Allô? Does this téléphone work?

The central tenet of life abroad, I’ve decided, is a little thing I call the “Rule of Three.” Every single thing you do takes three times as long, costs three times as much, and brings three times the stress that it would at home. And at the end of the day, you are one-third as confident in the outcome.

To wit: the other day, Colin and I decided the time had come to get French phone numbers. I diligently researched options online and found the one we wanted. Unfortunately – and surprisingly, given that we were going with France’s largest mobile network – there were very few stores across the city, but one was within 30 minutes of Colin’s work, so we planned an excursion for Tuesday afternoon.

At the store, we found a long, bored-looking line, complete with an angry woman demanding something outside of our limited French vocabulary—some things, apparently, are the same wherever you are. Anyway, we finally got to the front of the line and told the salesperson that we wanted two pre-paid SIM cards, s’il vous plaît. In about two seconds, he informed us that they didn’t sell SIM cards at the store, but we could get them at any tobacco shop, and in fact there was one at the other end of the mall. Skeptical, Colin and I walked into the Tabac and, sure enough, purchased two SIM cards. But – and this is where the Rule of Three comes in – they cost three times as much as expected, so we stood outside the Tabac for ten minutes trying to translate the package to make sure we’d gotten the right thing. By the time we left, we were 95 percent confident we had.

Rule of Three again: on our long walk home, we passed about 17 tobacco shops. There’s one right around the corner from our apartment.

The last step in getting a French phone number is to register your SIM card by sending in a form with a copy of your passport. After confirming our translation of the instructions with Colin’s host (Rule of Three), I took our forms to the post office (a Rule of Three event of its own) and sighed a sigh of relief because we’d successfully crossed this one small task that felt like a big task off our list.

You know that feeling when you’ve just accomplished something you weren’t sure you could do, and literally the second after you cross it off your list, something falls apart, breaks, or needs redoing? I had just walked out of the post office, glanced at my phone, and noticed that I had a voicemail from our property manager. (Whole ‘nother story. Our bathroom sink doesn’t drain. Rule of Three.) I knew this because our cell phone provider, Orange, had sent me an automated text message in French with a number to call to check my messages. I called. But the call did not play the voicemail—it went to a menu system telling me in extremely rapid French to either press 1 or press 2, but for what I did not know. I panicked and ran home to Colin. We put the call on speaker phone, and after three turns through the menus, managed to set up my voicemail box and listen to the message: Rule of Freaking Three.

And then today I woke up to another automated message telling me I’m almost out of credit. I spent another 30 minutes translating Orange’s website to figure out how much credit we bought initially and what it’s good for. I’m beginning to think “set up cell phone” should stay on my to do list a while longer, like maybe until January 2019.

One thought on “Allô? Does this téléphone work?

  1. I think you are so brave to venture into things like cell phones and cards.I remember buying postcard stamps at the post office in Spain and I was pointing to the cards and the place for a stamp and the address. The stamps were beautiful but I felt like a dummy.


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