Misfortune and Misadventure in Marseille, rc1
- I can't plug my U.S. appliances in over here. They have different plugs, and the electricity comes out of the wall at 220V. So I need a transformer/adapter doohickey. They're all over in the states -- just go to Best Buy, and there's a row of "Travel" adapters. I figured I could find one with similar ease in France. But since French people don't go to the U.S., and they sure as hell don't cater to the needs of Americans visiting France, they don't sell these adapters. I already tried buying one at an overpriced home-goods store, only to find that it was a 110V to 220V transformer (the wrong way, however you write it) and didn't work anyways. And then I was stuck with a thirty-eight euro (!!!!) gift certificate, written on a piece of graph paper, to a store full of overpriced shit.
- Since I have no transformer, I can no longer take pictures. My camera is out of batteries. I don't have the doohickey I need to put disposable batteries in it. I can also no longer shave, because I never tried to use a real razor in my life. Amusingly, however, my co-workers were very impressed by my knowledge of French curse-words when I described my situation with the razor. Ha. Now give me a fucking transformer.
- This is good if you're a nerd. I wrote a script to compile my project. Normally, you want your script to occasionally delete all the compiled files so they can be generated again. I did that, except instead of telling it to delete all the compiled files, I accidentally set it up to delete my whole development directory -- including the build script I spent the morning writing. And it did exactly that. Funny, huh?
- I also haven't gotten a haircut since I've been here. My hair looks like it belongs on a muppet, and I can't show anyone because my fucking camera has no batteries. The best part is that when I put enough gel in it to glue Ritchie's door shut, it looks like I belong in Dragon Ball Z.
- Oh. Oh. Answering the damn phone. God, I hate this. One second, this needs its own couple of paragraphs.
Alright, let's go. So normally answering the phone isn't a huge problem, because there are a few other people in the office, two of whom are native French speakers and two of whom have been living here for a while. My favorite solution is to let one of them answer the phone, or, if the phone is near me, to look at it like I would a rattlesnake on my desk -- that is to say, a look that screams panic and fear. Inevitably, someone else runs over to grab the phone while giving me a funny look. But my dignity is a worthy price, because I don't have to answer the phone.
Why is it really that big of a deal? A couple of reasons. Since most of the incoming calls are orders and requests for more information by potential clients, most of the people doing the calling are trained phone-jockeys -- administrative assistants, career bureaucrats, things like that. I'm sure you've all noticed that these people speak very quickly on the phone (e.g. "Hi, you'vereachedtheofficeofDeweyCheethamandHowePAhowmayIdirectyourcall?") . They've got a schpeel that starts with some sort of identification of self and corporation, followed by a formulaic request for information. Having done this a million times, they deliver this all with the poise, precision, and blazing speed of a well-oiled machine. That's the first problem.
I've mentioned before how my French is sketchy to say the least, and I have trouble understanding accents. My second problem answering phone calls is that our telephone, as quiet and staticky as it is, is like a frightening new accent that I never have a hope of understanding. I'm sure I look like an idiot standing in the middle of the room, face scrunched up in concentration, finger in one ear and phone shoved ungloriously into the other. So I've got these people speaking very-very-very quickly at me through a puny little speaker (just imagine an auctioneer speaking to you at the McDonald's drive-through in an entirely different fucking language). In attempting to maintain a modicum of professionality, I feel like it's really gauche of me to ask, "‹Wait, Mister Customer, could you please repeat the last three sentences after the word hello, using words a pre-schooler would understand and speaking slowly?›" I mean, I don't want to give some potential customer the idea that this company is staffed by idiots, even if it is.
Instead, I've developed a sophisticated and undignified "flight" method of survival. As soon as I don't understand the point of one whole sentence, I take the next pregnant pause in the conversation (which I then assume is where the caller is waiting for me to reply, "Sure, let me go send you that fax") to quickly babble my rehearsed speech: "Sorry, I'm actually just the intern and everyone else is out of the office, can I give you my boss' number?" Then, if I don't understand what the caller says next and there's another pause, I wait for a moment to see if he says "Au revoir," and if not, I start reading off my boss' cell phone number. And then say goodbye, hang up, and go splash my face with water.
But the whole point is that I always manage to avoid going through this experience. EXCEPT FOR THE LAST TWO DAYS. I've been the only person in the office because everyone else is either out or at a meeting with a client in the north of France. That means whenever the phone rings, I'm the only one who can answer it. And I can't just not answer, because I don't want my boss to show up tomorrow and say, "Hey, Ian, why weren't you at work when we were gone?" "Oh, I was there, boss, I'm just too chicken to answer the damn phone."
So if I look like a very frazzled muppet, that's probably why.
Coming next time: My documentary entitled International Apartment Drama, or Zeta Psi: Once You Leave, You Realize They Weren't That Bad.