Obama Meets Orangina Chez Les Napoleons in Paris

by NIDRA POLLER December 2, 2017

Paris 2 December 2017

Nidra Poller

Ex-president Barack Obama, zipping through Paris on a private visit today, is speaking at a high profile event organized by Les Napoleons, a B to B organization in the forefront of innovation, communications, new technologies and all that is dynamic in our high tech big wide world. The former president will meet with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo who is building a legacy of traffic jams as she tries to transform the City of Lights into a Scandinavian style network of bicycle paths. He will have a private lunch with our President Macron, reminding astute readers of the crude snub of then President Nicolas Sarkozy. After claiming, in a joint press conference,  that his presidential responsibilities did not afford him the leisure to stroll with Michelle in our beautiful city and enjoy a leisurely lunch with Nicolas and Carla, he went on to lunch with Michelle in a 7th arrondissement bistrot followed by a visit to the Beaubourg Center, both venues privatized for the occasion. Also on today's calendar is a visit with ex-President , François Hollande. The too young to retire exes now preside Foundations that if you had 1% of their funding, you'd be rich as a king.

French deputy Frédéric Lefebvre, who had the privilege of meeting then President Obama on several occasions, says has never seen a political figure with such charisma. A rock star. And at the same time, so relaxed and unassuming. The deputy is not shocked by Obama's $400,000 speaking fees. "He has a 65 million dollar book contract for his memoirs...that puts the fees into perspective," he replies. Ex-president Sarkozy's €100,000 fees have provided grist for the mills for years, but then he's not a rock star.

Now, here's the question: how much will I get for the investigative reporting that follows?

The Orangina X Files

Background: Interactive rhymes with high-tech, and Barack Obama will take questions from Orange CEO Stéphane Richard at the Napoleons event. Privatized outgrowth of the state-owned France Telecommunications, Orange is a nifty multinational implanted in dozens of countries, not including Israel. [http://frblogs.timesofisrael.com/orange-amer-orange-pressee/]. For more than a decade I had an economical Orange sim card that I reactivated every time I visited Israel. No such luck for visitors to France. Their prepaid Orange cards are valid for two weeks! I didn't know, until Orange pulled out of Israel, that the local operator was independent, simply paying a fee for the logo.

Now, Orange innovated with the Pass Go Evasion: €25 for 120 minutes of communication, 50 text messages. I used it in Israel last spring. No problems. That's the advantage of competition! Since Uber came into the market, the primary competitor, G7, sends a cab within 3 minutes of your call, and offers a flat fee of €50 to and from Roissy airport. The Pass Go Evasion is certainly a reaction to Free, a very lowcost Internet provider that is in its way as attractive as Barack Obama. Monsieur Richard will certainly not mention the mongrel service provider at today's high class event. Free subscribers can use their telephones to and from the whole world, for the price of local calls.

I started with Orange so long ago, when it was France Telecommunications, and I guess I'll stay until...

Orangina treason

Satisfied with my Pass Go Evasion in Israel, I subscribed ten days later for the United States. Confirmed by text message, screen save available on demand. I make calls and send text messages sparingly in Charlotte NC, NY, and Boston, and keep in touch with my home base in Paris. I'm not a smartphone addict. Suddenly, on the first day of the Israel Studies Associations Conference at Brandeis University, my smartphone announces excess charges of €43. Later in the day the sum goes up and my phone goes dead.  I'm half way through my 2-week stay, I haven't used up my Pass, and there's no way to contact Orange. Can't contact my morning pick-up (I'm an hour away from the campus), can't network, and look like a fool with no phone. Finally I email a friend in Paris, she calls Orange, they say I have no excess charge limit and my line isn't cut.

You can't fight City Hall. Or Orange. Back to New York, I miss several important appointments and dozens of follow-up phone calls. And it's raining. I leave for the airport in a deluge, the taxi driver takes advantage of the rain to add $10 onto the "flat rate," roads are flooded but we make it to LaGuardia and my flight lands with a typical two hour delay. Yes, but J. is leaving for Beijing and we have a phone rendez-vous to kiss goodbye. I think my line will be working again, now that I'm in France. It doesn't. Endless waits at immigration, and again for my luggage, before I find my way to an Air France service counter where I explain that I am a shipwrecked victim of Orange and, in a James Bond moment, I grasp the phone, dial his number ... But it's too late. J's plane is taking off. And he won't know, all the way to Beijing, why I didn't call and where I am and what happened. Who knows if he'll get an email connection in China? They have something more opaque than Orange!

Customer Service

My line is still dead all weekend, still dead on Monday. Finally, on Tuesday, customer service calls me. It takes almost two days to restore service and reach an agreement: Orange will reimburse all excess chargesand the price of the Pass. I subscribed to the wrong pass, or so they say. There's no way of knowing, the confirmation doesn't mention such superfluous details. Don't expect some kind of gesture in recognition of the immaterial damages incurred. The €100 reimbursement promised on the purchase of my Sony Xperia Compact smartphone in March will be made in a month or two. Ok, let's call it quits. I'm not a ruminator.

Months go by. No reimbursements. I call the complaints department. No one knows anything. They'll pass the message up the chain of command. Finally, two or three months later, the €100 reimbursement is credited to my account. The €95 excess charge is also credited but a new charge of €100 for the same period is added. Every time I phone the complaints department I have to start with the Pass ordered on June 1st and explain every detail at least 10 times, before the agent can understand, and say he'll pass the message up the ladder and thank you for calling Orange. These exchanges are so fastidious, I wouldn't bore anyone, beginning with myself, to repeat them. Just think of them as huge chunks of wasted time that make you dread having to call ever again.

And now we're off to Japan. Let bygones be bygones, those Pass Go Evasion packages are handy. I take advantage of one more appeal for clarity about the reimbursed and recharged excess charges to purchase, with the agent's expert help, a Pass for Japan. I give October 24th (confirmed by text message) as the starting date, to be sure to have service when we arrive on the 25th. We land at Narita airport after our long flight, and head briskly for the platform of the Narita to Tokyo train. J. is about to stop at a green denwa (telephone) to call S. (she's going to pick us up and drive us to Ikebukuro) but I blithely remind him that my phone works in Japan. It's raining. And rather chilly compared to my fond memories of Japan in October.

Pass Go going nowhere

I try everything. Can't connect with a phone number in Japan. That bright green denwa dangles in my mind like a lifesaver I didn't grab. I send text messages but no one replies. An hour later I'm standing with the luggage in a damp drafty train station while J. goes up and down stairs and corridors to find the denwa. Then we wait 50 minutes for S., who had been waiting for our phone call. That evening and the next day, I try in vain to connect with friends and family in Tokyo. Orange knows I'm in Japan, offers me phone service at an astronomical rate, does not seem to remember I purchased the Pass, and here we go ‘round the mulberry bush. Suddenly on the evening of the 26th I find a customer service number that works from Japan. The agent confirms: "Yes, you did purchase the Pass. (Pause) For Japan, that's correct. (Pause) Ah, there was an error. It wasn't activated. I'll activate it now." The NTT logo pops onto my screen. 

We're grooving into our fantastically busy Tokyo life, I'm trying to figure out how to taste every delicacy I love and miss, J. is jet lagged, we wake up at 4 AM and chat and eat. Back to sleep for a few hours. Wake and eat. Go out, walk, shop, eat. Meet friends, chat and eat. A typhoon brushes the coast, bringing torrential rains. We spend the whole day in Ikebukoro, walking, shopping, and of course eating. The streets are thronged, umbrellas advance cheek to jowl. That evening, comfortably settled in our cozy little apartment, eating and thinking about what we'll eat the next day, my phone rings. It's Orange.

A particularly snippety agent. I imagine her with lank greasy hair and sharp features. She's calling to tell me they don't owe me anything and I have no complaints coming. Is it because I'm cuddled in the extraordinary politeness of Japan that my temper is shorter than usual? That it's even harder than before, here in this land of skill, efficiency, competence, and precision to understand the baroque workings of an old French company with a modernized façade? The conversation seems to go on forever, like an electrical saw. "I'm in Japan," I say. "I don't have all the bills in front of me." Orange, that I am now calling Orangina-sickly sweet with sharp bubbles-doesn't mind using up my almost-never vacation time? Snippety tells me they are not charging me €100 after reimbursing €95. That's just accounting, there's no payment involved, they promised to reimburse, they did reimburse except for a measly €5 so what's the gripe?

"So be it," I accept wearily. "It's just your strange kind of accounting. How is anyone supposed to know... But, you did take €43 the month before. That's the same case. I arrived in the States on June 2nd; those are the calls I made on the first 2 days." Agent Orangina goes on for about fifteen minutes denying the truth. Up down and sideways. "The Pass wasn't in operation? I was in the US? I used my phone? All my calls were surcharged? That's the €43."

"Not for me," she replies. "I'm being fair, and I won't reimburse you."

"But the rest, you said it's just accounting entries, no money changed hands, ok. But you should reimburse the €43."

"Not for me," she repeats. "I'm being fair, and I won't reimburse you."

She has now used up €430 of my precious energy, spoiled my evening, broken the spell of Japan, grabbed me by the hair and brought me down to the basement of the worst French business practices It's not the €43 for heaven's sake, it's the bald face lies.

"Look, can't you put me in touch with a supervisor capable of handling customer relations?" I am furiously exasperated.

‘There's no one higher than me."

"Oh? You're the CEO of Orange? Well let me tell you, when an honest reliable provider comes into our market, I'll leave Orange. And don't come crying to me that you're out of work."

Orangina pursues me all the way to Kyoto

A week later, we're in the sitting room of our friend K., a hard-working conscientious doctor who runs her own clinic. She's at a professional dinner meeting and we're relaxing in her gracious traditional dining room when my phone rings. It's Orangina. The chief of the complaints department is calling. To tell me to stop complaining. I'm harassing his employees. I have no grounds to complain. Orange has reimbursed correctly, will reimburse no more, is generous to a fault and, after all, everything is my fault. I bought the wrong Pass. As for the reimbursement on the purchase of a phone, that too is my fault. I was supposed to sign and send the paper. "I did." Well, we didn't get it. "Your colleague said you did get it. She said they were waiting for Sony to send the money & they'd send it to me. It took 2 more months." No, we didn't get the paper. The offer came from the manufacturer but you didn't send the paper so Orange paid it out of its own pocket. So you should stop calling to complain.

"How was I supposed to know it was the wrong Pass? It said ‘Canada and the US'"?

It's a bit complicated, that's why. I should have gone through an agent instead of buying it on line. [Note to les Napoleons, higher tech than that you go through the ceiling of the sky: this senior Orange executive tells me I shouldn't order a service online, I should call and go through the complicated process with an agent.]

"Aha! Then what about my Pass for Japan? I ordered it through an agent, by phone, it was confirmed, I arrived, and my phone didn't work. They told me it wasn't activated."

Forgive me, this is longer than I had hoped, but it's almost over and I did take you to Japan...

This senior executive tells me I ordered the Pass on the 26th. Though I ordered it on the 24th, by phone with a qualified agent, and it was confirmed by text message for the 24th, he tells me it's my fault. I should have activated it. "How do you activate?" You look for the antenna. "I did look for the antenna. There wasn't any."

"Well, he concludes, "I travel a lot for my work. The Maghreb, Europe, Asia... and I never have any problem finding the antenna. We are not going to reimburse the excess charges from June (USA) and from last week (Japan). You should stop hounding my staff."

Barack Obama's mockingly sincere smile

I promised the customer disservice chief that I would never call his complaints department again. I understand that they would rather alienate a lifetime customer for a paltry €50. There's nothing to be done against that kind of malpractice.

And I didn't really intend to write up this story. Until I heard that the real CEO of Orangina, not that snippety agent with the greasy hair, would be interviewing Barack Obama this afternoon before a hand-picked audience of 700 innovative state of the art forward looking dynamic individuals.

I managed to use my underground network to get this report to the dashing former president (Reportedly wearing white tennis shoes with his casual dark suit) just in time, between his lunch at the Elysée Palace and his $400,000 lecture at the Maison de la Radio. This explains the mocking smile you'll see on his face in the photo ops. It's not because General Flynn pleaded guilty, knives are pointing to Jared Kushner, the alleged secret talks concerned a UN vote against Israel, and no one knows how far the special investigator will reach. No, he's amused to have paper trail evidence that these pretentious "cutting edge" Frenchies are backward Europeans in old-fashioned palaces.

Of course it's nice to be adored, again, by French media that are talking about him all day long and giving him five gold stars and sending Trump to the guillotine. They replay all the staged videos during last year's campaign, when Barack called Emmanuel to tell him how much he wanted him to win, and the endorsement video that ended with "En marche, vive la France," and no one in France is accusing Macron of colluding with a foreign power to ensure the defeat of his rival. It's the America of Barack Obama, the first black president, that we love, croon nostalgic commentators without fear of contradiction.

But that broad grin can only be explained by the contents of this secret file. Wily, spring-stepped, cool and hip, former President Obama knows that when the sexual harassment scandals have been played over and over and out, the next big story will be abusive Internet service providers, and he's got the dirt on Orangina. There's a whole lot of dudes in Chicago, where his billion dollar community-organizing operation is based, that could be upgraded to replace those creepy moldy old-fashioned Orange agents that don't know any better than to rough up a journalist-customer.

nidra poller updated ce photo 12-2017

Nidra Poller is an American novelist and journalist living in Paris since 1972. She has published  in the Wall Street Journal Europe, New English Review, and other outlets. Ms. Poller is the author of Troubled Dawn and  "The Black Flag of Jihad Stalks the Republique "





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