My family has always lovingly (right, guys?) referred to me as the world’s best spiller. You name it, I spill it. Water? Amateur hour. Hot coffee? In my sleep. Orange juice? On my laptop, in France, after being in the country for only two weeks. Alright, where’s my trophy?
Funny enough (well, not that funny), today marks two weeks since I had to drop off my citrus-scented MacBook Air at the only Apple store within miles of Nantes. I have a good humor about it now, but at the time I was not so easily amused. So, what do you do when your Apple goes rotten in a city where English speakers make up the minority of the population?
- Cry for approximately fifteen minutes at least five feet away from the damaged Apple product (tear damage is not covered under AppleCare+).
- Dry all visible liquid and turn that baby on its side like an open book. Will this really help? Probably not, but every frantic Google search will lead you to this instruction after first telling you that you’re doomed.
- Walk away. If your laptop screen went black in the middle of Frank Ocean’s “Pretty Sweet” (ironic, no?), then just leave it as it is for at least 72 hours without trying to power it back up.
- Schedule an appointment at the Genius Bar and recruit a reluctant friend to take the 30-minute bus ride and 8-minute walk with you to only Apple store in your city.
- Take the bus to said Apple store after finding no Genius Bar appointments online, only to have some Frenchman with an iPad tell you to come back when the store first opens.
- Your laptop revives itself sans sound! Take it to the Apple Store regardless to break up the pool party in your speakers.
- Get told to come back in six hours and you may get helped.
- Return in six hours, alone, on an empty stomach, for your third time in the last three days so you can wait for another hour.
Here comes the part that may require some pre-requisite 200-300 level [Insert language that applies to your scenario].
- Either ask if there is someone who speaks “un peu d’anglais” or admit in the local language that you spilled juice on your laptop the day before classes started and squeeze out a little tear if possible so the woman in the dark blue Apple logo polo feels obligated to give you a spot at the Genius Bar.
- Ask the extremely patient Genius Bar employee if he can speak a little slower so you can fully comprehend just how badly the interior of your laptop is corroded.
- Experience a minor cranial explosion every time your mom on the other end of the phone says “Ask him this” and you have to quickly formulate the French translation of “this.”
- Internally scream when Patrice shows you the cost of repairs after taxes.
- Thank your parents at least four times for not making you front the cost alone.
- Accept the “Maximum three weeks” wait time.
This incident was a challenge to say the least. I was not a new customer to Apple. In fact, I knew the Apple store on Walnut St. very well due to cracked screens, faulty sound, and worn-down batteries. During previous visits to the Apple store, I had felt comfortable presenting my case. That Wednesday night in Nantes, however, alone with very little technological vocabulary in my arsenal, I was almost shaking with nerves. When explaining my incident to the Genius bar employee, I felt as though every other patron was listening to my conversation, watching me struggle with some pronunciations and take long pauses to construct grammatically appropriate sentences. I thought back to times when I had watched an American store-owner or employee getting fed up with a patron who didn’t speak English as a first language.
The employee I worked with was very kind and patient and it helped that I speak intermediate level French, but I couldn’t help but think how this situation would have been different if I didn’t speak the native language. Furthermore, how it would have been different if I weren’t white. I am happy that I was able to navigate my way through this situation, but the hypotheticals about race and cultural assimilation do not escape me. Being a native English-speaker abroad has made me realized how privileged we are as a nation. I could go almost anywhere in the world and, as an English-speaker, someone would be able to accommodate me. I think it is important for everyone who goes abroad to realize that this is not the case for all nationalities or language backgrounds. I feel very lucky to be in a city where, if I struggle for the word in French, someone will propose that we switch to English. However, I would rather wrestle through a sentence or two than remain in my English comfort zone, and I urge others studying in foreign countries to do the same.