Monday, November 03, 2008

Travel: 12/7/08 – to Paris

SNCF is the French national train service. It is run, as far as I can see, for the benefit of its employees and as a cover for various fraudulent operations. One of its scams is the international ticket swindle and it works thus:
1. The website only allows you to order tickets for Thalys international trains, in this instance from Amsterdam to Paris.
2. The website gives you no option but to pick the ticket up before travel.
3. The only place to pick up a ticket bought via the SNCF is from the SNCF kiosk.
4. Whilst happily selling you a ticket from Amsterdam, the nearest SNCF kiosk is... in Brussels.
5. The con really kicks in here: Any form of cancellation only gives you a 50% refund.

So having ordered my ticket online via my slow work computer, and having tried to pick it up at Amsterdam station the day before, I found that I couldn't pick it up. I had to cancel it and order a new ticket from a reputable source. Believe me I had help to try and sort this out properly. The mother of a super-helpful French girl at work even went into a station in France on my behalf to argue it. It was a like a scene from "La Petite France," the French "Little Britain."

MOTHER He wants to cancel this ticket.
MOTHER Because he can't pick it up, because he is in Amsterdam and there is no Kiosk there.
VGBD I can give you the ticket.
MOTHER But he needs to have it in Amsterdam tomorrow.
VGBD He can go to the SNCF Kiosk.
MOTHER Do they have one in Amsterdam.
VGBD Oh, no. So what does he want to do?
MOTHER He wants to cancel this ticket.

In other words:
VGBD Ordinateur dit "Non!"

Anyway, despite the wonderful help from the most helpful French mother in the world, all she was able to do in the face of such faceless, circular bureaucracy was cancel the ticket (redeeming half the price) and give me the details to complain. I sent a complaint off, and have heard Sweet SNCFA. Next step is to use cyber-complaint techniques. More on this soon.

Anyway, with our new ticket we obtained entrance to one of the sleek Thalys trains. We were going first class because "first class" on Thalys trains is not much more expensive than "second class." This is because "first class" isn't really that much better than "second class" except they throw food at you and there are (sometimes) electrical sockets.

The staff are possibly the best in the world, except for perhaps Middle-Eastern market traders, at instantly determining someone's nationality and switching to it. They all speak French, Dutch, English and often German.

The train goes from Amsterdam to France via Belgium, which is the country in between in every way possible. To cater for tastes on both sides, breakfast included both hagelslag (chocolate sugar strands beloved by the Dutch on bread) and Laughing Cow (creamy processed cheese associated with the French, but actually seeming somehow more American).

1 comment:

Kira said...

Hi Peter,
Only after reading this post, I realized this was you! My WORD, what an idiot system!

Keep me posted on this one, i think it's rather important to spread the word about buying Thalys tickets!