For anyone coming to live in France who will have to deal with the French public sector, brace yourselves because this is how it is. It’s an utter shambles that has a total disregard for the public who it’s supposed to serve and is merely a way of keeping lots of inefficient and incompetent people employed at the taxpayer’s expense. Read on to know what it’s like – and this, mind, is not a one-off. From my experience it’s always like this.
First let’s take EDF, the bloated and, it would seem, wholly inept state run electrical supply organisation. I’ve had run-ins previously with EDF but the current debacle takes the biscuit. I need a new connection on my land in Fleurac, a pretty standard procedure you might think. What could be easier than applying to EDF and then handing the administration and everything else over to them because, after all, they are supposed to be the experts. Err.. steady on, far from it. It transpires that they don’t know their arse from their elbow.
To make things complicated so it’s difficutt to apportion blame when things go wrong, because they always do, there are two state run electricity organisations, EDF who the consumer buys their electricity from and Enedis (as they are now called) who are responsible for the network. Now you’d think that the average consumer doesn’t give a toss how the electricity they use arrives in their home and therefore wouldn’t have anything to do with Enedis and you’d be right for most of the time. You’d think that it would be up to EDF to communicate with Enedis cutting out the consumer completely but no, that is far, far too simple for the French way of thinking and would avoid most of the cock-ups that the French public sector excels in.
So when you log onto the EDF web site, as you do nowadays, the more so as getting through on the telephone is an almost impossible process, and eventually find the link that takes you to the ‘ask for a new connection’ page, you find that it tells you to contact Enedis and gives you a link to the appropriate page on its web site. So far so good and you are suitably impressed as I was.
And even more so when you decipher the byzantine programming logic that asks you to create an account (huh??) and then tells you to do a ‘simulation’. This is Enedis-speak for ‘tell us where your land is and where on it you want our cables to terminate for you to connect to’ and when you’ve deciphered that, you enter into a process that is very well done, that brings your land parcel up onto the screen from the French government’s official web site, with a pointer that you then move to the desired position.
It then takes about 20 seconds for the system to find where the closest network node is to connect to, draw a dotted line from it to the point that you marked, provide an estimate of the cost involved and when it is likely that the job could be scheduled for. Marvellous, you think to yourself, these guys have really got this process screwed right down, what could possibly go wrong?
Hmmm… everything I’m afraid, because this is France. You sit back waiting for notification from Enedis acknowledging your request and telling you what the next step will be and when. It’s then that the true nature of the animal energes – in the form of a message from Enedis after a week saying that it’s no good contacting them for a new connection, you need to talk to EDF. Hah! Gotcha!
So you then have to go through the tortuous and time-consuming process of contacting EDF to explain to a human-being what’s been going on. They then come back to you after another delay of a few days with a reference and tell you to contact Enedis again. But the catch apparently is that nobody at Enedis either knows or cares about all of the brilliant stuff that you did on their web site showing where the nearest connection point is to your land and how a new connection will be made. This I know as a fact because of what happened today, which I’ll go on to explain.
But first, I’ve been receiving SMS’s and phone calls from Enedis for the last couple of days setting up appointments with me to meet on my land to make the new connection and then changing them again. Luckily I’m a pretty good-humoured person so I went along with the flow. However, I paid particular attention to the final message that I received yesterday that said that my meter box must already be in place on site as otherwise they’d not be able to make the connection and they’d charge me for an abortive visit.
When I looked into it more, I found that for a ‘raccordement provisoire’ (a temporary connection) it is my responsibilty to provide a ‘compteur chantier’ (a work-site meter system) which Enedis will connect to. This is, in effect, a house-hold electrical system but in a box, as shown in the two following photographs.
At the time of asking, which was yesterday afternoon, I only had until this morning to acquire such a thing, almost an impossibilty you might think. But no, I often achieve the almost impossible (miracles on the other hand are out of the question) and so it was in this case. I located such a box on LeBonCoin (the one in the images) being sold in the Gironde to the north-west of Bordeaux. I then just had to jump in the car and go and buy it, which is what I did, leaving home at about 5.30pm and getting back, flushed with success at 10.30pm and ready to drop straight into bed.
So there I was thinking that I’d cracked it. Ah no, silly me. This is Enedis I was dealing with. The re-arranged appointment was for this afternoon (time to be confirmed) but at around 10.00am while I was in the middle of packing boxes for my move I got a phone call saying that Enedis would be on site in 20 minutes. So I dropped everything and dashed over to Labattut thinking that at least by the end of the day I’d have an electrical hook-up for my caravan.
Trouble was that when I saw the Enedis van driving up, there was no equipment attached, which I thought was strange as from my ‘simulation’ both they and I knew that the nearest connection node is on the other side of the road from my land and that it will therefore be necessary to cut a small trench across it to take the cable. And so it was that the two Enedis engineers on board said that under the circumstances they couldn’t do anything today (bearing in mind that I made my application several weeks ago in what I thought was plenty of time) and that I had to make a further application via the Mairie onto yet another public sector organisation, the Syndicate de something-or-other electrique, to cut the trench.
The French logic doesn’t seem to understand that the averge consumer knows nothing about cutting trenches, doesn’t have the machinery or know-how to do so and thinks that really this is something that Enedis should do as part of the network connection process. No, that as I said previously, would make it possible to avoid this kind of cock-up which would never do as it would then be impossible to generate all the extra paperwork to keep everyone busy. And anway, who cares about the poor old consumer who’s paying for all of this…
So off they went and around I went to the Mairie. Jean-Paul, the mayor, knew no more about all this nonsense than I did. He immediately picked up the phone, called his contact in Enedis and asked what the heck is going on. I wasn’t party to the conversation but he said to leave it with him and he’d update me, but the long and the short of it is that I won’t have an electrical connection for probably 3 weeks after moving into my caravan and that I’ll have to get my old generator going again that luckily I brought with me to France and still have, even though it currently won’t start.
So what about Veolia then, another state-run disaster area, I asked Jean-Paul. I told him that I’d contacted them weeks ago explaining that, as he knew, there’s already a connection on my land and that all I need is for a water meter and stand-pipe with a tap to be installed. However, since then after receiving an acknowledgement I’d heard nothing more. I also explained that it’s an impossibilty, even harder than EDF, to contact Veolia by phone.
So he picked up the phone again and after hanging on for about 15 minutes, eventually got through (several ladies who were in the Mairie organising for the up-coming elections and had been listening into the conversation were by this time incredulous). Jean-Paul then handed me back the phone and sure enough, the lady on the other end had found my initial communication but seemed to think it normal that I’d heard nothing more.
It seems that they have to issue me with a ‘devis’ (an estimate) for doing the work before they can proceed but it was a waste of my time asking why, given that it had been weeks, they hadn’t done that. However, bitching, although reasonable, won’t help much because this is the French public sector you’re dealing with. It’s impervious to negative complaints so I’ll now have to wait in the queue for another 3 weeks, without water in my caravan of course, while Veolia creeks into action and deals with my request. I hate being such a nuisance to them. It must spoil their whole day…