Getting online and on phone in France… or not! 8 April 2013

I mentioned in an earlier post how excited I was at the invention of Google Translate since we were last in Europe. We would be ‘en communication’! No more dictionary under the table and some ability to understand and speak the language. Also with internet access no more squinting at paper maps with size 2 font text and no more setting hard and fast times and catch up points that could not be changed (or multiple complex backup plans)!

It all sounded good and highly possible thanks to our iPhones and iPad. We could call or text each other if something changed re meeting times or points, search for information about things we were standing in front of or heading for, search for addresses, get directions and use that great ”where am I’ button on Google maps if we got lost!

So we went through the process of unlocking our iPhones from Telstra in Australia – some pain but not too bad. It actually happened more quickly and with less steps than Telstra told us that it would. That only left us anxious and suspicious that it wouldn’t work when we got to France…

Day 1 in Paris hubby went to Orange – one of the biggest phone service providers in France. He managed to get a SIM card with voice credit in around 15 minutes. Un miracle! However he was told that he needed a separate package for data for Internet access and that the store he was in didn’t have it. He would have to try another Orange store.

All of this with very little English and much less French. Hubby came away with a brochure that he could point to in the next store to show what he wanted. So far a minor irritation but not too bad.

He found another Orange store later that day and tried to make his needs known. Very painful as virtually no English. In the end we finally found out that what he had been told to buy was not available yet. Or maybe that was what they told us. Or maybe not.

I did some more Internet research and decided to try another provider – SFR.

Unfortunately by the time we found an SFR it was Sunday and everything was closed. So far two days without Internet access on the street. We couldn’t even catch any stray waves from Maccas or Starbucks WiFi for some reason. They had been easy to access in the US.

That night hubby suddenly found that he had Internet access while we were in a restaurant. Un autre miracle (another miracle)! I immediately grabbed the phone and did some quick menu translations (beatitude! bliss!).

So we decided that Orange might be OK after all and that we would give it a go for me the next day when the shops were open.

The next day we caught the train to Troyes and hubby discovered that he did not have internet after all. He must have caught a stray WiFi wave… or had some minimal starting amount of data that had almost instantly expired.

We met a nice guy on the train after inadvertently stealing his seat while he was in the toilet. He spoke English and wanted to talk to us. He was a recently graduated engineering student who was from Morocco, had studied in Troyes and had just had a 6 month job placement in New Zealand. He was very helpful so we asked him all our hard questions like ‘why was it so hard to get phone and Internet in France’? In Australia we just buy one SIM card which has voice and some data on it. Why did we need two packages? He shook his head at Orange in the same way that we shake our head at Telstra and said that did not sound right. He would go to the Orange store with us in Troy and use his French to sort it out so that I could get setup as well. Yippee!

Unfortunately by the time I got through the toilette queue at Troyes train station he had to go to an appointment. We were on our own again.

We found the Orange shop and steeled ourselves to go in. Hubby chatted with the first point of contact who spoke a few words of English and seemed to understand the issue. He said that hubby could buy some data credit and a new SIM and Internet credit could be set up or me. Then he said sit there until you are called and we didn’t get up for 30 minutes…

Finally we recognised our surnames being said with a French accent and followed a lovely lady who spoke absolutely no English back to her computer. She started with my new SIM. That must have taken 20 minutes to organise with much miming and me typing our Paris address into the computer for her. Even setting up my phone was confusing for her as the buttons were in English and different. Between us we got it done. Phew!

Then she had to wait and speak to the guy that we first spoke to so that we could get some interpretation on what we wanted regarding the Internet. Then she tried to set up some credit. She got a voucher number and struggled through putting it into my phone. Then she went through about 6 screens of French messages to set it up. She must have done this 10 times! Something wasn’t working! It was beyond her. During this time I discovered that I could connect to the WiFi in their shop. I got straight onto Google Translate and typed in my request to make it clear. She liked that. and indicated that yes, we were on the same page. Still no success though. We would have to wait and talk to the first guy who was serving someone else.

30 more minutes went by. The shutters came down on the shop as it was lunch time!

He tried the same sequence of screens about 6 more times. Still no luck. He went to ask someone else for help. Then he came back and tapped a few more buttons and gave the phone to me, indicating that it was done. I was suspicious. Was he just giving up because he wanted to go to lunch? Did I have both voice and Internet? Did I have the required amount of Internet or just some minimal starter pack that was going to run out before I got out the door like hubby’s? Some of this I asked through Google Translate and he tried to assure me that it was all good but he could not guarantee how long Internet access would last. We gave up at this point and dd not even raise the subject of hubby’s Internet access. Two hours had gone by and we were supposed to be seeing Troyes!

We headed for the nearest restaurant and a carafe of rosé to recover. In there I confirmed that yes, my Internet was working for the moment! Joy! I translated my menu choices and later located myself in the tiny lanes of Troyes! I even managed to send a text to my father in Australia. Success!
Then my phone was so surprised by all this action that it expired! The battery went flat!

During lunch hubby had asked me to look up a word that he could see on his phone screen that he thought might be regarding his data credit – epuise – it translated to ‘exhausted’ – very appropriate!

Later that night I asked hubby to do a test call to my phone. All he got was a recorded French message that I didn’t understand!! So he had voice and I had Internet but we still couldn’t communicate between us if we were out!

We steeled ourselves for another bout with Orange this morning. However, while buying a scarf in the Latin Quarter I came across a lovely sales assistant who was English and spoke French! Yippee again! I asked her to translate the message for us. I HAD NO VOICE CREDIT! They had sold me a SIM but no voice credit. She said that we could fix that by buying credit at a Tabac. We did not have to go to an Orange store. She sympathised as her father had recently had to restore himself with a whiskey after a similar experience!

Before I could buy credit, hubby found out that his voice credit had expired! Now he had no voice or Internet!!

As I type this post he is still trying to get the credit that he purchased at the Tabac to work on his phone. He has an A4 page of translated options that he has painstakingly looked up on Google Translate (thank goodness for WiFi in the apartment) I don’t think that I will worry about it… I’ll be back in Australia before I succeed.

I wish that I could finish off with some successful instructions for any other visitors who may try this, but at this point – no.

Late breaking news – he succeeded. Took about another 30 minutes.

Leave a Reply