Even though it’s been a year, there are still days when Switzerland gets the better of me. Today was one of those days, and unfortunately, this ridiculous story was three months in the making…
Let me start by giving some background that will help you understand why I think today’s events were particularly absurd:
I have been a renter for 10 years. In my experience, when any maintenance needs to be done on the apartment, the landlord or building manager leaves a note stating the day / time they will be entering the apartment for said maintenance. They request that you notify them if there is a problem. The landlord or building manager have a master key to all of the units. They do the necessary work, leave a note, and lock the door behind them. In all cases, this happened while I was working.
Now you will witness something truly unbelievable:
[One disclaimer. All of the conversations below are taking place in French. This will keep me from repeating that over and over again.]
Back in August, I received a letter in the mail. (In French, of course.) I couldn’t really understand it in the 30 seconds I glanced at it, so I recycled it. A week or so later, I received a second letter from the same company with much stronger language about how I had to call and schedule an appointment. Otherwise, they would call the building management company. When I called, I asked the woman who this company was. Why would I be calling them directly instead of the building management calling them? What work did they need to do? Who authorized them to do it? I didn’t receive a satisfactory answer, but it’s Switzerland, so I’m sure everything is legitimate.
I thought the letter and the woman were saying that my electrical box / circuit box needed repair. I offered that I was available the following week to which she said the earliest they could come was several weeks later while I was traveling. That wouldn’t work, since someone needs to be home, so we chose a different date in mid-September.
On the morning of the appointment, I actually got out the overhead light I’ve been meaning to hang for a year over my dining room table. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought I would ask the maintenance person if he could hang it, since he was there to work an electrical issue anyway. The maintenance man arrived, and it turns out he wasn’t there for the electrical / breaker box at all. He was there to check on the HOT WATER HEATER. Not even close. And no, my light was not hung.
I didn’t even know I had a hot water heater in this apartment. It turns out it’s hidden in the coat closet. Who knew? He examined it briefly, went upstairs to look for something, and in 30 minutes or less, he was ready to go. He told me that it wasn’t working, and it would have to be replaced. I expected he would do it right then, but he told me I had to call back and schedule another appointment. Mind you, I was really confused as to why I had hot water if he said it was broken.
I called the company again and scheduled another visit for after I returned from my trip to the US. It was scheduled for Friday afternoon – my second day back in the office after three weeks out. Not ideal, but after that it would be done.
I raced home that afternoon to meet the maintenance man. He came to tell me that he didn’t have the right tools / parts to fix the problem, so he wouldn’t be able to take care of it. WHAT?!?!?!? You came all the way to my house to tell me that?!?! Why didn’t you call me, so I could stay at work? I called the company and firmly asked why no one called me. I explained to them that I am here alone and every time they want to send someone, I have to come home from work. All I got was a “sorry.” We scheduled a third appointment time for a couple of weeks later.
On the day of the third appointment, I was waiting for the 9:00 arrival. At 9:45, I called the company to see where he was. The woman said that she noted he was to come THE DAY AFTER. Now, I have a lot of opportunities with my French, but days of the week and dates / numbers are NOT one of them. I KNOW I wrote down the date we discussed! I was unavailable the next day, so we had to schedule a FOURTH visit.
Today was the fourth visit. It was terrible timing, because I was supposed to attend an all-day workshop. However, after re-scheduling so many times, I just wanted to get it over with, so I kept the appointment time. At 9:00, the same guy from visit #2 arrived. He did something for 45 minutes before coming out to tell me that one of the pipes was blocked and that he couldn’t fix it (whatever “it” even is…at this point, I don’t even know). It was at this moment that I started to lose my mind. I told him that it was going to stay broken, because I wasn’t going to stay home one more day to fix this. This was the FOURTH time I stayed home for them. I told him that I didn’t even understand what the problem was, because I have hot water. He said that the issue was not my water, but my heat.
This is probably the part in the story where I should tell you that:
- I don’t have a thermostat in my apartment. The temperature is controlled centrally, so I never know how warm it is in here.
- When he said this, I realized that the past several days, I thought my apartment was cold when I arrived home. I even thought to myself, “I wonder when they turn the heat on.”
Having no heat is a bigger problem than someone claiming I have a broken hot water heater when I actually have hot water. I told him how annoyed I was in a mixture of French and English, because I have a hard time showing frustration in French. I told him that it is unacceptable to keep me home four days and not to fix the problem in that time. I asked him who was supposed to fix this, which he couldn’t answer. He gave me a timid “Sorry, good-bye” and left.
Now I’m fuming. But, I’m also hurrying, because I want to try to find a solution for someone to come fix this today while I’m home. If they can’t, I needed to get to the office. I started with my “concierge.” I can’t exactly figure out what the concierge does. I view him as the building manager, but over time (and especially today), he’s proven that he does WAY less than that.
I tried to explain the situation to him, but after a few minutes, he told me someone would call back to speak English with me. A woman called, and I explained everything that happened. She took my name and number and told me she would call back in 10 minutes. I asked if I should go back to work or stay, and she said she would know more when she called back.
10 minutes came and went. No phone call. I called the concierge back. No answer. On my third attempt, he answered. He explained that no one was answering his calls, and he went on to tell me that all of this wasn’t his problem. I asked for an explanation of what he is actually responsible for, because I can’t figure it out. Even with an explanation, though, I still don’t get it. I literally think his only job is to clean the common area.
Next, I called the realtor / building management. This was the first of 10 or 12 calls that took place today. I’m pretty sure I spoke with at least five different people throughout the day, and they ALL took my name and number and promised to call back. Not a single one did. I had to keep calling back…over and over and over again!
And one point, I asked who was going to help me if it wasn’t the concierge and it wasn’t them. That’s when the man told me I had to call “the society.” I asked if they had a number, and he gave it to me. Mind you, that was after A LOT of calls. Why didn’t we start with this information?!
I called “the society” and talked to a man explaining the madness and asking if there was any way for someone to get to my building today. He took my name and number (shocking, right?) and…said he would call me back in 10 minutes. Again, 10 minutes came and went, and I was exasperated! I dug through old emails and then searched on Google to find the phone number for the real estate agency Nestle uses. I know I’m not in their care any more, but I figured they could at least give me counsel in English about what else I should try.
As usual, they were sweet, but they couldn’t solve the problem for me. They recommended I call “the society” back.
I did this only to find that they had scheduled someone to come to my house this afternoon! WHY DIDN’T HE CALL BACK TO TELL ME THAT?!?! I asked what time, because I had an appointment at 17:00. He said he didn’t know the time, but it would before that. Some time after 15:00, someone arrived. He was a sweet older man and joked that he heard I was cold. He asked if everything was working last year to which I responded positively. In just a couple of minutes, he shouted back to me, “They’re closed!” I am not kidding you when I tell you that the problem was two valves that were turned off. I brought him the piece of paper I received in the mail from the other company to make sure he understood what they claimed they had to come fix. He laughed and said they made the same mistake in another unit in the building. WHAT?!?!?!? He did what he needed to do, checked everything, and was on his way. He said it might take a day for the house to really feel warm, but all should be fine tomorrow.
So much emotional energy spent today. So many attempts to express my frustration in French. So much hassle of coordinating and bouncing back and forth to the house over the past three months. And all because one of these guys turned the valves off?!? Good grief.
The Swiss are so efficient in so many ways. (The fact that we freak out when the bus is one minute late speaks to that.) But, I have to say that this is a society that is quite old-fashioned. It’s built to function with someone staying at home. It is extremely complicated for single people working full time. Customer service is also lacking in a big way. Companies that operate like this would never survive in the States.
Switzerland may have won today, but I’m going to bed tonight taking deep cleansing breathes and remembering that tomorrow is a new day.