French Cellphone Contracts Will Be the Death of You

Thought getting out of cellphone contracts here in the US was bad? Sorry. It's got nothing on what American-in-Paris Leonora Epstein went through trying to break up with Orange. This is her story. Quelle horreur!

Shortly after arriving in France a year and a half ago, I decided to scrap my shit pay- as-you-go phone for a cool, shiny new iPhone. Setting up my plan at the Orange boutique, I was surprised by how smoothly it went. (This never happens in France.) The guy who set me up pushed me to get a 2-year contract because it was cheaper per month. I was hesitant at first because I explained to him that I wasn't sure I would be in France for that entire time. No problem, he explained. Just send the company proof that you're leaving the country and you can get out of the contract for free. So what counts as proof, I asked him. My visa? Yes, absolutely, he said. Send a copy of your expired visa.

So, as my departure from France nears, I go to the Orange boutique explaining I need to cancel my contract. The guy there says I actually have to do it over the phone. I ask him again about the process of sending the visa photocopy and he assures me that yes, the visa thing should be fine. So I call and begin an argument with the most heinous woman on the planet. (It should be noted that my French is pretty damn good, but it is always possible that I miss the slightest detail in translation, but the following is what I remember through my seething rage.)

"Your expired visa is not a valid justicatif," she tells me.

"What do you mean? This is what I was told twice."

"Well they were wrong. That doesn't count. You need a proof of USA residence, meaning a lease with your name on it, or a deed to a house with your name on it. This is absolutely what it must be."

"Well, um, that's going to be a problem because I'm staying with my sister for a while. Can she write a letter?"

"Non non, ça va pas."

"I don't understand what I'm supposed to do."

"Well if you're going to be enrolled in school and have paperwork for that…"

"No. What about some sort of work contract?"

"No, we don't accept this any more."

"I mean-I seriously don't understand why the visa doesn't work when this is what a representative of your company told me TWICE. I wouldn't have taken this contract if I knew it was going to be like this."

"I told you, madame, this is not valid proof."

"YES, IT IS! The proof, madame, is that I am American and I can no longer legally reside in your country therefore I must leave."

"Sorry…"

"Well then what do you advise me to do?"

"What you will have to do-where are you moving to?"

"California."

"Yes, well then what you will have to do is to go to the United States and once you are there, go to the Mairie de Californie (aka the "city hall of California") and get them to write you a letter saying you live there. Then send that to us."

"Um…I don't actually think that that exists. Wait do you mean LA city hall? I have a driver's license from New York…"

"No."

"OK, but what you're asking for isn't, like, routine in the US as far as I know. And also, I am NOT going to leave the country with my account still active. That seems ridiculous to me. Anyhow…do you understand that I will be closing my French bank account? Therefore the payments will not go through?"

"Ah yes, well in this case can you leave a contact in France?" (HA. As if I am going to leave Orange the phone number of a friend in Paris so they can take care of any more paperwork and financial burden.)

"No. Look. I'm American. I don't have family here. There's no one."

"Well all I can tell you is to go to the mairie de California for your justicatif once you are there."

Sheesh. So at this point, I am LIVID. I ran back out to the Orange boutique and found the same man, and explained to him my problem.

"They said that? Really?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"Well, that's crazy. It is proof. And whatever. If you're closing your bank account, it doesn't matter."

True, he had a point, but this is not the way I like to leave things. Especially if I ever want to come back to France, I don't want any record of a debt or anything. In my opinion, if this happened in the States at least an exception would be made (after much yelling, of course) on the grounds that on two (well three actually) separate occasions Orange employees had given me false information. And just because "these people are not specialists in international clients" (what the woman on the phone told me) is not an acceptable answer. You can't lie to customers and then expect them to know the truth. So anyhow, this is what happened:

My boyfriend (bless his heart) typed up a one-page letter which referenced some 3 or 4 laws (it was really quite impressive), which said that French law allows you to cancel a mobile contract without a fee if you have to leave the country." So we sent that off with a copy of my visa and a copy of my plane ticket. 10 days later a letter from Orange: "Your pièce justicatif is not valid. Thank you and please continue to enjoy your phone service until November 27, 2011." Ahhh! So boyfriend calls and talks to some guy at Orange who explains something slightly different. I still can't cancel my contract while I'm in France. It needs to be done once I am in the US, at which point I send them a bill or bank account or something with my address on it and my letter to cancel the contract. But it must be sent FROM the US. Then supposedly, (assuming this is accepted!) my account will be closed 10 days after receiving the letter.

So, great. Screw you, Orange. I'm just so happy to pay for what will likely be an extra month of your shit service while I'm in the US.

Leonora Epstein is a freelance writer who has lived in Paris since 2009. Her writing has appeared on The Frisky, DailyCandy, Cosmopolitan.com, New York Press and others. You can find out more about her at leonoraepstein.com.