Brad Feld

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The Insanity Of Trying To Find A Working SIM Card In Paris

Jul 04, 2011
Category Places

And then our hero’s glasses broke. At this point the meltdown was complete, and our hero crawled into bed for a two hour nap in an effort to let his soul catch up with him.

I’m on day three of trying to get my Google Nexus S to work with 3G without costing me $17 / minute. Since I use Google Voice for my phone number (and I make almost all of my phone calls on my laptop using Google Voice or Skype) I only need data service. Based on all the feedback I got when I was in the US, this seemed easy. “Just get a pre-paid SIM card from any of the telecom providers when you get there, slap it in, and it’ll work fine” or some varient of that was the suggestion.

Day 1: When Amy and I got here, we wandered down Rue de Courcelles to find the Monoprix and buy some food, soap, shampoo, and tea. Along the way we passed an Orange store and an SFR store. Voila, I thought, in one of the only French words that I know, this will be easy. We stopped in the Orange store first. After waiting 15 minutes, the nice person listened to Amy’s request for “SIM with unlimited data” in French and said something like “you can get that on the Orange store on the Champs-Élysées.” The nice man even tore a page out of a brochure that had a picture of an Android tablet on it and scribbled a few things on the page. Being intrepid and still having a little energy, we crossed the street to the SFR store. We waited another 15 minutes. This time, we didn’t get nearly as far – the response was simply “go to the Champs-Élysées store – we don’t have technicians here.” We went to the Monoprix, successfully bought some food, soap, shampoo, and tea, at which point I had a mini-meltdown and we went back to the apartment to take a nap.

Day 2: We dutifully followed directions and went to the Champs-Élysées Orange store. When we asked for “SIM with unlimited data” we were met with an indignant response. Amy then tried to ask “can we get anything with data for this phone” – then showed my Nexus S – and the woman helping us said “no”, shook her head, and kind of made that “move along” gesture with her hands. We walked a block down to the SFR store and put our name on the waiting list. I observed that there were about 20 people before us on the list and after waiting 15 minutes there were still about 20 people in front of us on the list. #fail – we bailed and went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant near the Four Seasons where we had a lot of carbohydrates.

Day 3: I was determined to have success today. I went for a nice run in the Parc Monceau, went out and got a pizza with Amy, and then marched over to the Champs-Élysées. I had gotten an email from a friend saying “punt on Orange and SFR – just go to the Virgin Megastore – they’ll take care of you.” The Virgin Megastore is across the street from the SFR store, has a really nice entrance, a very imposing guard, and a little Virgin Mobile store to the right of the entrance. Amy tried again – she was getting better as asking for a “prepaid SIM card with Internet / 3G data” in French. The woman at the Virgin Mobile store looked directly at me like the ugly American I am and said in English “we don’t sell that here.” Amy tried again, asking is there some version of this that they sell? Again, she looked at me and this time simply said “no”. Stymied, we tried the SFR store. This time “prepaid SIM card with Internet / 3G data” generated a flurry of activity. After about 30 minutes, we successfully procured two SIMs (one for each phone) and a €15 credit for each. We were sent home with the instructions to activate the SIM from the Web being told that it was faster and cheaper. Home we went, in went the new SIM into my Nexus S, and onto the Web I went to visit the site. Of course, the site was incomprehensible to me. I wasn’t able to login, I wasn’t able to change my password, I wasn’t able to activate my SIM, and I wasn’t able to cure cancer.

Then my glasses broke.