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07 August 2014

Entrepeneur is a French word but ...

Last week my wife and I were in France - Rocamadour to be precise. It's a stunningly spectacular place, a mediaeval town perched half way up the side of a limestone cliff.

The thing is, though, the French can be incredibly charming and helpful, but also quite the opposite.

Although Entrepeneur is a French word, the French appear to have a shaky relationship with the concept of customer service. How do their businesses make money? I should explain that our observation of their strange business practice was confined to catering (in three instances in restaurants and cafes, and one instance on an SNCF inter-city train.)

At noon one very hot day in Rocamadour we had only a limited time for lunch, being due to join a coach trip. All we wanted was a glass of wine and a Crepe. There were several establishments prominently displaying menu boards outside, most of which included CREPES. The first one we entered advertised an air-conditioned dining room, so considering the excessive temperature outside, we were happy to dive inside. The patron wished us "Bonjour" and watched us go into the dining room. The dining room was empty. We sat there admiring the view of the gorge outside for five or ten minutes during which time we were totally ignored. The guy who had greeted us just sat behind the bar in the adjacent room. So we walked out as the man behind the bar bade us "Au Revoir"! Opportunity to take our Euros completely missed.

We then walked to another restaurant that was three quarters empty. It was now about 12.15 pm. We sat down at one of the many empty tables and a waiter took our order for a carafe of rose wine. The wine was delivered to our table promptly. At the same time a waitress arrived to take our food order. We ordered two Grand Marnier Crepes, at which point the lady explained that between Noon and 3 pm we could only order a full meal, whereupon the waiter whisked away our carafe of wine and two glasses as quickly as it had been delivered. Opportunity to take our Euros completely missed in favour of some self-imposed rule that it would be better business sense to send us on our way.

By now, time was getting short and in desperation we tried a food outlet that was selling snacks from a window. Their menu included CREPES, so we asked for two Grand Marnier Crepes. The answer was "Non". They were not cooking crepes at this time of day. Opportunity to take our Euros completely missed.

My temper was now reaching the same temperature as the midday sun, and we retreated back to our hotel for a drink of water and a cereal bar.

I mentioned this to our Tour Manager, and he remarked that whilst most of western Europe was moving towards customer-oriented service, the French appeared to marching in the opposite direction. Well, good luck with that, my Gallic friends!

My final experience of this inflexible attitude was on the train from Brive-la-Gaillarde back to Paris, when I went in search of the buffet car. I walked the full length of the train and missed it, mainly because there wasn't a buffet car as such - just a man standing in a doorway at the end of one of the carriages. Behind him on a shelf was a small coffee machine, and on the floor were some cardboard boxes of snacks. I asked him for two coffees. He handed me two stirring sticks and some packets of sugar to place in my pocket, then poured the coffee into two small polystyrene cups and placed lids on them. I had a long way to go back to our seats in a crowded train, including some bodies scattered over the floor. I spied a pile of small paper carrier bags on a shelf and asked this worthy SNCF employee for a bag. He said emphatically "Non!" I broke into my magnificent French and cried "Pourquoi?!" He then proceeded to explain (with an agreeable smile on his face it has to be said) that the bags were for food and I hadn't bought any food; moreover I had only two small cups to carry and they had lids on, so there would be no spillage! (There was).

Only in France!!