David's Diary: Thursday, July 12, 2001

The Saga Of The Mobile Phone

Pierre Senant
Pierre Senant At The Phone Store

In order to keep in touch during our year away, we wanted to have a mobile phone (or cell phone for our North American readers). We tried obtaining a mobile phone for Europe before we left Vancouver, but none of the local suppliers had any plans or even knowledge of mobile phones in Europe.

Europe has led the way in mobile phone usage and infrastructure. At the technical level, Europe is three to five years ahead of North America. But like Canada, mobile phones appear to be controlled by a few very large companies where customer service often seems to be nonexistent. I disliked the process of getting a mobile phone when in Canada and today demonstrated that the experience is exactly the same in France.

Why does it take three hours to buy a mobile phone and sign a contract? I don't know, but that's how long it took us. With our generous host, Pierre Senant leading the way, we tried one mall. After an initial investigation into which phone company plans would best meet our needs we chose the telephone itself only to be told that they were out of stock of the model we wanted. After some calling around it was determined that we could obtain the phone we wanted at another branch. A half-hour later and we were in another mall in a store that did have stock of the Nokia phone that we wanted.

At this point the phone was picked, the plan was known, and all was left was for the paperwork. It would be a long time before everything was completed and my advice to anyone trying to get a mobile phone in France is that you must have a local who will be willing to act for you and take on the contract. Not only did Pierre speak French and patiently explain all of the options to me in English, he also took it upon himself to accept all of the mobile phone bills on his personal bank account. None of the plans would accept a credit card for payment -- only a French bank account would do. In addition, you must have proof of a French address, something we would be hard pressed to do while sailing the Mediterranean.

Lengthy discussions ensued about restrictions on the telephone. Due to mobile phone theft and fraud, the phone would be restricted for three months from making any calls outside of France. We wanted to call friends and associates throughout Europe and family back in Canada. After lengthy delays on hold with French Telecom (the supplier that seemed best for our needs), it seemed clear that the phone would be restricted to France only. The waiting period could be reduced to three weeks, if the account was prepaid for one year.

Eventually we left the store with a working phone, at least working in France. After returning home, Pierre took it upon himself to call French Telecom services (on the mobile phone of course) where he told the person that he had just purchased a phone and he needed to be able to call anywhere in Europe or North America and what did the telephone company think they were doing restricting his calls? Pierre's conversation persuaded the service person to lift the restrictions on our phone and since then we have been calling throughout Europe and to Canada. We couldn't have done it without Pierre's help. Now we just have to wait for that first phone bill to see what staying in touch is going to cost us.

Karalee and Jocelyn
Karalee and Jocelyn

Karalee and I started the day by going for a run. This was our first run since leaving Canada and while we have done a lot of walking we were ready to do some jogging. The area we are staying in has many parks and there is one within a ten-minute walk of the house. The park is forested and contains numerous biking trails all located on a plateau that makes for a nice flat run.

While Pierre and I were busy trying to find a mobile phone the rest of the family stayed home and had a day off. From chess, to reading, to playing outside, everyone was ready to enjoy the hospitality of the Senant family.

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