How to receive a package in Paris (or a lesson in extreme patience)
Repeat after me: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
I think an internet friend who recently moved to Paris said it best when she has moved past the honeymoon stage to “this is still awesome but incredibly challenging at times” phase. She described it as having higher highs and lower lows than anything she ever experienced living in the US. I found this prognosis spot on.
Meanwhile, when I share my trials and tribulations of receiving packages in France (read on), my French friends applaud me saying that I truly am becoming more French in my understanding of the way things work. Or don’t. And my complaining even makes me more French too. (But I write these pieces more as comedy sketches than complaint letters.)
Many of the tales in this post are ongoing, but for fear everything won’t be resolved [ever?!], I thought it best to share them now, mid-story. As much as we want life tied up in neat, pretty bows, that’s just not the reality.
Story 1: The IKEA notebooks.
There’s a particular style of IKEA notebooks that I’ve grown to love. I’ve noticed my business has grown the more I use them. They’re practical, durable, and the perfect weight of unlined paper for my favorite marker pens.
I’ve been using them for a couple years, so when I was approaching running out at the end of 2018 I decided to venture to IKEA with a friend who needed to go after Christmas to pick up some more. Except they stopped carrying them. The agony. All I got that day was an ice cream cone, a hot dog, and wasted time. Thank goodness for the company of my friend.
I searched online but did not feel like spending 18€ for my cheap notebooks on eBay. My stubborn self didn’t give up. Noticing they were still available in some countries I kept checking back. Then on a magical day they were available on the IKEA France website. Rejoice! The icing on the cake? I could select which day they arrive.
I picked a Thursday as I knew I’d be working from home. Except, they did not arrive on Thursday. Two friends later told me, oh, the orders never arrive on time. Le sigh.
I’m not blessed to have a guardian or concierge of my current building (I did in the last one, but that came with a lot of attitude too!). The next day when I had finally left the apartment for a morning meeting I get a text that two hours later they will drop off my package within a two our window. Ugh, I did not want to deal, so I went with my other favorite option in France: drop off points.
Now usually you have a few choices in locations, but not this time. I’d have to go to a Collissimo point at the périphérique (beltway around the city). Logistically not that far from me, it was still a solid hour detour lost of my life. And as the following day was now a Saturday, I’d have to do it before 1pm.
This part of Paris wasn’t exactly postcard Paris. I’d literally never go there except to pick up a package. When I arrived I had to ring a bell. Then go up to the third floor of a building, and ring another bell. Only slightly sketchy for a single female. Then I pick up my box. An unnecessarily big and wasteful box considering there were 6 basic paper notebooks inside (see above).
I should also mention that less than 2 weeks later an IKEA opened in central Paris. And they carry my notebooks.
But this is only the beginning of my mail order hell.
Story two: The new internet box
In the midst of this still unfolding story I’m reminded daily why it took nearly three years for me to switch my internet plan to fibre internet. I thought I’d chosen the path of least resistance, but alas, there is always la resistance when it comes to France.
I’d opted to change internet providers knowing the fiber connection was already set up in my place from a previous tenant. Years ago I’d learned that each carrier had a different connection so it wasn’t just an easy switch. Knowing that I had existing ADSL (despite dropping calls in the afternoon), I at least had the luxury of working internet while I waited.
First, I’d still need the technician to come by. I knew I had a 9am Monday morning coaching call on the earliest day available, so I picked the 1pm slot. What time did he arrive? 9:30am in the middle of my call with a client. He was hands off. Added a connector, and I was told that I’d receive the box within 48 hours.
Two days later was a major holiday in France (one of 3 holidays this month) so I knew I likely would not be receiving my new internet box before that, even though it was a possibility. It was not until Thursday (now over 48 hours) that I received a text from UPS that I’d be receiving the package on Friday. PAR-TAY! Rather than having to wait at home I picked a nearby point relais where I could pick it up on my time.
Except my package did not arrive on Friday, nor was I notified. My naive self thought that deserved a text alert. Alas, turns out I needed to sign up for the UPS My Choice app/alert, which I will dub the worst EVER user experience I’ve ever had. And I’m “a young savvy type”.
When I finally figured out how to create the account and log in, I was now informed my package would not be arriving Friday, but MONDAY. I’m not sure what happened to Saturday, but out of the question apparently. The fun twist? The point relais I had selected this time was sadly closed on Mondays. I realized this quickly and attempted no less than three times on the worst customer platform EVER to change the address, but it never took. Failed delivery on Monday.
Let me remind you, I have a far more flexible schedule than most people. Life is a full time job. I don’t know how full-time-jobers- deal with this BS.
I attempted to change the delivery location to a local hotel that accepts packages thinking the whole 24-hour availability was quite an exotic perk in Paris. Alas, at 5pm on Tuesday—the eve of yet another French holiday—I received a text that my package had been delivered and I could pick it up. The catch? It was not at any of the locations I’d requested. Thankfully I’d been obsessively checking the address on the website because the website only had the name of the store (a very generic one at that). 10 minutes later I had my package. Grateful to have it before the impending holiday all that hassle felt like a small miracle in the end! It’s all about having perspective in this country.
Until…. I got home and attempted the easy install myself. Plugged the box in and over and over and over the screen was stuck on “étape 2” (step 2). With no trouble shooting guide in the box, and unfruitful Google search attempts (other than that I realized I’m not the only one who had encountered this), I called customer service. Because I was unable to install the box, please note this was a paid call through my cell phone provider. Because yes, often in France asking a question can cost you to call. It’s just centimes, but that adds up when you’re on hold.
About 5 minutes later Philippe joyfully took my call. Joyful calls are rare in France, so this already made me feel better. I explained my situation lacking some key internet lingo in French, but he got the point. Then he told me it was on their side and someone would have to come and activate the line. I need not be home for that to happen, but as tomorrow is a holiday (remember it’s now closer to 6pm now) I’d have to “avoir un peu de la patience.” Seriously, after all I’ve been through, he’s asking me to have MORE PATIENCE!?!?!
You really can’t make this stuff up. The comedy of errors write themselves. Philippe stayed up beat through it all while I had to explain the opportunity of improved UX and communication to avoid all these unnecessary steps. “Perhaps the initial technician could come at the right time and have the box the first visit,” I proposed. I’m not sure he was convinced. For now, I’ll wait a few days. When I see the clock appear on my new internet box, I’ll know it’s working. Or so they say… Anyone taking bets?
Story three: The air purifier
This spring I experienced a whole new level of what turns out to be allergies but left me zapped of energy, congested, and blah. That’s a whole other story of pollen + pollution, but the result was I thought it was a good excuse to invest in an air purifier for my apartment.
I found one that I liked, and placed my order. I’d gladly have gone and supported a local business for the speed of having it, but it’s not really a product available even at the big box stores. So I ordered online.
“Oh, looks like I’ll have to be home tomorrow to receive it.”…. 10 minutes later…. “oh I just paid more money for it to arrive a week from Saturday.”
So I cancelled the order, hoping for something sooner. Repurchased it with the arrival between Tuesday and Friday. A bit better, and still sooner.
Latest update, tracking says it should arrive Monday. Like the Monday after the week later Saturday. Like I paid even more for that faster delivery that is not slower.
What can I say, trying to do something simple can fast become a comedy of errors in this country.
UPDATE: Despite online tracking saying the box would arrive on Monday, I in fact received it on Thursday. That was an “unexpected win”.
Story four: The ring light
I ordered a ring light for my calls and course videos I film that came recommended from a friend. I didn’t see the exact model I wanted on Amazon, and besides, I’d cancelled my Prime because let’s face it, as this post shows, nothing arrives on time, let alone next day, so I ordered it directly from the company. Free shipping! Sweet!
After I placed the order on April 25th I then learned by order would arrive between May 3-20, with no tracking number.
Having devoted 1.5 years of my life teaching UX (User Experience) design, I’m in awe of how poor communication and content is with shoppers. Content strategy matters (but that’s yet another topic to dive into).
15 days later I did receive an email with a tracking number. It appears my package is in Luxembourg. The rest of the site was in Chinese so I still have no idea about actual arrival. Often things that feel so close here can be so far away.
Good thing it wasn’t for anything urgent! I’ll wait for this one without stress.
Update: low budget packagingI received the final package 18 days after ordering it. It involved an ordeal at the post office (I had to go to a main branch one, not the local one), and I laughed at the (free shipping!), but much to my surprise it wasn’t broken…. My internet service still has not be set up. I’ve now had to call 3 times.
I tried to laugh as much as I can but there are days where it drives you near insanity. It almost feels like technology doesn’t exist in 2019. There has to be another/better way, non?
My strategy for surviving France has been to have low expectations. That way, when something better than you expect happens, it feels amazing! (When it comes to bureaucracy and paperwork renewals I often did not set them low enough and my mental health paid for it.). Seriously though, I don’t mean this as an insult, it’s just a strategy for staying sane.
I also remind myself it is French to complain. My French friends remind me of that. (I just try to do it with humour.)
But it’s also why I share these stories. In another culture it’s easy to assume that everything will function as you know it based on your past experiences. Even when a different place feels familiar, there are loads of unexpected plot twists, and common sense defied. Efficiency and customer service are not universals.
It can be extremely frustrating at times. It also can be an amazing adventure. When given the choice, chose adventure. It makes for a good story.
And also don’t forget to Avoir un peu de patience. Have a bit of patience.
P.S. Believe it or not I actually don’t feel like every experience needs to be seamless (the stories above just feel unnecessarily extreme). My friend Bruce Willen wrote this great piece on the importance of friction in “In Defense of Inconvenience” for Design Observer that made me think.
Anne carries these life lessons of patience in all the work she does. Learn more about her services here.