Saturday, 4 December 2010

SNCF - What does it mean?

I had planned to take the kids to visit their mum and new brother in the hospital at Cherbourg. As a treat for the boys, I thought it would be more interesting to go by train. I am a big fan of public transport and having worked for the British Railways for nearly 25 years, I prefer the train to the car.

S.N.C.F, the French national railway system has a world renowned reputation for being a fantastic transport system. If you have read some of my previous posts, you will get the impression that this is not the case. With that said, I was prepared for a few delays due to the snowy conditions. What I wasn't prepared for was the attitude of the S.N.C.F staff.

We arrived at Carentan train station about five minutes before our train was due so we rushed to get a ticket. Luckily, there was not a queue so no problems. In French, I asked the ticket clerk for a return ticket to Cherbourg. This was greeted with a brief glance and then a shrug. This was followed by a two minute silence whilst the man just looked at his computer screen. I looked at my two sons and the eldest asked why it was taking so long; good point. With that comment I indicated to the clerk, in French, that the train was due in two minutes and I can take the train without paying if that would make his life easier. This was greeted with some swearing. I was in shock and lost for words. In England, I would be fired if I talked to a customer like that.

Before I write the next paragraph, here are translations of the words that were mentioned:

Putain - F*ck, F*cking, F*cking hell (you get the idea)
Merde - Sh*t

With a combination of putain and merde coming from the ticket clerk, what seemed to be a nice family day out on the train, turned out to be an insult. This man, obviously not happy to be working on a Saturday afternoon and having to talk to an English man who speaks French, saw fit to swear at me and my kids. Even my eldest son asked why he was using gros mots (swear words). I told my son that he was using swear words because he is miserable, he is French, has the backing of a union which would get him his job back even if he was fired by bringing the whole French transport system to a grinding halt, probably insecure and is behind an inch of protective glass. Would he have done the same without the glass; I think not.

I thought about lowering myself to his level; however, this is not a good example to set for the kids so I just took my ticket and wished him a bonne journee (good afternoon) with a wink. This seemed to wind him up and no doubt he will hate the English even more; for what reason, I don't know. I have always been told, by French people, that they dislike English who make no attempt to speak French and expect them to speak English. This is not the case for me so perhaps I just have a face that people love to hate. I certainly am beginning to get that impression the longer I stay in France!

For those of you who do now know what S.N.C.F means, it is Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français; simply put, French Railways. For me it means: Surely not customer friendly!


  1. Merci Andy and Facebook for exporting a bit of Frenchness to me. Sometimes I really have enough of these people calling me "duck" or "love" and packing my stuff in the supermarket and complaining about the snow with a smile !
    Merci mille fois et bonne journee ;-)
    French Marie

  2. Oh Gosh, this is exactly one of the reasons why I don't think I could move back to France ;-)

  3. I feel so much better now. Thanks, Andy. They are rude to everybody, not just me:)