Okay, to be completely honest, the only kind of shopping I really enjoy is food and wine shopping. The rest I do under duress and out of necessity, which is why I found myself at Printemps Hommes, the men's wear branch of the Printemps department store the other day in a bad mood. I had planned to nip in and out to get a birthday present, and they'd discontinued the brand of British made knitwear I was looking for, so I ended up rather desperately meandering around in search of a suitable gift, and I hated it.
Vexed that this errand was taking more time than I had for it, I decided to make myself more comfortable by visiting the men's room on the third floor of the store. When I arrived, however, I found myself in front of something called a Point WC, or a sort of bizarre boutique selling sanitary equipment and accessories. With slow horror, I realized that the store had franchised out its toilets and that it would now cost a Euro to use the facilities. When I politely asked the woman who was staffing the stand how long this had been going on, she exploded. "If you don't like it, you can go somewhere else! Go to Galeries Lafayette! Go buy a big Mac, I could care less, suit yourself. We're hard working people! This is a store! Why should it be free to use to the toilets?! We're here to make money! Tant pis pour toi!," she spat with an Antillais accent.
Evidently, this is the new policy at Groupe Pinault stores, since the nearby FNAC store--both FNAC and Printemps belong to Pinault, has completely shut down its toilets. I don't know what you think, but I find it really offensive that this once ubiquitous courtesy service to shoppers is either being phased out or made available on a pay-only basis. It's also stupid. As any good retailer knows, once you've managed to get someone through the door, you want them to stay as long as possible in the even they'll be tempted by merchandise other than that they originally came in for. FNAC has also made it nearly impossible to recycle batteries and sharply cut back on its English-language book department, so henceforth I'll be shopping at one of the excellent small independent bookstores in Paris like the Village Voice or the Red Wheelbarrow, or order from amazon.fr
For me, though, the proliferation of pay toilets is just another bete noire in the great failing that is customer-service in France. I mean you actually have to pay to call customer-service lines in France, and as David Lebovitz amusingly points out in his charming "Living the Sweet Life in Paris," the worst place to look for assistance in any French retail setting is the desk marked "Service Clientele." Then there's the black-hole of Air France and it's impenetrable fare systems. Returning to Paris from Nice the other day, I arrived at the airport early and noticed that I could make an earlier flight that was leaving in a half hour. I asked, and was told the plane was more or less empty. Could I change my ticket then? No, out of the question, because I had a tarif X7539^HNB, bought during a full-moon in a leap year, which meant it was impossible. What was the difference in fares between my tarif and the necessary tarif, I asked. "Twenty euros." Could I pay the extra money, then, and make the earlier flight. "Impossible." Even though I have a gold frequent flyer card and my leaving early would free up a seat they might still be able to sell later? "Impossible." So I'd suggest a new moto for Air France: "Air France, ou toute est impossible."
In the end, I'm rather glad that Printemps' appalling inconsideration and the tirade of the employee at Point WC has give me a good reason to cross them off my shopping list, since the fewer stores I have to stalk in search of gifts or housewares, the better.
Have you had a customer-service horror story while living in or visiting France? Please get it off your chest here. I can assure you that you'll feel much better once you let it rip.