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  • Writer's pictureKate Woodman

Sometimes the simplest things....

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

La Croix Rouge

I just bought a lovely little house in Brittany (no, I'm not leaving Paris....this is for summer and weekends). I could not be happier and have actually enjoyed the process of purchasing property in France. So many things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. It all went very smoothly and last Thursday I signed the sale deed, was handed the keys to my now house, and drove off in my little Citroën C1 to begin a new adventure in the French countryside.

I spent the weekend settling in, dreading a bit today when my to do list included the final three things I needed to do post-closing:

1. Call Enidis, the electric company, give them the meter reading (which the agent (Eurielle) and I took on Thursday just before closing), and switch the account into my name.

2. Call the water company (no idea what it’s called but Eurielle gave me the phone number) and switch the account. Wrinkle here is that we haven’t been able to find the water meter so I also needed to tell them that and get them to come to the house to find it.

3. Go to the mairie (town hall) in Gommenec’h, the small village outside of which my house is located, to get “poubelles” (trash cans) so my trash can be picked up.

Short and simple to do list, right? Ha!

As anyone who is learning a new language will tell you, one of the most difficult things to do is make a phone call. That’s why I said I was dreading these tasks. Let me text or send an email, but please don't make me use the phone! I’m also quite exhausted from endless “to do” lists I’ve been living with the past few weeks, and the strain of being in a new place and trying to figure everything out, and when you add to that, doing it all in French…..well….

Anyway I was determined to complete these 3 tasks today, so started out by calling Enedis. Of course I got a computer giving me a menu to choose from. Fortunately there was an “autre chose” (none of the above) option so I chose that, only to get another menu to choose from, none of which sounded right to me. I hung up and called again, hoping I might understand more the second time. But still no luck connecting to an actual person. Discouraged I emailed Eurielle and asked for help. It would be so easy for her to do it right? Wrong. She replied that because of the school holidays, she had appointments all day. But she gave me an address for Enedis in St. Brieuc, as well as one for the water company in Paimpol. Great! Always easier in person.

I’ve learned that you have to check the horaires (hours of operation) before going someplace. Many businesses are closed on Monday, and in Brittany, most observe the 2-hour lunch rule and are closed from noon to 2. So I checked…..the water company was open until 1:00, the mairie didn’t open UNTIL 1:00 and there was no information for Enedis. As it was 11:00, I decided to go to the water company first.

Paimpol is about a 20-minute drive, and I found the office thanks to Waze, my constant companion since Thursday. I explained what I wanted to do and had the foresight to bring with me the final document handed to me by the notaire on Thursday. An “Attestation” or affidavit which identifies me (including my date of birth and the fact that I am divorced and have not remarried), the sellers, the property (lot and section numbers) and the date that I acquired it. I have learned that in France no functionary ever takes your word for it…..they want to see whatever you claim in writing.

Anyway I showed the nice young woman my Attestation, she clicked away on her keyboard, frowned and said that unfortunately, the account for my house was with another water company. She helpfully gave me the company name and phone number and explained that I had to call them….no visit to their office was possible. I thanked her and, as I had some time, drove to a nautical shop in town that has the best classic Breton rain jackets (an absolute MUST here!). And of course, it was’s Monday.

OK. Drove back to the house as I wanted to take care of the poubelles before driving to Saint Brieuc. As it wasn’t quite 1:00, I decided to call the water company. Called and got a message that they were closed for lunch….call back after 2:00.

OK. Drove to the mairie, a charming typically Breton stone building right across from the church in town. Another nice young woman helped me. I always start, after saying of course the obligatory “bonjour,” by apologizing that I don’t speak French very well. And invariably the response is “but no, madame, you speak very well.” Anyway, this young woman told me that I was in the wrong place, that I needed to contact the company that I guess has the contract with the town for trash removal. She gave me their name and number and said to be sure to ask for both the regular poubelle and the one for recyclables. I asked her how long it would take to get the poubelles and she said if I went there I could pick them up. In the meantime, she gave me a roll of yellow (the color of recycling in France) plastic bags and welcomed me to Gommenec’h.

OK. Next stop Saint Brieuc, a town about 20 miles from Gommenec’h. Not been there before but as it’s one of the larger towns in the area, I knew there were lots of stores there that I’ve been consulting for the house…..Darty, Boulanger, Conforama, and of course Carrefour. So I was looking forward to doing some shopping after visiting Enedis. Waze told me how to get there, I could see signs pointing to it, I could see the actual building, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to access it! It’s right off the highway, so I saw the building as I was exiting, I found the service entrance, but signs said it was strictly forbidden to enter there (and the gate was locked anyway). I drove around it several times. Finally I stopped at the building that was right next to it (but not on the same level, so I couldn’t park there and walk down to the Enedis building). It was some sort of counseling center. I asked the secretary how to get to Enedis and she and a man who was in her office discussed the question for about 5 minutes. I caught a few words….hospital and apartment buildings…..but they seemed stymied. Finally she said to me (in English)….we don’t know how to get there….sorry!

I had spent over 30 minutes trying to find the entrance to Enedis and decided to just give up. I had a feeling that even if I were able to get in, I would be told I was in the wrong place, or they had no record of the account, or the office would be closed. Eurielle got the water and poubelle wrong, so she was probably wrong about the electric as well.

So the only thing I accomplished from my to do list today is the acquisition of a big roll of yellow recycling trashbags

Tomorrow is another day and I’ll be back in Paris tomorrow night. Will try again on Wednesday. Interesting thing about this experience is that, for the most part, the frustrations have nothing to do with my poor language ability, but rather misinformation and perhaps a bit of comedy of errors.

One small victory though. I called a local taxi and ordered a pick-up for tomorrow morning to take me to the bus stop in Guingamp. I have to take the bus to Paris because I failed to make my train reservation 3 months ago which is when you have to book travel during the school holidays (I obviously didn’t know this). So I’ve got an 8 hour bus ride (instead of 3 hours on the train) to Paris tomorrow. The driver said he’d be here at 9:15…..we’ll see……

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