My French lesson today had to include one very important thing: calling to order a delivery of heating oil to the house. Our fuel tank is encased in a cinder-block box…. making it impossible to tell how much oil you have once it falls below about ¾ full. I’m not anxious to run out while we’re visiting the U.S. and with snow in the forecast for the mountains (1200 meters… we live just below 800 meters) I’m not willing to wait and not be able to get it delivered before we leave.

Normally, I just ask my teacher to make the call for me. He dials, he talks, and voila it’s done. I knew before I got there today that it wasn’t going to happen that way. Today I had the teacher who has you make the call. Sure, it may be better that way in the long run but it’s horribly stressful and I’m willing to sacrifice the gain for the easy way out.

We went over the words and phrases I’d likely need to perform this task. He was sure to have me practice the overly polite ways one properly asks for something in France. It’s apparently not only the best way to get what you need… it’s often the only way to get it. Which means it probably should be one of the lessons in the first few months you’re here.

Once I felt ok-ish with what I had to say, we made the call. The first two tries it was busy. Once we finally got through, we reached a voice mail system. The recording says something about if you know the department you want, say it now. My receipt from last time says to dial the number then say “fuel.” The teacher didn’t read that he just told me to say “Carrefuel. “ (The home heating oil division of the conglomerate Carrefour.) So, I followed his instructions. He’s French, he should know how this works. He even told me I said it perfectly. The voice mail system didn’t care. It sent me to regular Carrefour. We hung up and dialed back like 5 times. By the end, the French person was yelling “FUEL!” into the phone. He said they used to make fun of how we had these phone trees in the U.S. Who’s laughing now? Anyway, once we got to the Carrefuel side of the phone tree Hell, we were met by a series of recordings telling us to press one or two if we wanted this or that. I had no clue what this or that was. The teacher would just hold up one or two fingers so I’d know how to respond. It made me wonder: if we were in the U.S. would I be the one wielding the power of comprehension? Oh, probably not.

At long last we reached an actual human being. Once we got that far, I could pretty much handle it. I had the cheat sheet we’d made of the proper polite phrases to use. I scheduled the delivery. Thursday… between 8 and 1. Just like home.

2 Responses to “CarreFUEL”

  1. D.A.D. says:

    We find that yelling at voice recognition systems actually helps. Programmers tend to create algorithms that recognize stress, and then it branches into code that takes what it recognizes you’ve said and does the opposite…..since usually it “reads” the wrong thing anyway, it knows to take the other path. Sometimes hitting “zero” no matter what it says eventually takes you to a human, too. They are used to sensing stress in every callers’ voice, but hopefully won’t do the opposite of what you ask.

  2. mandy says:

    I had the same teacher today who told me he’d told his wife what happened with Carrefuel and she said “I TOLD you they’re impossible.” She’s American.

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