Assurance française

So this is how screwed up insurance is in France. I bought my car insurance through BNP Paribas, and like all good insurance sellers they increase the premiums each year hoping you won’t notice. If you do notice and query it, they shrug their shoulders and say “that’s just the market”. Sometimes they’ll even throw in some nonsense such as “but there have been more thefts this year”, as if the doozy you’re talking to would know that.

Anyway, after 4 years of this I got fed up and decided to change. Changing insurance companies in France is rather difficult, made deliberately so by the insurance companies. It has got a bit easier recently thanks to the Hamon Law which aimed at doing away with anti-competitive practices. However, it’s still not straight forward. When you sign up with the new company they contact your old company and cancel your agreement with them, but they then ask you to obtain two documents from your old company:

– An information statement listing any accidents the driver’s had while insured, or lack thereof.

– Confirmation the insurance has been cancelled, or the reason why the request was refused.

I immediately asked for these from my previous insurer, who didn’t bother replying. I asked BNP Paribas, who shrugged their shoulders. I dug around and found that unless you send the request by recorded delivery, the insurance companies refuse to comply. I also found out BNP contracts their insurance to an outfit called AVANSSUR, a subsidiary of Axa, whose address is at 48 Rue Carnot. My new insurance company – Direct Assurance – told me I should ask them for my documents, and they have a legal obligation to provide them within 15 days. Unless they come tomorrow, which is unlikely, I will not be getting them in that time period. So I went to advise Direct Assurance that I’m having no luck getting these documents, and somehow I discover they are also a subsidiary of Axa, their address is 48 Rue Carnot, and:

AVANSSUR is a subsidiary of AXA that operates under the Direct Assurance brand.

In other words, I’ve saved myself 30% on my insurance by switching contracts within the same company and I’m waiting for them to send me documents which they are asking to see. What makes it more amusing is that, in order for the new company to cancel your contract with the old one, you give them the policy number and all the details. So they know they’re dealing with themselves, but I’m still getting emails reminding me I’ve not sent my documents and advising I write to them tout de suite.

Welcome to France. Happy New Year, folks!


An Absolute Zoo

Via a reader, some reviews of the Radisson Hotel in Toronto:

When I showed up, there were kids running around the hotel unsupervised and in the pool area, and adults running talking very loudly loitering in the common area, a lot of signs of run down and general filth you might find in a Toronto rooming house downtown. I basically walked in and walked out, kept my bags in the car. After checking in, I went to my floor and there were signs of neglect, more loitering. I hardly bothered opening the door, and laying claim to the room as the floor had a warm foul odour of urine, cigarette smoke and sewer gas. I was afraid to spend the night as a single female later at night, needing to be up and out of there early.


This place is an absolute zoo. Stayed here for a business trip for 2 nights. Was shocked and horrified at the nightmare situation when we arrived in the lobby. Huge crowds of people, children spitting, yelling, jumping on top of each other, and to make things even worse, one of them stole my phone and I had to chase them to get them to return it. The child’s parents were nowhere to be found. The lobby is filthy, packed with people at all times of the day, and the noise is unbearable at any hour.


I don’t know what was happening the day I visited but everybody kept grabbing my arm and either tried selling me something or kids begging me for money. I will never stay here again. I’m so glad I didn’t bring my 11 year old daughter.

All rather unusual for a Radisson, no? What’s got into these Canadians? Ah, wait:

As we heard from the locals, the hotel has contract with government & as the result they are accomodating the refugees in the hotel.

I always assumed the Radisson was one of the posher hotel chains. Certainly the ones I’ve stayed in were nice enough. So why is the Canadian government putting refugees in them? Don’t they care about the cost, or are Radissons not as nice as I remember?


A Nation of Shopkeepers

So via Tim Worstall I hear that House of Fraser is in financial trouble. I can’t say I’m overly surprised. Back in early 2015 I ordered a long winter overcoat from House of Fraser online, and a short time later I received a parcel containing a short summer blazer. In their defence, the colour wasn’t far off. I contacted their customer service desk and they said I’d need to send the item back, from France. Now they covered the costs, but I still had to repackage the box as best I could, carry it to La Poste in my spare time, stand in a queue, fill out forms, and send them the receipt: hardly what I expected to find myself doing after shopping online. For my troubles they gave me a £10 voucher which could only be used online, i.e. I’d have to go to a store. And rather than send me the correct item they told me I had to order it afresh, only by that time the sales had ended and I found another coat elsewhere. Now I don’t know how representative my experience was of someone trying to buy something from House of Fraser, but I got the impression I was dealing with a bunch of incompetents.

I’ve had similar experiences with British retail in the past. Back when I was in university in the late ’90s it was hard to find shoes in my size: I have big feet and most shops didn’t stock the larger sizes in those days, so I usually had to order them. This didn’t bother me so much; what bothered me is the salespeople didn’t know what they were on about. I’ve long been a big fan of the footwear manufacturer Merrell (I have no less than four pairs even now), and they have always made their shoes in half-size increments. So I’d go into a shop and ask to order size 11 1/2 and I’d be told “sorry, they don’t make them in half sizes”. Well, yes they do because I rang them up and checked: what you mean is, for reasons I can’t fathom, you don’t bother selling them. In other words, I’ve come into your shoe shop to buy a popular brand of shoe and you are incapable of even ordering me a pair which will fit. Hurrah for British retail!

Then there was Marks & Spencer who spent that same period bleating about collapsing sales and profits warnings. I used to always buy Marks & Spencer trousers and one day I went in to buy a pair for a new job. “Sorry, we’re out of stock,” was the reply. Only the warehouse was also out of stock so it was impossible to order them. I asked what I should do, having walked into this large clothing store to buy a pair of trousers. The bloke behind the counter gave me a sickly look and said, “Maybe you could come back in a few weeks?” I didn’t, I went somewhere else and never bought trousers from Marks & Spencer again.

A lot of people are quick to blame the demise of Britain’s high-street brands on external forces – the internet, parking charges, high business rates – and there is no doubt they make a contribution. But I have a sneaky feeling a lot of it is down to these companies – or at least the people working in them – simply being rubbish at retail. If House of Fraser can’t even manage to check the right item has gone in the box before it’s shipped to France, they deserve to go bust, frankly.

(Incidentally, retail in France is equally painful)


Filling a Position

I find this interesting:

It’s tempting to say this happens because an outfit like the FCO doesn’t care what the public think and its spokespeople believe they’re under no obligation to hand out information, but it goes a bit deeper than that.

The FCO is a large, bureaucratic organisation and one needs to understand how appointments are made in outfits like this. In a normal, functioning company people are put into positions which they are interested in and also suit their skills, competencies, experience, and personality. In Sakhalin around 2005 an American company won a large project to build an onshore installation, and needed to mobilise an entire site team made up of both locals and foreigners. I knew somebody who was recruited to work in the document control department, and she told me what happened. The American company called on an employee of theirs who was in his fifties and all he’d done his entire career was set up and run document control departments. He arrived in Sakhalin and immediately said “okay, we need this, that, two of them, four of them, and that goes there and this goes here.” He set up the department, trained up a bunch of locals, ran it for six months, then went back to the US to do the same thing on another project. This is what he did for a living, and he did it brilliantly.

Later on in my career I found myself watching someone in a large oil company trying to do the same thing, i.e. set up a document control system. The problem was he’d never done it before, and didn’t really know anything about document control. His approach was to brainstorm the subject as if he was stranded on Mars with only a small pocket watch, a tub of vaseline, a length of garden hose and 6 hours of air remaining. “Why don’t we try this? What if we did that?” he’d ask, as if there weren’t four decades worth of industry experience and best practices to answer his questions.

At some point I worked out that in large, bureaucratic organisations people are assigned to positions only temporarily, and irrespective of whether they are suited to them. A position doesn’t so much represent a job which needs doing as a mere step in a career path which must be completed. Whether the job actually gets done is largely immaterial provided the person holding the post doesn’t embarrass the hierarchy in any way and remains obedient and on-message. Regarding the guy who knew nothing about document control, someone had decided this was a good position for what passed for his career and simply assigned him to it. It didn’t matter to them or him he had no idea what he was doing, what was important is he occupied the position for the required duration. He might as well have been put in charge of offshore maintenance, and indeed for all I know that’s what he did next. In large, modern organisations both people and positions are wholly interchangeable.

This is why the FCO spokeswoman doesn’t know how to do a spokesperson’s job. My guess is she was plonked in that position for 2-3 years as part of a slow but steady climb up the ranks of the organisation and her brief is not to make any waves but to do exactly what her management tells her; short of swearing down the phone, how she manages the public is up to her. It is an absolute certainty she’s not working that job thanks to an aptitude for personal relations or experience in the same, and you can be equally sure a spokesperson for Tesco has both in spades.


When Bureaucracies Empty Bins

Via Twitter I came across the graphics Edinburgh City Council issues to households to let them know on which day their bins should be put out for collection. Here’s an example below:

Only a modern government bureaucracy could come up with something like that for the once-simple task of emptying the bins. And as someone on Twitter asks, where is each household supposed to find the space for five separate bins?

This is what happens when state bodies become employment programs, entirely divorced from the customer when providing a service.


Half a Story

Via JuliaM, this story doesn’t stack up:

An African woman and her children were kicked off a United Airlines flight after a fellow passenger complained that she had a “pungent” odour, according to a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the company.

The incident involving the passenger, a white male, happened two years ago, when Queen Obioma, a Nigerian citizen, and her two children were boarding a flight from Houston to San Francisco. The family had flown from Lagos, Nigeria, and were on the second leg of a three-flight journey to Ontario, Canada.

Okay, let me start by saying the behaviour of Nigerians on flights can be absolutely abominable. Many take absolutely no consideration of other passengers whatsoever, barging, elbowing, and yelling as of they were in Lekki market. Worse is their sense of entitlement leading to them treat the crew like shit, shouting demands in their faces if their every whim is not immediately catered to. Now of course not all Nigerians behave this way, nor even most Nigerians, but a substantial minority of them do. I spoke to a few stewardesses on the various airlines and they all hated the Nigerian routes because of the behaviour of the passengers. So when I hear a Nigerian has had trouble on an airplane, my first reaction is not one of surprise.

Obioma saw that the other passenger had sat in her assigned seat in the business-class cabin, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in federal court in Houston. The passenger refused to move, so a flight crew member, instead, asked Obioma to sit elsewhere in business class.

This strikes me as odd for two reasons. Firstly, whereas the cabin crew may occasionally ask you to move seats, being ordered to do so because someone else has nabbed your seat and refuses to move is unheard of. Secondly, wasn’t she flying with her kids? Where were they?

Later, before takeoff, Obioma went to use the bathroom. On her way back to her seat, the same passenger was standing in the aisle and blocking her from getting to her seat, the lawsuit says. She said “excuse me” three times, but was ignored. After several minutes, Obioma managed to squeeze her way to her seat.

Again, this doesn’t sound right. If someone is blocking your way back to the seat and refuses to move, chances are other passengers will get involved followed by the air crew. There’s an awful lot being left out of this story.

But just after she sat down, a crew member told Obioma to go outside the aircraft, where another employee told her that she would be removed from the flight. The lawsuit says the pilot had personally requested that she be removed because the male passenger, who was not identified, had complained that her smell was “pungent,” and he was not comfortable flying with her.

Whatever the reason for her being removed, it wasn’t because she smelled pungent.

“Ms Obioma watched her minor children marched out of the aircraft like criminals, confused and perplexed… She sobbed uncontrollably for a long time,” the complaint says, adding that the children, who were seated in the economy cabin, were humiliated.

Ah, so she was flying business and quarreling with other passengers while her kids sat in economy. This woman is clearly wealthy, at least by Nigerian standards, and unfortunately obtaining wealth and status in Nigeria can sometimes bring with it a sense of entitlement which they foolishly try to apply outside the country.

The lawsuit alleges that United Airlines discriminated against Obioma and her children during the incident on 4 March 4, 2016 at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, because they were black. It also accuses crew members of singling out Obioma, not because she was being disruptive, but because a white man – who refused to sit in his own assigned seat – did not want to share a plane with her.

I suspect this woman has more money than sense and some shyster lawyer has found a way to relieve her of it. I’m looking forward to hearing the airline’s side of the story.



This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s had to deal with a French fonctionnaire:

A recording of an emergency service operator mocking a young mother, who died hours after her call was ignored, has sparked outrage in France.

Naomi Musenga, 22, called Strasbourg’s ambulance service with severe stomach pain and said: “I’m going to die”.

“You’ll definitely die one day, like everyone else,” the worker replied.

The woman eventually called another service and was taken to a hospital but died after a heart attack. The health minister has ordered an investigation.

In the three-minute audio, Musenga – in a very weak voice – appeals for help and struggles to describe her pain while speaking with the ambulance service (Samu).

The operator, apparently in an annoyed voice, replies: “If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll hang up!”

I don’t know if the operator was employed by the government, but I suspect he was poorly paid, unmotivated, badly trained, and a member of a powerful union. During the experience I recounted here, the woman in charge of the department I was dealing with quickly adopted the attitude of a petulant child who knows they are immune from repercussions regardless of their behaviour. She was quite young but already bitter and jaded, wielding her allocation of power with callous indifference to those relying on her department to do its job competently.

For French and foreigners alike, dealing with such people is simply part of life in France.


Planes, Dogs, and Sheep

Last week it was reported that a dog belonging to a passenger on a United Airlines flight died after it was stuck in the overhead bin on the orders of a member of the flight crew. Apropos of this, Mark Steyn asks the following question:

Why didn’t anyone on that United flight stand up for the dog and take it down from the overhead bin?

I can answer that question. Since 9/11, any member of airport staff or airline crew can squeal that a passenger isn’t being sufficiently compliant and security goons will rush in mob-handed, beat them, arrest them, and hit them with terror charges which have a good chance of sticking. In other words, you are expected to obey every instruction issued by flight crew immediately and without complaining or they will seriously fuck up your day and possibly your entire life.

The airport staff – particularly security people – and flight crew know this only too well, and are happy to wield this disproportionate power they’ve been granted. No doubt in the beginning some held back from exercising their full authority unless absolutely necessary, but you’ll always get some people – and attract more of them to the job – who take a perverse delight in barking orders at those who would otherwise knock their teeth in. Next time you’re in a British airport, watch the behaviour of those wearing hi-viz vests and carrying a walkie-talkie and ask yourself if they haven’t let power go to their heads.

So that’s why nobody intervened when the flight crew ordered the dog to be stowed in the locker overhead. Had anybody taken it down, the crew would have initiated a sequence of actions commensurate with the plane being hijacked and the authorities on the ground would have gone along with it. Having recently seen some poor sod have the absolute shit kicked out of him and dragged off a United Airlines by uniformed thugs, nobody wants the same thing happening to them. And I expect few people have the confidence that the police chief waiting at the destination, or subsequent judges, will side with them against the air crew. Many people think the purpose of the TSA and the power given to airline crews is intended to get Americans used to being compliant in front of uniformed authority figures, and I would probably agree. If that was the purpose, it seems to have worked well. If that dog were to be saved by passengers, we would have first seen the two officers who dragged that man off the flight last year accosted on the plane and beaten senseless. That would never happen in today’s environment, and Rover paid the price.


Avoid the gunman, but shoot the guy with no gun

There is a problem with this, but possibly not the most obvious one:

An armed officer assigned to the Florida school where a gunman killed 17 people last week stood outside the building during the shooting and did not intervene, the local sheriff says.

Deputy Scot Peterson has resigned after being suspended, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

“I am devastated. Sick to my stomach. He never went in,” Sheriff Israel said.

On the face of it, the officer should have gone in and tackled the shooter, as he ought to have been trained to do. The possibility of coming up against armed criminals is why they’re given guns after all, and considering an unarmed ROCT cadet of 15 years of age sacrificed himself to save his fellow pupils, it’s pretty poor that this policemen stood outside and did nothing. Worse, he allowed the gunman to leave the building, thus endangering more lives.

Sheriff Israel said Mr Peterson was on campus, armed and in uniform when the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus in Parkland began.

He said video footage showed Mr Peterson arriving at the building where the shooting was taking place about 90 seconds after the first shots were fired and that he remained outside for about four minutes. The attack lasted six minutes, Sheriff Israel said.

Asked what Mr Peterson should have done, Sheriff Israel said: “Went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.”

Mr Peterson is yet to publicly comment on what happened. Sheriff Israel said he had not given a reason for why he did not go into the building where the shooter was.

So we can add an ineffective deputy policeman to the litany of FBI and Sheriff’s department screw-ups which led to this incident. But the NRA is to blame really, oh yessir.

However, it has been pointed out on Twitter that policemen are not obliged to put themselves in danger to save others, despite many people understandably thinking they ought to, and it’s what they’re paid for. Personally, I’ll not criticise the individual too harshly. Nobody wants to go and get shot and this chap probably didn’t realise he’d have to face down a lunatic with an AR-15 one day; when the time came, he bottled it. Yes it’s cowardly but it’s also human and understandable. Would I have done things differently? I have no idea and hope I’ll never find out, but physical courage isn’t doled out evenly and some people find out they don’t have it until it’s too late. So yes, let’s beat up on this guy a bit but consider he’ll have to live with the guilt and opprobrium for the rest of his life. If his family don’t have him on suicide watch right now, they’re guilty of negligence.

The wider problem is that there have been several high-profile instances of the police shooting unarmed men recently. Firstly there was this story about a policeman in Arizona shooting an unarmed man who was lying on the floor of a hotel corridor clearly drunk and confused by the conflicting instructions being yelled at him by different officers. The justification for the shooting, heard at the cop’s trial in which he was found not guilty of murder, was that the suspect reached to his waistband and the policeman feared for his life thinking he had a weapon.

In body cam footage of the event, Mr Brailsford can be seen telling Mr Shaver to get on the ground and crawl toward him. Mr Shaver complies, crying and asking the officer not to shoot him. At one point, Mr Shaver puts his hands on his low back. The officer warns him not to do so again.

“You do that again we’re shooting you, do you understand?” he asks. Mr Shaver, visibly upset, says yes.

Seconds later, however, Mr Shaver reaches toward his waistband. Mr Brailsford told the jury he thought Mr Shaver was reaching for a gun. A detective investigating the shooting said the motion was similar to drawing a weapon, but was most likely an attempt by Mr Shaver to pull up his drooping basketball shorts.

The officer fired five shots at the suspect with his AK-15 rifle. Mr Shaver died on the scene.

Most reasonable people who’ve seen the video think this is absolute bullshit, but obviously the jury saw it differently.

Then there was another story of an entirely innocent man being killed by a SWAT team who were called to his house as part of a prank known as “swatting”:

In this case, Wichita local Andrew Finch, whose family members say did not play video games and was a father of two young boys, answered his door only to face down a SWAT team-level response. Allegedly, one officer immediately fired upon Finch, who later died at a hospital. It’s unclear why Finch, who is said not to have had a weapon on him, was fired upon.

Here’s the photo which accompanies the second story:

Many American police forces, especially the SWAT teams which seemingly every two-bit police department now has (and gleefully uses), go around in full combat gear and armoured vehicles looking as though they’ve come straight from Falluja. In fact, much of the gear the’re toting is indeed military surplus, which explains the look. In both the incidents I’ve recounted, the policemen were out in numbers, heavily armed, and wearing body armour and killed the suspect because he made a hand movement which someone thought might have meant he had a gun somewhere. The police defend such shootings by saying their officers have every reason to fear for their lives. Many of the public, quite rightly, complain that an officer “fearing for his life” when part of a small army and facing a man who may well not be armed ought not to be a license to murder citizens going about their lawful business. These instances are not cases of a lone patrolman suddenly being confronted by a criminal in a dark alley, but the police chiefs treat them as if they were.

Possibly the only way the American public will accept police departments turning up mob-handed and killing innocent people is if, when faced with a real dangerous criminal who is unequivocally armed and murdering folk, they will jump in without hesitation and deal with him. Instead, in Florida, we have a policeman deciding it’s all a bit too dangerous and not getting involved.

What this tells the American public is the police are happy to arm themselves to the teeth and shoot an innocent, unarmed person for making the wrong hand movement; but don’t expect them to tackle a lunatic with an AR-15 who is murdering kids in cold blood. In the UK, it often appears the more law-abiding you are and the less danger you present to the police, the more likely they are to visit violence upon you. It seems the Americans have unwittingly gone in for the same deal. Reversing that should be a top priority.


Working for Toys R Us

I see one of my former employers has filed for bankruptcy:

Toys ‘R’ Us has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US and Canada as it attempts to restructure its debts.

I don’t know if this will affect their UK stores, particularly the one on Great Ancoats Street in Manchester in which I worked through Christmas 1996. I know the store still exists because it’s in the background of this video from last July of a man carrying a crossbow and a knife being tasered by police:

That ought to tell you what sort of area we’re talking about.

I took the job out of necessity having failed to grasp the concept of budgeting in my first term in university. I secured it within five minutes of walking into a manpower agency; this was early December and Toys R Us was ramping up for the busy Christmas period. I turned up and was issued with a blue blazer with a yellow collar and a round badge of Jeffrey Giraffe, a garment I kept for several years after I left for fancy dress parties. My job was that of Product Adviser, the lowest position in the store which involved standing around trying to help customers.

There were a few of us, some of whom were brand new, others who’d worked there years. My manager was a Manc woman in her late twenties whose boyfriend ran the warehouse or something. From what I remember they were both nice people, and I had no problems with her or any of the other managers. It is worth mentioning that was probably the only job I’ve had where I can say this.

My fellow grunts varied. Two of the area supervisors were students, a little older than me, and good lads. The guy I was put to work with was called Greg, a youngster from Openshawe who was as thick as mince but a really nice guy. Nearby was a 16 year old Asian girl from Longsight, possibly of Iranian extraction, who was very attractive but way too innocent to be working around us. She was also very pleasant. Then there was some nasty piece of work whose name I forget, a man in his mid-twenties with a pierced eyebrow and a greasy ponytail down to his arse. On my first day he immediately told me students are useless and don’t know shit, and he seemed to resent me being there. He told me I was inferior because he had five years’ experience and I had none. Yet there we were doing exactly the same job. I soon figured out he was desperate to be invited onto the management training programme, but his being thick, nasty, and unpresentable prevented it.

We were kept busy. The lead-up to Christmas in a Toys R Us is mental, and on the last Saturday before the 25th we took £150k on the tills (this was in 1996). The most sought-after toy was a Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story which had recently been in British cinemas. Unfortunately the product people vastly underestimated demand and they were sold out worldwide. Customers would come running up to me and say:


The girls manning the phones would get calls that went:


We never had one in the shop the whole time, and we turned away a lot of disappointed parents who would have paid a hundred quid or more for one. The Toy Story sequel even made reference to this shortage:

The work itself was rather tedious, standing on a shop floor for eight hours per day, but the worst aspect was the Christmas musak. They played the same ten or twelve Christmas tracks over and over again to the point I still can’t go in a shop in the festive season and not think of my time in Toys R Us. I would have thought it would have been banned on human rights grounds (along with my children’s clothes) by now, but apparently such tortures are still permitted.

I only worked there a few weeks, then my new semester started and the store laid off the additional hires they’d taken on for Christmas. On my last day I was asked to go and see my manager and, instead of a bollocking of the type I’d have to get used to in my career proper, she asked if I’d be interested in joining the management training programme. I politely declined and said I was heading back to class, and she laughed and said they’d expected I’d say that, but they thought they’d ask anyway. I liked that.

I left her office and went straight up to the dickhead with the ponytail and said I’d been offered after a month what he’d been striving for his whole adult life, yet I’d turned it down. I’d worked with plenty of stupid people before on farms, but most were harmless enough and some were very pleasant. Toys R Us was the first of many jobs where I’d work with people who were both stupid and nasty.

Several years later I’d graduated, and was sitting in the McDonald’s in Fallowfield with a bunch of friends when I thought I recognised the Johnny-No-Stars who was sweeping the floor. Sure enough he was one of the Product Advisers I’d worked with at Toys R Us, a right horrible little shit with a big mouth. When he saw me he made the mistake of opening it again with a smartarse remark, and spent the next twenty minutes ducking pieces of burger and French fries my friends and I were hurling at him.

“I see you’ve moved up in the world,” I said to him as we were leaving. I pointed to the plastic yellow man who stands over wet spots on the floor. “He’ll be promoted faster than you. Now get sweeping!”

I hope the nice ones did all right.