Monday, November 11, 2013


What  really should be a couple of posts, one about plumbing issues and another about how french style socialism is making people less wanting to succeed,  ended up as one mash up. If the context is not clear or too abstract, I am sorry. Blogging is not journalism and as of this morning, Pierre Omidyar has not purchased my Blog to turn it into the next Huffington Post. 

I wrote FRENCH style socialism on purpose, since I am aware that my own political view is left of center having grown up in socialist Austria. But while I was able to see that country's ruling politicians veer towards the center and a more market orientated society while  not completely foregoing a social safety net for those in need,  my host country is still stuck in the far left field. Cradle to grave socialism. Abused by citizens and politicians alike.
 Held hostage by obscenely powerful labor unions, the socialist leaders in France worry too much about their own job benefits or reputation and not enough about the greater good of a once great nation.  
Unions, while socialist in concept, are really the worst example of capitalism if you think about it.  An army of lemmings paying their monthly dues for a false sense of job security and misrepresentation on most levels, while a handful of Union bosses are getting rich beyond their wildest dreams. Either by massive overcompensation in relation to their talent or achievements and if that is not enough for them, by embezzlement and theft.  

When I had a discussion about all this with an American expat living here and how come France is in the top five nations worldwide measured by their GDP, his opinion was that maybe because everything is so massively overpriced and taxed in France that their GDP really is skewed and they should rank closer to Greece (#34) than to Germany.  While we had a good laugh about that comment, but what if it's true? Look at the last picture belowof a lunch bill in Paris. That has to move the GDP needle in their favor..... (the picture needs to be credited to a GFP Facebook friend, Jenny).

When we renovated our property some 18 month ago, the plumbing bill came to 20,000.00 Euros. That's 27,000.00 US$, or a few more if you read this in Canada. Granted, we did not have to foot the bill all by ourselves, a deep freeze a month prior to taking possession made parts of the bill an insurance deal. Nevertheless, a hefty price. 
The comprehensive works were performed by a very reputable local plumbing outfit that came recommended by the real estate agent and seemed competent in their explanations as to what types of works needed to be done to mitigate the damages from the deep freeze. 

A rough 18 month it has been. From the smallest replacement radiator ending up in the largest room with three outside walls and the largest radiator in a much smaller room with one outside wall, a handful of leaks in newly installed pipes and so on and so on.
Not until last month is the pressure in our Chaudiere holding steady, a sign that all leaks have been plugged. 
And last month' plumber experience is what led me to the conclusion that french socialism is dumbing people down.  Makes them loose all professional pride, working a 9 to 5   10 to 3 job, waiting to reach eligibility for old age pension at an advanced age of 49. 
To then sit in their local Bar and bitch about the very Socialists who enabled them to reach those low expectations of life in the first place and how Front National's Le Pen would make everything better by kicking out all foreigners. The same foreigners by the way, who are still willing to work and not go on strike for loosing a Union mandated ten minute cigarette break at 8.45. 
And you are not better off if you are willing to work hard in France, open your own business and wanting to  get ahead in life. The very same government takes away all the incentive from that by burdening Enterprise not only with taxation of up to 75%, but regulations so complicated, you have to go back to University to understand it all. I looked into opening a wine bar in our commercial space. Oh boy. Glad I didn't. 
There are inspectors who inspect inspectors who's job it is to inspect inspectors for food safety. And yet, most french food establishments would fail inspection were they to be located in North America. That they handle my Croissants and money without tools, gloves or washing their hands inbetween does actually not bother me, but having to pay civil servants who seem to be OK with it, does.

Back to the plumber. Victoria kept telling me in late spring (about one year after renovations were completed) that she suspects a leak behind a kitchen wall as the floorboard seems wet. Dutifully I called the plumbing company, who's receptionist starts with a deep sigh (and not the good kind of sighing....) whenever she hears my voice. To her benefit, she did send out plumber #1 the same day. Who proceeded to cut a tiny hole into the drywall far right of the suspected location of a dripping pipe. 
All dry, no leak. I sort of look like the expat idiot to these guys. And not the first time. Victoria would not let up for a couple of month (see my avoiding the problem tactic here?), I relented, called my favorite receptionist, who actually answered this time with a "Oh la la, C'est vous encore?" And this time after all those calls, she sent out the big boss. The owner.  Or let's call him Plumber #2. 
He looked in the same hole cut out by plumber #1, confirmed no leak, but nevertheless he is willing to send out plumber#3 to cut a bigger hole to prove my wife wrong. 
He also proceeds to tell me that on this renovation, after salaries and taxes he made no profit as the insurance company was asking him to cut corners to keep the bill low. 
Ehm. Wow. I am not sure what shocked me more, being rectally penetrated with a screwdriver by the insurance company, or that 20K did not produce any profits on a two week plumbing job.

Onwards. Plumber #3 arrives a few days later. Determined, professional and somewhat in a hurry. Must be close to coffee break. By this time, Victoria has taken initiative with Isabella's rubber ruler and a butter knife, removed a larger piece of floorboard  and pulled out some wet mud from behind the drywall......
Plumber #3 however is not convinced, but goes ahead and cuts a sizeable hole at the bottom of the wall. He kneels down, sees the watery mess, wipes it away and sticks his arm inside, as deep as his elbow will allow. Please stop reading and take a look at your arm. Yes, from your fingers to your elbow . About 15" That's how far he reached inside to solve the problem. Sorry, there are no pipes behind here, the water is coming through the outside wall. Hence, it is not his problem and leaves. Coffee break. Call a stone mason he said on his way out, he will fix the leaky wall. 

To this day I am not sure if in that moment I was gutted by having them called for an issue that did not seem to be  theirs, or if I was devastated by a problem that could cost thousands to repair. Victoria at that point has left the kitchen, while I was feeling sorry for myself.  I brought out our largest ladder to inspect the wall outside for potential damage and how to fix it. Only I could not find any loose joints, holes or anything.
When I went back inside our kitchen I realized something. How does the water get to the radiator to the right of the fridge if there are no pipes?  I am not a plumber, but the situation made me so desperate, I wanted to find the problem. 
I stuck my hand inside the drywall hole left open by the plumber and I did not detect any pipes either. But what if? I went to get Victoria's make up mirror and a flashlight. Guess what. FOUR PIPES, clearly visible. New ones, two of them leaking. A triumph in trying. 

 Through the mirror with the flashlight I took a couple of images and emailed them to my girlfriend at the plumbing outfit and called at the same time asking politely to check her email. I can only imagine how she rolled her eyes at this point and even when she saw the images she still asked what she is looking at.  I told her these are leaking pipes her professional plumber did not find, but I did, inquiring if she could please send back Genius Plumber #3. 
Only to be told that he is on his way to lunch. At 11.30. She'll send him around after eating his well deserved meal.
He shows up well fed at 2pm which not only gave him enough time for a traditional french lunch, but he came prepared with a logic explanation how he was unable to find the pipes. Straight faced  he tells me that he did not work on the renovations and he does not carry a mirror in his van. But of course, he can fix it. 

His first question was, if I knew where to empty the pipes in my system. After all it's not the first leak, no?I am doomed, this is not a plumber. This is an imposter.  Ehm, how about asking your colleagues who fixed the last four leaks here? Maybe they know and can assist better than me? Ah, some don't work there anymore and one is not picking up his phone? Probably still at lunch. 
Then Plumber #3 proceeds to tell me that maybe he will not have enough time that afternoon to fix the leaks. Empty the system (at a point unknown to him), bring up the welding equipment, fix it, fill up the radiators, test it, carry back the equipment to his van, all that before 5pm, probably not. 
Well, I asked, maybe work late? Not possible. Never work past five.
He started anyway and I knew he would not get it done. He rushes the whole thing, not completely emptying the pipes, running his welding equipment through the window from the outside which made the hose too short, to only curse two hours later, as one pipe kept leaking.
He would come back in the morning he said.  And he did. With plumber #4 who helped him find the right location where to empty the water (AGAIN), helped him carrying the equipment up to the first floor and basically knew what he was doing. Not even one hour later, well before coffee break they were done. 

How can I blame this on french style socialism? I don't, it's just one example how I personally view this country falling behind because of the political system. A system that will take care of you no matter how much you suck at what you do. Four professionals to fix a leak they all believed was a figment of Victoria's imagination. Though the work was performed under warranty, usually the company bills labor at 50.00/hour. No surprise there was no profit.
 In France you can collect up to 75% of your last paycheck on unemployment for  two years. Three years if you are over 50......
Say a plumber makes 1300.00 net a month, if he gets fired or has a valid excuse why he left the job, he is able to collect 975.00 a month for doing nothing. It may not sound like much, but if he decides to work under the table a few hours and a spouse brings in some income, he can live very well here in rural France. Why go to work? 
He can even take courses to learn a new gig, not they ever do pursue the new trade they trained for, but they all go and take endless courses.

And if you think this is just a one off, think again. I could tell you about the drywall guy who billed me for insulation, only to not put any in and now claims to have no idea how that could have happened. AND refuses a refund.
Or how about the doctor who misdiagnosed a stroke with Vertigo.  There is no incentive for any professional in a system that does not reward excellence. 
How about this. 9 out of 10 sales jobs in France are salaried. Which in fact then makes them order takers and not sales people. 
You may now say that french people seem content and happy. Well, get them talking the next time you visit. Find out for yourself.









(Credit: Jenny J. Jenny)


melinda said...

guess i wont complain about the cost of my whole new septic tank and field (that sounded expensive before I read your plumbing bill!!)yikes

H.Peter said...

Yes it was a whopper Melinda. Imagine all radiators busted, pipes burst and a brand new Chaudiere, it adds up fast.

puppyfur said...

Wow. But, unfortunately, we are learning all about this ourselves just down the road from you. We'd heard it all before we moved here, but encountering it as you did is just horrific. So far we have used both French and English artisans, all registered, and find the English to be the much better workers. Granted, that's our somewhat limited experience and I never thought I would find this to be true. Also, starting my own business soon ( auto-entrepreneur, which of course the gov't wants to do away with!) so I expect complications even in that "simplified" system. Glad your leak is finally fixed.

H.Peter said...

Not all is lost in Cheeseland, Puppyfur. Though I am sure you have your own head scratching experiences.

It's just interesting to see how some nations in Europe progressed since the 1980's while France got lost in the shuffle. But where there is a will there is a way. I keep rooting.

Merisi said...

What bumbling bummers, I am so sorry you had to go through those troubles!

Friends of ours seem to have very competent craftspeople working around their house in Corsica. Maybe that's where all the earnest and heard-working workers are moving to or from? ;-)

keenast said...

Peter, we once owned a quite big and quite old house/hotel/bar/cafe in the north west of France, en Bretagne ;) There were issues with the steep stone slated roof, a wild west of roof because of countless add-ons to the building over the centuries. Anyway, it leaked terribly and en Bretagne it rains a lot! Talks with professional roofers all ended with 'tear that damn building down, it's not worth it, I won't touch it' ! I was literally sitting for many weeks on the roof in the rain, staring at the convoluted construction, meditating, counting all the missing slates and coming to two conclusions: a - by using plain mild steel s-hooks to put on the slates instead of copper hooks failure was part of the design! Our house was about 500 feet from the Atlantic, the air is full of salt, those hooks rust in about 2 years into oblivion!
But then a few bucks were saved for not using copper hooks;) Replacing all hooks would have meant a new roof - not in our budget.
After shivering a few weeks up there (there were other issues two with a very creative design of 'rain gutters') I bought a bunch of boxes of stone slates as well as a couple boxes of silicon glue cartouches at the local home depot and replaced missing or broken slates by gluing them and sliding them underneath the healthy ones. Additionally I point glued every other line of slates just for safety.
It worked well. Costs: forgettable except my time invested.

About 4 years ago we got reacquainted with our project (Le fernier sou - L'armor Pleubian) and well, the roofs still there - no leaks reported ;)

Now, on the plus side, we also had an ancient central (oil fired) heating system in the building. The burner in the basement looked really beautiful in a steam-punk kind of way - I'm personally not really scared of such stuff but that needed the right tools and a bit more experience than what I could bring, meditating wouldn't have helped there. But, the local one-man plumber shop did - an older hands-on guy, speaking some ancient Bretonic language only - we ended up strictly doing sign language - it took him a few days in the dark - I assisted him as good as I could as well as shared plenty of whatever concoctions he brought with him - - : this chauffiere is still working nicely. Burns a bit too much oil because of its ancientness - but this guy was GOOD ! Good luck with your enterprise - my advice for making it in the Grand Nation: drink a lot, alas with the right peoples ;)

H.Peter said...

good morning Merisi,

it works now. That's what matters.
But yes, an ordeal it was.

H.Peter said...

Hello Karl,

sounds like an amazing property on the coast! With an equally interesting story to go along with it!
In the end, we only will remember the good times. and that is what matters most. The not so good flashbacks with make for great stories down the line.....

keenast said...

Exactement - you said it ;)

Nadege said...

It is so sad how fast France has gone down the drain. I can see the difference reading comments left on Facebook on different french pages. The spelling mistakes are unbelievable. The few Americans I know who built or renovated houses in France, brought their own contractors and workers. That is very telling!
There was a time when french workers travelled all around the world, practicing their craft. No more.
I guess "meilleur ouvrier de France" are what is left, and even then, I cannot say that french food is THE food to eat anymore (old people food as some stylists called it in the last show I worked on).

H.Peter said...

Hi Nadege, eventually my firm believe is that France will get it's Mojo back. When, how and who will bring it back, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, we live our lives as planned. There is lots to love about being here.
It's just that 95% of all blogging and journalling about France is very very rose colored

Ken Broadhurst said...

I think it's important not to drag yourself down a hole by deciding there are more problems in daily life here than there were in other countries where you lived. If you go to a building contractor, plumber, or car mechanic with the attitude that the job will be difficult or expensive or botched, your attitude will color all your interactions. Low expectations just might breed shoddy results. Is that rose-colored enough?

Sometimes, you might wonder how low a price you paid for your house in France compared to what you paid in North America. Guess why that house went for a low price and why the other owners had a hard time finding a buyer.

H.Peter said...

There is no perfect country Ken, I agree.

The cost of property stands in NO relation to quality of artisanship.
It's the locals who are content with lowered expectations.
Unlimited socialism (which sort of was the point I unsuccessfully was trying to make) breeds lower expectations in life. "The government will take care of me and my problems..."

In my foolish 20's I lived for a while in Venezuela. A country rich with natural reserves and a fairly functioning welfare system back then. I found the people to be lethargic at best.

Right next door, Columbia, a country that at that time had no revenues derived from natural resources (I am not taking drugs into account)and no functioning system of welfare either. But the people were the very opposite. Happy with a certain Can Do attitude.

Fast forward and look at those two countries today. Apertura Economica made all the difference.

ericmarseille said...

I fell on your post, totally by chance, today...

I agree with you, many self-employed people or employees in domains where self-employed people or very small companies are the norm in this country (plumbing, carpentering, masonry, etc.) are usually inefficient and/or sourpusses.

Many also work part-time in the black economy and may end up eating a sandwich in five minutes when you'd believe they had a grandiose french lunch lasting two hours and a half, or fixing something between five and eight pm for an undeclared customer when you'd think they were just lazy...However.

Firstly, people over 50 don't benefit obligatorily of three years unemployment...I just lost my job, at 51, worked for just under two years in a row, will have indemnities for 19 months, which I find normal.
I,just like so many other people, am ready to find any job at the condition that is fits my experience and competences more or less...And let me add that I've already done a lot of efforts on my salary (down 15% on what I used to earn) and working location (120 miles a day commute for instance). Many people are in my position, so please!

As for the Doctor misdiagnosis, I'm telling you right now : this is France, love it or leave it.
I appear to have many Doctors and Dentists in my family, they all fear the day when they'll have to take the same kind of insurance as American Doctors in order to counter million-dollar claims at the slightest hint of a misdiagnosis, making US medical fees the highest in the world, and as corollary making the poorest 50% of the US population the least well served of the developed world.
Rather dying than living in such a "civilization!" (sorry)

Haters gonna hate no matter what...So why do you stay in such a horrible country? Just get out, everybody will be fine, you, happy, us, with more room to roam and lower estate prices, making it more affordable for people born here and who love their country..?

H.Peter said...

Thanks for stopping by Eric. I am wondering what you were looking for that lead you to this post. Did you have time to read some of the other posts where I rave about the fine things of France?

I am not going into a Pipi match with you over a different view of things and because you are french, I very much respect YOUR view. It is your country with those lowered expectations after all.

Anywhoooo, to just sum it up with a "Get out and leave us to our own ways" is a comment that I have heard from others as well. In Africa. Things are going well there too.....

I could have mentioned many other observations about how this once great nation is now just one more socialist idea away from a Greek tragedy. Let's just leave it at that I like many things here, and that I do Blog about these things as well, but to just tell one side of the story is not factual, is it?

But yes, it sometimes really sucks to live in a country that set it's own bar so low.