We have had our house closed up since we took possession at the end of August, and are abut to head over for the first time, to get it set up for renting. Now is when things get real fast. It turns out that when buying a house in France, buying the house is actually the easy part. When it comes to furnishing the place, I am reminded just how much work is involved in turning a house into a home.
Starting with nothing, in your own country, in your own language is time consuming enough, but inevitably you start with a few bits and bobs, your family will find things they can hand down, and friends will turn up with finds from their attic. Filling in the gaps is straight forward from familiar retail outlets – and pick-up and delivery is easy when you you are on hand.
On the one hand, the opportunity to furnish a house from scratch in France is an exciting and enjoyable opportunity; but that’s weighed against the ‘pressure’ of the need for some things fast. We don’t want or need anything flash, but nor do we want anything too cheap and dirty – we don’t want to have to shell out for basics more than once if we can help it. And we want to buy only just enough up front to tide us over while we spend longer time browsing the local brocantes for pieces with regional character.
It’s not that we haven’t done this before. When we first moved to Wales in 2000, we had nothing but a suitcase of clothes to our name when, on our second day after arriving we signed up for an unfurnished flat. We were very pleased with ourselves, but I don’t think we’d entirely thought through what ‘unfurnished’ actually meant. Okay, so it did have a bed, and the basics of sofas, table and chairs, but no linen, and the kitchen and all the cupboards were empty. Everything from wooden spoon to toilet brush was required and there’s nothing that exciting about that kind of shopping. We went to the local mail order shop, picked up their catalogue, took it to the neighbouring cafe, and pored through the pages, selecting all the basic linen, crockery, utensils etc that are required for day-to-day living. It’s surprising just how many things are needed. But thanks to one catalogue, a few hours of trawling, three strong coffees, one long order queue, several hundred pounds in outlay, and a day to deliver, we were set.
What we are finding setting up this time is that, unsurprisingly, everything takes longer in a different language. Every little simple task is lengthened and more complicated when done remotely. On the plus side, the internet now makes everything easier. No more paper catalogues. No more long queues to order in person at a counter. We can access IKEA Toulouse online frm our living room in New Zealand, select and order what we want from glassware to pillowcases any time of the day or not. Simple.
First up, bed linen. First hurdle: bed sizings, which are not the same in France as New Zealand – nor even the same between IKEA beds and standard French beds. A simple order of duvets and sheets necessitates an email to our neighbour with the key – can she go into the house and confirm the dimensions of the beds? Yes, she can, but this means a 12-24 hour wait for time zone to allow the neighbour to wake, receive and digest the request, kindly pop next door, confirm the details and email us back promptly. A simple point of clarification requires a further day of back and forth.
In checking sizing, we realise one of the bed bases is broken and mattress missing. More items will need to be added to the shopping list. The mattress we want can’t be ordered online. The alternative is more expensive. Could we get a second hand bed from someone in the village? More emails to and fro. More days go past.
Finally, we are ready to order. Delivery can be arranged at a very reasonable fee. Deliveries are generally made within three weeks. All is good. I make my way through the simple payment and delivery form and reach the delivery date screen – first available delivery date 26 December. So simple; so complicated. Next step will have to be an online ‘chat’ with their customer service centre. Helpfully this is open 9h to 18h on Sundays – but means another 12-hour wait until they open. Watch this space.
I’m sure it will all work out one way or the other – even if we have to pack sleeping bags and eat takeaways for the first few days, but as this is only one of a long list of tasks, it looks like we are going to need every minute of the next four weeks to get through the list before flying out.
Any other ideas if the delivery fails? What other French retailers are good for online order and delivery of homewares?