Of the three months and three days that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve been without my camera for more than half of it. Today, seven and a half weeks after I dropped it off, I finally got to pick up my fixed camera from the Vilma Canon specialists in the 20ème arondissement.
No matter that the projected time in which it would be repaired was only three weeks. The fact that I actually expected it to be ready by the estimated date is a testament to the fact that I really haven’t been living here that long – I should have known better.
This is France, after all. I suppose I’ve only lived in five cities in my life, but out of the five, Paris is by far the most filled with red tape. My experience trying to have a simple repair done on my little camera is an apt example of how ridiculously difficult it is to get anything done in this country.
The saga began in October – on the fourth of the month, I dropped my Canon. I’ve dropped it before, but I either dropped it from higher than ever before or it had simply had enough abuse. As soon as I picked it up from the floor, I knew something was wrong.
When I pressed the power button, the lens sputtered, zoomed halfway out, then a quarter of the way back in and the error message “E18” flashed in white on the black screen of the camera. At this point I’d only been living in my new apartment for a few days, and I didn’t have Internet access yet.
To try and figure out what was wrong with my camera, I wandered around my neighborhood with my laptop open, trying to pick up an unsecured wireless network. I finally found one in a small park a few blocks away from my building, and settled down on a bench to peruse the Canon website.
From their site I learned that the E18 message meant that something was blocking the zoom lens (and from Wikipedia, I learned that maybe I got off easy with my free repair). And that there happened to be one authorized Canon repair shop in the entire Île de France region.
I wasted no time in bringing my camera to Vilma, which I remained quite optimistic about, even throughout the 40 minute, three metro transfer trip it took me to get out to their office in the 20ème.
I had a really interesting time trying to communicate to the woman checking the repairs in what exactly was wrong with my camera – the vocabulary to describe the functions of a zoom lens wasn’t covered in any of my French books in school. Finally I gave up and resorted to gesturing at the camera saying “E18, E18.”
The Vilma employee understood immediately, and checked the camera in – I didn’t have my warranty with me, but she assured me that they’d begin work on my camera and I just needed to drop off my garantie as soon as I could locate it. I explained to her that it would half to be mailed to me from the States, but that was fine, she said. The work on the camera would take three to four weeks to complete.
I was a little surprised at how long she thought it would take, but figured they’d overestimate the time a little and I could expect my camera back before the end of October. No such luck.
My mom dug the warranty out of my bedroom at home and mailed it to me the very next day. When I brought it to Vilma about a week after I’d dropped off my camera, a different employee was working the desk. This one spoke English and he explained to me that they had not been able to commence work on the camera without the garantie. They’d need three to four more weeks to work on my Canon, and would email me when it was ready. At this point I was really frustrated – especially since Christina and I had been planning our trip to Barcelona and I was no longer sure I’d have my camera back in my possession by then (as it turned out, I didn’t).
A few days after dropping off the warranty, I received an electronic bill, estimating the work on the camera at around 200 euro and asking if I was in accord with paying it. Knowing my camera was under international warranty, I ignored the email, figuring it was a mistake.
Maybe a month later (a week or so into November) I received the same electronic bill, this time with a note demanding a “oui” or “non” if I was going to comply with the work agreement. This time I responded to the email, saying that my camera was under warranty and was not supposed to cost me money.
The email I got back told me not to worry about it, they had my warranty and I wouldn’t be charged anything. Reassured, but still agitated without my camera, I continued on with my day-to-day business.
This brings us up to last week. At the beginning of the week, I received the bill yet again. I responded this time saying that I agreed to the work, but not to paying, since my camera was under warranty. This time I received my reply via telephone.
The woman who called informed me that I still needed to drop off my garantie at Vilma. This time I was really confused. I explained to her that I’d already given them a copy of my warranty, that the guy I’d given it to had assured me that the repair would cost nothing and that I’d been waiting for my camera for well over a month. The employee told me she’d speak with her coworker and hung up abruptly.
About ten minutes later I received another email that said nothing but “votre appareil sera reparer” (your camera will be repairing – yeah, it’s not even sensical French). This was really driving me nuts, so I sent them an email back saying something along the lines of “Okay, it will be repaired, but when? I’ve been waiting for more than a month.” No response.
Friday night I spent a good portion of R and my Beaujolais walk griping about the incredibly frustrating game I was playing with the employees of Vilma. We came to the mutual conclusion that the most productive thing I could do would be to show up there on Monday (today) in person and ask them what on earth was going on.
This was my plan until I checked my mail Saturday, and found a letter telling me that my camera was finally ready. I was thrilled, but still annoyed. For one thing, the letter was postmarked November 22nd – a day before I’d received the phone call and emails from Vilma. For another, they’d told me I’d receive notification by email – if they had emailed me when it was ready, I’d have had my camera four days ago.
I was so sick of dealing with this place and so excited to have my camera back that I skipped my vie politique lecture this afternoon to pick it up. I feel like I’m put back together again – it felt like a piece of my arm was missing, to not be able to document everything funny, interesting, bizarre that I saw throughout my days. I feel like I lost two months – two months in which I saw a lot of people wearing red pants and white shirts.
It doesn’t matter anymore though – I have my Canon back in my own hands, and I have another life lesson about the joys of dealing with anything in France under my belt. Vive la bureaucratie!
* Those jerks also changed my camera language into French. Good thing I can already speak it.