Tuesday, 9 April 2013

French secretaries

Some things in life make you want to explode out of sheer rage at being made to wait. Sometimes it's in the coffee-shop, where the person at the front of the queue has apparently been asleep and is now unsure of where they are or what they're doing. Sometimes it's in the laundry room, where someone has left their clothes in the dryer and, as the minutes creep past, it becomes clear that they have forgotten.

And sometimes it's being made to wait for twenty minutes, sent away, brought back, abandoned and then shot up 45 flights in a lift only to be abandoned again.

Let me start from the beginning. We had some important documents in the office that needed to be signed by a man who works in La Défense, so at 3pm I girded my loins, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and made my way into town.

At this point it was raining. I say this now because the rain continued throughout this little misadventure, and I really want you to understand my soggy unhappiness from the offset.

So after finding the tower in which the elusive Monsieur was hiding I was blocked by four elegant, beautiful, bespectacled secretaries. I felt like Don Draper. I stepped up, presented my credentials, and had them returned with a blank stare. Not a good start, I felt, but perhaps my French had deteriorated after a week in Allemagne. I started again.

- Je suis - I was cut off.
M. is not available today. He will be available later this week.
When?
Four perfect pairs of Parisian epaulettes moved in time.
Later this week.

The frustration notched up a little.

- I need three signatures, that's all.
The look I received might have floored a rhinocerous. I beat a hasty retreat and rang my supervisor, who is also a secretary. She snorted derisively, told me she'd call me back, and hung up.

A moment later, one of the secretary's phones rang. She answered in tones as clipped and polished as her nails. Her eyes widened. She looked down. She looked at me. She looked at the phone. She put the phone down.

I didn't do a victory dance. At least not on the outside.

I was escorted to a life, where a number was punched in and I was ushered inside. Before I had a chance to ask the number of the office, I was flung up 45 floors. The height of a room is 2.4m, which means I shot up 108m in a time that was unpleasantly fast. Several of my vertebrae cracked. My ears popped. I got shorter, and at this height, that's not a fun thing.

I stepped out, trying to get used to the fact that my chin now touched my shoelaces. I waited there while people gave me suspicious looks as they swept past. Finally the Monsieur's own secretary came to find me, and then took my documents and left me in what might charitably be called a broom cupboard. She returned thirty seconds later, scowled, and gave me back the documents. She ushered me back to the lift, which re-cracked my vertebrae, re-popped my ears, and returned me to my normal size.

I then had to rocket home to drop off the documents. I literally ran past, dropped the documents in my intray, ran out and leaped back aboard a bus. Three metros later I was in the right area.

I then managed to take a wrong turn that would give me a lovely mile long walkabout before finally reaching my destination - a meeting with the next President of the CIPR.