Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, December 26, 2008

No electricity at the Gite - my EDF Christmas present!

EDF - Electricity de France
We've just got through what has to rank as one of the most stressful challenges we've had so far in the last four years of renting out our French Holiday Home - no electricity in the house and guests arriving tomorrow.

On Wednesday afternoon (Christmas eve) I was working at home on the seemingly endless supply of emails I receive and starting to try to think about relaxing for Christmas when I received a phone call from Cherril, our local Brittany Agents, to tell me that she'd had problems in the house.

We've not had any guests staying for Christmas week this year but we did have a family due to arrive on Saturday for a week's stay (including New Year's eve) and so Cherril had been over to the Gite ahead of their stay to clean everything, make the beds, put the heating on, open the blinds, etc.

In the quieter off-season periods when we don't have guests we ask Cherril to turn off the heating, water and electricity, so one of the things she was doing whilst over was to turn it all back on again.

In the kitchen is the fusebox for the various circuits, the main house trip switch, and the mains on/off box where the EDF electricity supply enters the house. The main on/off switch is also a circuit breaker, you push a button in for on, and another for off, and no matter how much Cherril tried she couldn't push the 'on' button in. It appeared to be stuck; something inside the switch had obviously broken. Alan had been over and he'd not been able to turn the electricity on either.

Cherril phoned me up to tell me all this and ask if I had any suggestions as to what to do, and after consulting with a French electrician we concluded that there was nothing she or I could do as the broken circuit breaker was owned by EDF (Electricity de France), the state owned electricity provider.

There was nothing for it but to phone up EDF and see if I could arrange for them to come out and repair or replace the broken circuit breaker. By now it was 4pm in France so the chance of getting a repair engineer out at such a time wasn't looking good.

It has to be said that generally I hate having to talk to anyone on the phone in France; whilst I'm comfortable enough talking in shops and restaurants I just feel that my French isn't good enough to cope with talking to someone remotely. And as for trying to explain that the main circuit breaker was broken, we couldn't turn it on, and we had no electricity .... not looking forward to the call at all. Plus of course I didn't know what the French word for circuit breaker was either!

Anyway I wimped out and about 30 seconds into the call to EDF I asked "parlez vous l'Anglais" to which I got "Non" and so continued being a wimp with "Est-q'uil-y-a un autre person qui parlez l'Anglais?". They're clearly well versed with desperate Englishmen that don't speak good French at EDF as after a short wait I got through to someone who did speak English and I could explain the problem, only to be told I'd phoned the wrong number and needed to telephone the "Depannage Electricite" number instead.

Another phone call, another wimping out with the French, another transfer to an English-speaking assistant and I explained the problem again to the helpful lady at the other end of the phone. They said they'd send someone out later that afternoon, or in the evening, and would phone Cherril 15 minutes or so before they arrived so that she could pop over with the key.

Well by 9pm French time they still hadn't phoned or made an appearance so we decided to try again the next day. Unfortunately Cherril was going out on Christmas Day so I waited until Boxing Day morning, and after checking with Cherril that they'd still not heard anything, I gave EDF another ring.

This time I had more problems on the phone. The man I spoke to didn't speak English, couldn't transfer me to anyone else, and I managed to totally fail to explain what the problem was. This lack of communication carried on for 5 minutes or so until I think he tried the "I can't hear you" trick and I got cut off. Telephoning EDF back again I struck gold with someone who spoke English first time I asked and I humbly explained the predicament again that we had no electricity, that there were people arriving at the house the next day, and that we thought that the Service Depannage (Circuit Breaker) was broken. The lovely lady promised to send someone out that day but couldn't be sure whether it would be the morning or the afternoon.

And result !

At 4pm-ish French time a nice man from EDF called Cherril to say he was on the way to the Gite, they went over, let him in, and he replaced the Circuit Breaker with a shiny new one and we had electricity again. Hurray !

I have to say that although it all worked out in the end it's been a stressful experience all round and one that I don't fancy going through again in a hurry. I had visions of guests arriving to find a cold and dark Gite - not the kind of holiday welcome that we aspire to present - or having to try to contact them and tell them the bad news, and then searching round to try to find alternative accommodation in another Gite or Hotel for them. All in all not a good way to spend Christmas worrying about this and I'm glad that it's all resolved successfully. I think a quick drink (or two) to celebrate is in order ...



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