already.

The gentleman on the other end after introducing himself as Monsieur Simon asks me for the model number. I give tell him.

“That will be 20€ please. Would you like to pay on your credit card?”
“For what?” The power adapter couldn’t be that cheap.
“To open a dossier.”

I asked him if he had this straight. I was going to call him to buy an after market part for this little box – a part that was certain to cost ten times its production cost to purchase (power adapter) and he intended to charge me 20€ to tell me if he had the part in stock or not?

Yes, he was serious. The computer was not sold originally in France and in such cases a dossier charge of 20€ is obligatory. No wonder there is so much negative press about after sales service on Sony VAIO. Finally a gentleman by the name of Monsieur Coulet, three or four rungs higher in the ladder had the good grace to tell me free of charge that they don’t have the part anyway.

This is just a single anecdote.

Another example. The internet providers also give you a toll line for tech support. They keep you on hold for at least ten minutes and then tell you that nobody is available. Repeatedly. They could tell you within 30 seconds but then they wouldn’t get to put 2€ in their pocket for every call.

We are a long way from the 1-800 number here.

Basically the deal in France now is that as soon as you do or try anything you get whacked financially three or four times. Once for the telephone fee tarif, another time for some kind of administrative charge and a third time with an absurdly high price.

So what do the beleagured French people do? They try to stay home and buy as little as possible, despite an enormous amount of advertising everywhere.

They don’t understand why foreigners are all trying to run around and do everything, as if they are unaware of the consequences of wanting too much in this world.

As well as the salarial woes consequent from the 35 hours, the changeover from the franc to the euro gave the perfect cover for a furious inflation which I gauge at about 25 to 40 per cent depending on the category. With the currency transition it is difficult for even the government to keep track of where exactly inflation is. Retailers have told me that sales are way down. Logical. When people take increases in basic cost of living, without a correspondent wage increase, their disposable income crashes. And they do less.

Lots less. So the retailers, restauranteurs and bar owners seem to have hiked the prices to maintain their revenues. Which again reduces the public. And that is the current situation in Paris. Many places are working almost exclusively for a turnover tourist/visitor population at exploitation prices.

Paris being Paris (one of the centres of world tourism), gouging works after a fashion. But no wonder the resident Parisians are running to work and home again with an ever more anguished expression.

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