Posted by: Marco | April 24, 2011

The cost of stubbornness

Sometimes it pays to be stubborn. You know, when you stick to your guns and you get the great deal or the great service. And sometimes, well, it makes life a little harder.

This story has to do with bad customer service again. And what happens when you stick to your guns.

3 hour wait for the bus in 30C heat!

On a recent Saturday morning, in Toulouse, after a 3 hour wait for a bus in 30C heat and a 2 hour bus ride the night before, a short night in a hotel, an early morning, and a four-hour train ride, I was ready to pick up the rental car I had reserved from Europcar. Previously, I had promised myself that I would not rent from Europcar again, and that I would patronize SixT. Europcar had caused us a few headaches already but they have a very extensive network of agents. This time SixT just didn’t have the agency where we wanted to return the car, namely Blois or Tours. So I bit the bullet and reserved a Peugeot 207 from Europcar to be picked up at 12:00pm. The train arrived on schedule (as all French trains do) at 12:05. After a few minutes, I walked into the Europcar office and was promptly told that they were closed until 1pm. Strange the door was open and there were two employees there. I said that I had a reservation for 12 noon. Then Mr. Europcar said, with attitude: “Look, we are closed. I’ve been working since 8am and I am taking my lunch break.” I am afraid I lost my cool for the third time in France. I said: “Your problems are not my concern. My family and I have been on a train for 4 hours and I have a reservation. If you won’t serve me, cancel my reservation. I will never use Europcar again. Your service stinks.” At which point, Mrs. Europcar said to Mr. Europcar: “Let’s just leave, he’ll go away.” I was so angry; I couldn’t believe how rude they had been. I realise that I probably got hot-under-the-collar too fast, but this type of service is all too common in France.

Our car-less camp with storage garage

This is the part about the stubbornness. I quickly visited the other five rental agencies at the station. Not one had a car to rent. It was a Saturday at the beginning of school break. We were marooned! When I told Shannon we were not going to wait until 1pm for Europcar to open to retrieve our reserved car, I could see that she thought I was overreacting and that we would all suffer because of my intransigence. We had to get to our campsite with our backpacks on our backs in 28C heat. It was a two-train metro trip to a bus station, then a 20 minute bus ride, and then a 1km walk. We made it. When we got to the campsite at 2pm, it was closed….until 5pm! Luckily, the owner interrupted his lunch with his daughter long enough to open the gate and show us where to pitch our tent.

Our problem wasn’t solved. Getting in and out of Toulouse was doable but I still had to rent a car for our next leg. I reserved with SixT and picked up a really fun Ford Fiesta on the Monday morning. We drove it out to the Airbus factory and the next day we headed north to the Bordeaux area. So far, so good.

After securing rental bikes for the duration of our stay in the Loire Valley, it was time to return the car. That was a bit tough. It required military-style planning and preparation. This was going to be a multi-modal mission. I had to return the car to Bourges, a large city in the Loire Valley, two hours away. I googlemapped the route. I memorized the highway numbers. I drove the two hours without getting lost or taking a wrong turn. Then it was 2km walk to the Bourges train station. I bought a ticket and waited the 90 minutes for my train (I killed the time walking through streets of half-timbered houses and checking out the magnificent St Etienne Cathedral). The train ride lasted 93 minutes. Right on schedule, I disembarked in Montrichard, the nearest town to ours with train service. I took my pants off revealing my running shorts. I put the pants in my small running backpack and ran the 45 minutes back to our little town of Pontlevoy.

When I got home…I was locked out.

Always stick to your guns ‘cause you never know what adventures it will lead to.

Carpe annum,


Check out our photos from the Bordeaux region and our road trip through Spain here:


  1. Great story!!! These are the ones you will remember long after the “good service” is forgotten. The French DO have a way with them. I remember standing on the sidewalk in Paris in 1971 yelling, “mange la merde!” at a taxi driver who knew that the customer is NEVER right. Mostly, the French have improved their attitude since then, but obviously not all of them.

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