mardi, mars 22, 2005

Go fuck yourself, Monsieur whoever you are

It used to be that the French had Minitel. This was a cute little home computer thing that had the yellow pages electronically tagged, so that instead of spending a minute or two leafing through a fat yellow book for a phone number, you turned your little machine on (it was littlish, but it took up a lot of space and wasn't quite as eye-catching as, say, a raspberry-coloured Apple Mac), spent five minutes waiting for it to warm up and then another three slowly typing in what you were looking for, and then six more waiting for it to come up with some possibilities, from which you were then obliged to choose. It wasn't fantastically efficient, but it was quite fashion-forward, in technology terms. The rest of the world gave it a miss, for obvious reasons, whilst America busily came up with the internet, which was eventually to offer us all rather more than the yellow pages online.

Since they had Minitel, the French took an age and a half to take to the internet. They'd all had to spend months learning how to use their little sub-computer things and they weren't about to be unpatriotic and let their little technological invention be usurped by something that had been invented in the US. There was a lag of quite remarkable length when if you wanted to write to someone in France you actually had to buy an envelope and stamps. Charming but irritating, and very bad for business. Apparently some French businesses are still struggling to recover.

But the interesting thing is that I've noticed that the French have become quite early-adopters, since their original and drastic brush with advanced technology. Coming from London, I was surprised to see how many people have GPS in their cars - definitely not fitted as standard in London, even in taxis. The French are quite crazy about their Home Cinemas, plasma TVs, iPods, digital whatsits.

But the thing that really gets me here, an American import that the French have clearly made their own, is the telemarketing. These so-called human beings invariably call between 6 and 8pm, the witching hour for parents trying to combine homework supervision with some dinner regime and optimistic attempts to finish bathtime before it's officially bedtime. Get anything wrong in those 120 minutes and you've got kids eating sausages in bed, or wearing pyjamas in the bath.

Almost every evening I get a phone call: "Madame V.? Bonsoir. Bienvenue a Maisons Laffitte." They don't stop to take a breath, these guys, they have been on training courses that make the leaders on Alpha courses look like kindergarden teachers. They know everything about you and they are not ashamed to lie to cover up the lapses in their knowledge. I've had people wanting to know my husband's tax regime, the names of my children, the date of my next holiday, the date of my next period, the password on my bank account.

Are there people out there who actually answer these questions? How do these people know so much about us anyway? The one who wanted to know my husband's tax status knew that we had recently arrived from London, knew my husband's profession - he claimed, untruthfully as I later discovered, and I suppose in an attempt to get me to tell him things that he had absolutely no right to know, that he was a business contact of my husband and had recently caught up with him at a drinks party. He probably knew more about my husband's tax status than my husband does. In fact now I come to think of it we should have asked him. He might have been able to explain.

The thing is, I can't say what I'd like to say to them. "I'm trying to feed my children and get them to bed and you are a nosy git and I don't want to buy whatever it is you are trying to sell me. Will you just fuck off and leave me alone?"