Monday, October 18, 2010

A Lot of Diesel, Time & Money were Wasted in the Making of this Story

What I'm about to tell you is a true story. Nothing has been embellished and I must insist you always keep in mind that everything that unfolds happened in French.

Ma Fille and I went to Geneva this weekend to visit friends. There have been strikes all over France and the news has been telling us that with 11 out of 12 refineries closed we may experience a shortage of petrol. Knowing this I decided it would be prudent to fill up on gas before beginning the journey even though the tank was 3/4 full. I was driving Mon Mari's car because it's new and left-hand drive and doesn't feel like the engine is powered by chipmunks running furiously, spinning and wheezing at top speed. But that's a story for another day. On to the shameful truth...

I stopped at the first station on the motorway and waited in a line four cars deep for the pump. Looked like everyone had the same idea so that made me feel better, efficient, responsible. When it was my turn I got out and filled the tank. Naturally. But as I was doing it the voice in my head was worried, buzzing, 'I don't think this is right....I don't think this car is sans plomb....I think this is all horribly wrong!'
Maybe that was because there's a little sticker above the gas tank that says 'gazol ou diesel' or maybe because there's a red ring around the nozzle that says 'diesel' or maybe even because the nozzle for diesel is yellow to match the little sticker and the nozzle for unleaded is blue. Hmmmm.

I have to tell you that I knew I had made a horrible mistake even as I was doing it. For some reason I could not stop myself! I was in a trance; all that talk of gas shortages, the long lines behind me, the people going about their efficient tank filling business all around me made me stubbornly carry on. There's no explanation for this bizarre act of stupidity. I knew it, knew it, knew it and felt sick but strangely hopeful that I could somehow get away with it. I was wrong to be hopeful.

Now to the part where you must remember the French thing.
I got to the window to pay. In a state of what can only be explained as denial. I handed over my gas card, 'bonjour, pompe huit'. Cool as a cucumber, as if nothing was wrong, firmly in fantasy land.

Cue cymbals, anvil falling, curtain being pulled back to reveal the horrible truth. French, French, French, don't forget.
Attendant: 'Your card says unleaded is forbidden'.
Me: 'Oh, how bizarre.'
Attendant: 'You can only buy diesel on this card. Did you put unleaded in your car? You cannot drive your car. I will call the man to push your car. You must not start your car. Do you understand?'
Me: 'Oh.'
Attendant: 'Do you understand?'
Me: 'I really messed up.' (insert English curse word of your choice)
Attendant, smiling: 'Yes. You did. Do not start your car. Do you understand?'
I laughed nervously. All the people around me laughed nervously. My ridiculous mistake was explained to all who would listen. Heads shook, eyes averted, more nervous laughter.

I walked the long walk back to the car and my waiting daughter. I had to explain this now. 'Mommy made a really bad mistake. I put the wrong gas in the car and now we have to wait for the man to come and push us, empty the gas and put more in before we can go.' I really thought it would be this simple. More reason for you to doubt my sanity and intelligence. The wall-eyed man from the station came out, irritated to have to deal with this, and pushed the car out of the way of the gas line that was at least six cars deep because of me. And so we waited. I sincerely thought that someone was going to come out of the station with some kind of gas removing device...I don't know, maybe a hose which said person would suck on to start the flow and the tank would quickly be emptied into something, he would push me over to another pump and I would fill up, with diesel this time, and be on my merry way. La la land.

Riding in the scary tow truck
So we waited. My lovely daughter telling  me not to worry, it was all going to be ok. And then. The tow truck arrived, lights flashing, reverse beep sounding, to take us away. As we climbed up into the back seat of the gigantic tow truck I finally realized, this was really not ok. First, it was going to cost some money. Second, we were going to be seriously delayed going to Geneva. Third, as we bumped along in the back seat, winding our way through no man's land with Monsieur Depannage in charge I finally started to freak out a bit. Things from roadside horror movies entered my head. The  headlines would read, 'American mother and daughter missing in the South of France after mother idiotically filled diesel tank with unleaded.' I asked Monsieur how long he thought it would take. One hour at least.
notice the burned cars behind
We finally arrived at the garage which we entered through a remote controlled gate. Msr Depannage the owner of said remote control. Burnt out cars were everywhere. Ma Fille squeezed my hand. I called Mon Mari for the 4th time just so everyone knew I had a phone and wasn't afraid to use it.
Flippin' yellow sticker!
Everyone in the garage had to come out and  have a look. What does a stupid American really look like? A man who I presumed was the boss because of his starched, tight jeans and cock of the walk air came out, looked us over. In an act of colossal understatement he pointed to the yellow diesel sticker above the gas tank and asked me, 'Did you not see this sticker?'
In French. All in French, people.

Monsieurs Depannage hard at work
They took out the back seat to get to the tank from the inside. Then they used a car battery with a hose and gas nozzle attached to suck out all the diesel/gas mix. 'Three quarters diesel, one quarter petrol.', chuckled Msr Depannage Deux. 'Oui, she was worried about the strike. It's her husband's car. Ha, ha, ha.', replied Msr Depannage Un.
So freakin' funny, huh Frenchies?! I can understand you! I know what you're saying!!!! Who's laughing now, huh??!!

An hour later, tank emptied, refilled to a quarter of a tank because they wanted to charge me 1 euro 50 for a liter of diesel....hang on there I'm not THAT stupid...a couple of squirts of air freshener (really) back seat replaced and we were on our way. Two hundred euros for the privilege. My sweet daughter said to me, 'Mommy don't feel bad. I'm sure there are at least one hundred people across the world who are doing this same thing right now.'

This really happened. I couldn't decide whether or not to tell you because of the shame of it. I decided laughing was more fun than feeling bad.
C'est la vie.


  1. lol Dont feel bad, it's Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Honda, etc's fault. I've never heard of a car that takes diesel, I thought only trucks took it.

  2. sweet Aidan. not only have I done this once (i personally find the labels at Total to be very confusing - Excellium this and Excellium that but no clear markings of Diesel and Essence), but since that fateful day i've come across a substantial number of other people, FRENCH people, who have done same...for me this morning's joke was driving out of town to get gas at Leclerc, but the only pumps working were the ones that take credit cards, and the only account i currently have money on is my american account, which the freaky french gas pump refuses to acknowledge. so i ended up having to pay cash to a guy so that he would fill my tank with his card...i admit this is far from the tow truck experience :-) courage ma fille. demain est un autre jour...

  3. Aidan, if it helps, I did this...with a car I borrowed from a friend. And he drove it for a day afterwards....and it totally bottomed out. Didn't you see the sticker? No. And not only that, I found out later, that I had done this before. So honey...bon courage! Your shame will pass...although the "incident" still gets brought up from time to time by people I barely know!

    We blonde, American, partially french speaking freaks do have some fine qualities...and eventually we WILL be able to actually communicate those qualities to our adopted countrymen!

  4. Oh Aidan! I was cringing while I read this! How very horrible for you! (but at least you're not alone... Delana did it too!). But on the bright side it gave you a great story to tell (much like my maggot mushroom story) and you've found out that your little girl is really good in a crisis x

  5. Jessica, they make all the regular cars with diesel engines here, unlike at home where you're right, it's mostly trucks. thanks for another excuse!

    Tracey, What a nightmare having to pay a stranger for your gas. This shortage really is serious now though because I went today and they're totally out of unleaded. Guess it's good to have diesel.

    Delana, Oh no! I can't believe you did it too. Isn't it awful? Thank goodness I was stopped before I could drive to Switzerland and have the engine crash out on me along the way. That would not have been a good story!

    Sara Louise, Your mushroom story is horrible. I can't stop thinking about it and I have a industrial size packet of store bought mushrooms to contend with this week. And you're right, the girlie is good in a crisis. Much better than her mother.

    Thanks to all of you. I love having blog friends!
    A x

  6. erm, I don't really have permission to say so . . . but the hubs did this in America, in English. And of course wanted to die a thousand deaths of embarrassment. Even with the tank drained, it must not have been a complete drain because our well-loved Toyota Camry spewed thick white smoke out the tail pipe all around town, especially uphill. Poor thing lived in shame for a good couple of tanks. Hey, everybody's car gets driven into flood water and totaled, right? Ah, but that's another story, for which I do not have permission. Shhhh . . .

  7. I was so afraid of doing this when I rented a car in Italy! Right before I had to return it at the airport, I stopped at a gas station where there was an attendant and was trying to tell him I wasn't sure what kind of gas it took so he would be sure to check...but he obviously had dealt with nervous foreigners a lot and was just like, "si, si."

  8. Oh Aiden, this is so funny and I'm so sorry this happened. I can completely imagine how this was, I am always in that state of 'Crap, am I doing this wrong' when I am out and about. Like not realising you have to weigh your veggies before you get to the Casino checkout. And then getting all those those smirky 'stupid foreigner' looks from those around you! If anything, our trip has given me infinite patience for 'fish out of water' folk, and I will be nothing but helpful and understanding of visitors to Australia!
    P.S Your daughter rocks! And she learned that by watching you.

  9. Now, I'm gonna need that man's address and phone number. Good? Great. i'll also need $350 for ammunition and any bail that might need to be paid. Why? No reason -_-

  10. *If that comment made you suspisious, than I justify my actions by saying that I have saved others from the same foreigner humiliation and La secousse stupide est terrible désolé maintenant!


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