On April 1st, Mr J and I discovered that I was expecting our first child in December. While we were thrilled to know that we are to welcome a child into our little family, we knew that we had a lot of preparations to undertake in order to accomodate a baby in our little French apartment in the alps.
Against the advice of nearly all of our French friends and strangers, we started buying everything early because we know how complicated and expensive things are in France. Naturally, we were met with the infamous French pessimism that one encounters every time one attempts to share good news, “Buying these things early is bad luck.” and, “Aren’t you afraid that you will lose the baby and will have to face the task of having to get rid of baby things?”
We searched community ads for gently used baby items. We found a 900€ stroller/infant car seat set for 180€. We got over a year’s worth and almost overwhelming amount of baby clothes for 50 €. Amazon.fr had free shipping and great package deals on cloth diapers and other goodies. We may have gotten a jump on everything, but the spirit of France wouldn’t let us off the hook that easy. Especially when it came to the crib. Ah, the infamous crib.
After getting a 45 minute lecture from my mother-in-law about the dangers of particle board cribs, we agreed to buy a new solid wood crib. After weeks of online research, I found a deal almost too good to be true on BabiesRUs.fr. I didn’t even know that BabiesRUs was in France, but since one of my childhood friends worked there during high school and college and aware of their good customer service, I was pretty confident that the process would be simple and painless. Mind the phrase, “pretty confident”.
We bought the crib and mattress online and ordered delivery through a third party delivery company. This is where the French spirit of commerce makes its entrance: The crib delivery was late by several days. We followed up with the delivery company who said that the package hadn’t even arrived to their warehouse. The next day, we did get the delivery. When I greeted the sole delivery man, he told me the shipment, contrary to the main office’s insistance, had been sitting in his truck for days. First red flag.
This delivery man, who stood at about 5 foot 4 inches, was supposed to carry a 80 plus pound solid wood crib down the stairs that goes from the street through my garden and into my house, said he needed help carrying the broken and dirty box which was supposed to house my baby’s crib. So, in my first trimester, I’m forced to help carry a gigantic box down a steep flight of uneven stairs with this delivery guy who, to add insult to injury, reminded me of Seinfeld’s Close Talker: This sweaty, smelly guy literally stood three inches from my face every time he addressed me. It was a bizarre experience, to say the least.
After he left, I opened the damaged box and counted all of the pieces and organized them so that Mr J could assemble the crib when we arrived from work later in the evening. Six pieces. Six pieces were missing, I counted in dread. How on earth would we be able to get the missing six pieces, let alone return the crib to the nearest BabiesRUs store that’s an hour away through a toll infested highway? Here, we go, I thought… the French system of bureaucracy begins to churn its ugly wheels.
Mr J called customer service to inquire about the missing parts. Days go by, we follow up through phone calls and e-mails, attaching images and serial numbers to ensure we did this right the first time. After having been burned by French service before, we made sure to keep accurate records, take photos, and supply all the necessary information. The customer service representative from BabiesRUs was pretty helpful considering how French customer service is poorly reputed. She tells us she needs to contact the distributor, who then, after weeks of waiting, tells us that they don’t have the bed anymore as the crib we ordered was the last of its model and the parts needed to be special made from the manufacturer themselves. We discover that the manufacturer will have to spend a few weeks special painting the parts and locating what parts are no longer in production.
We go on our month long summer vacation and we learned that the parts finally made it to our house. We return from vacation, open the package to learn that the parts, while correct in quantity, were completely wrong for the bed! We filed another service request with BabiesRUs, who then made another request from the manufacturer to get the correct replacement parts. Weeks later, the parts arrived and they fit the dimensions!
Alright, we thought! We can put this crib together and move onto other things for the baby.
“Ah-hah”, French complication laughed in our faces, “not so fast!”
As we put together the crib, we noticed the dozens of spindles were not fitting into their matching holes. If fact, none of them were! We couldn’t put the crib together, after all!
“Oh, Lord!” I cried in a southern American fashion, “What are we going to do now?”
“Do you want to return it?” asked Mr J.
“Come hell or high water, we’re going to make this work!” I exclaimed. Then, I immediately remembered the Dremel kit we have in storage, “Let’s sand down the end of the spindles and get them to work that way.”
With a long apron, a breathing mask, and armed with my Dremel sander, I carefully sanded down the ends of each spindle over the course of three days. It’s while sitting in the garden, sanding down these spindles, that I thank God for that summer doing wood work with my grandpa in his carpentry shop.
We carefully cleaned all of the parts and began the work of putting the crib together. “We finally did it!”, congratulating ourselves when we saw it fully constructed.
Then, Mr J had an inquisitive look on his face and broke out his measuring tape from his tool box. He measured the main legs of the crib, looked up and said, “The hole on the replacement part is slightly off a few centimeters, making the mattress lie slightly cocked.”
After a four and a half month journey to get a crib into our home, we finally agreed that the slightly cocked mattress wouldn’t impose a health threat to our baby and agreed to ignore it – although, I will admit, is not an easy thing to do for people who are as detailed oriented as we are.
So, at seven months pregnant, we finally have a crib for our baby. Which, by most French standards, is when most people buy their nursery furniture. They all laughed at us for getting it early, but if we had not, we’d be faced with having to wait for a crib until well after the baby was born in the winter season – which, as we who live in France know – is a slow time for business with the holidays and vacations.
I did check up as to whether or not our too good to be true crib was still on the BabiesRUs.fr website. It’s not. I’m sure they decided to call it quits with that make and model after our experience, but I have to hand it to BabiesRUs and the manufacturer for sticking it out with us. Our four and a half month ordeal while annoying and painstaking is, in our books, considered a triumph in French customer service…. as sad as that may be for us spoiled Americans.