Friday, August 31, 2007

The joys of hiring a car on holiday

Arriving at Pisa airport for 'our holiday in Southern Europe', I was in for a pleasant surprise when I went to pick up the hire car.

"We've got your convertible ready for you sir," says the beautiful young Italian woman sitting behind the desk.

A road slowly winds its way up a Tuscan hill"A convertible?" I query.

"Yes, you've booked a convertible, don't you want a convertible?"

"Sorry, of course, I'd just forgotten."

The truth was that I hadn't realised that my travel agent had booked a convertible for us! I've been using the same travel agent for well over ten years. He knows that I'm not that price sensitive these days and that I just want enjoyable holidays, so I'm quite happy for him to do that kind of thing.

Ten minutes later, I'm sitting in a hard-top convertible watching in awe as the roof folds itself into the boot with the press of a single switch. A clever mechanism as long as it works, I think to myself, although there's probably quite a lot that can go wrong with a mechanism like that.

Two days later, I'm sitting in the car with boyfriend number 1, pressing the switch to make the roof go down in vain. It's done 80% of the work, but the boot just won't close :-(. Bugger! Thinking back to the airport, I take no pleasure in being right about the roof mechanism. No doubt hire cars like this take quite a beating, so although it's no surprise that this has happened, perhaps the car hire company should service their cars a bit better. With a heavy heart, I reverse the switch, and luckily the mechanism still works to fold the roof back into position above our heads.

But things get worse! Driving down the road, I suddenly notice a light on the dashboard that won't go out. Although I don't much like cars, because I much prefer to be driven rather than having to drive myself around, I know that lights that stay on when they shouldn't are bad news. Reluctantly, I phone up the local office that manages the house that we're staying in and ask for advice. Ten minutes later I'm pulling into a garage in the centre of the nearest town.

"Errr, do you speak English?" I ask hopefully at the garage reception.

The middle-aged guy behind the desk looks up from the newspaper he's reading in a rather disinterested way.

"Non." He resumes reading his paper.

Looking around the room, I spot a couple of pictures on the wall of young women wearing very few clothes indeed!

"Parlez-vous Français?" I try. My experience is that this usually doesn't work in Italy, but at least it shows some willing on my part, and proves that I'm not the type who simply expects everyone in the world to speak English.

At this he gets up slowly, and nods almost imperceptibly.


He disappears into the garage workshop, and a few minutes later he returns with a young dark coloured guy who smiles at me.

"Je parle Français, peux je t'aider?"

It turns out that the guy is originally from Morocco, which is why he speaks a bit of French. Ten minutes later, the nightmare begins. He reckons that we shouldn't drive the car until they've fixed it :-(. But what on earth can we do? It's obviously not going to be possible to do what we were going to do today, but without a car we can't get back to the house we're staying in, or even visit the supermarket to buy our supper.

The Moroccan guy explains that the garage is about to close for lunch, so we should return at 15:00 when it re-opens. Reluctantly we accept the situation.

"Mais est qu'il y a un bon restaurant pres d'ici?" I ask hopefully.

"Moins cher, ou plus cher?"

"Plus cher!" I say confidently. If we're going to be stranded in this town for a while, perhaps it'll be possible to get a decent lunch.

"Plus cher?" the guy says in disbelief. Presumably the people he usually deals with like to spend as little money as possible.

He discusses in Italian with a guy who looks like his boss, and as luck would have it one of the office staff is able to give us a lift to the restaurant they think would be best.

It turns out to be a good choice. There's a great wine list too, and since I'm clearly not going to be driving anywhere, it seems safe to tuck into a few glasses of one of their better bottles.

Back at the garage after lunch, the Moroccan guy seems eager to help. We're going to be without the car until the following morning, but when I ask for a taxi to ferry us back and forth between the garage, a supermarket, and our house, the guy himself offers to drive us. My choice of a 'plus cher' restaurant has probably helped. No doubt the guy is hoping for a big tip for helping us out of this situation, but that seems fair enough so I don't have a problem with it.

In the fifteen minute journey back to the house we're hired, we chat about various things.

"Moi, j'aime les femmes :-))," he says with a big grin on his face as he honks his horn at the pretty young woman who's just walked across the street in front of him.

What on earth can I say to that? I decide NOT to reply that "Moi j'aime les hommes", because I need his help and I can't be sure what his reaction will be. Instead I ask him whether he's married. It turns out that he is, although he doesn't have any kids yet.

As we're driving around, we chat in French about lots of things. We seem to be getting on quite well but as we get near to the house that we've hired, the conversation becomes a bit dangerous again.

"As-tu une fille?" he asks suddenly. I presume he means girlfriend. Perhaps this is my own fault, if we hadn't been chatting so easily he probably wouldn't feel he could ask this. No doubt he's hoping for a bawdy conversation about what guys like to do with gals!

"Non!" I say decisively, hoping for the subject to change.

"As-tu une épouse?"


Now he doesn't know what to say and looks slightly confused. He glances in the mirror, and no doubt spots boyfriend number 1 sitting quietly on the back seat. Luckily though, we're now at the driveway for our the house.

"C'est ici!" I say relieved.

Before getting out of the car, I give him a generous tip, probably too big judging from his reaction. Never mind, I want this guy to come back tomorrow to pick me up when the car is fixed, so I need to make it worthwhile for him.

Around 10:30am the next day, as promised, the Moroccan guy returns driving our convertible. But on the way back to the garage to settle the bill, the guy seems eager to befriend me. Can I give him my contact details in London because he may come over at the end of the year? Or perhaps he can come over for a coffee one evening later this week at the house we're staying in? Maintaining the connection seems like a bad idea, so feeling a bit uncomfortable, I make some lame excuses.

Back at the garage, I settle the bill by credit card, and then the Moroccan guy walks me back to the car. He explains how he's worked on my car all night, but that I've only been charged for a fraction of his time on the bill because his boss left the garage before him, so the boss doesn't know how long he worked. Although I know that he's just trying to get a bigger tip, I'm happy to oblige. I've had a couple of car breakdowns while on holiday before, and they're normally very painful experiences. But with this guy to help, this time it really wasn't that bad!


W said...

Glad to hear that you got a friendly mechanic in an alien land.

Some of the car problems my fam's had on trips have turned us into baits for extortionists!

Trevor said...

Ah, isn't it always the way, the things that go wrong on holidays become the best stories from your trip... And it does seem (from the way you wrote the story) that he might be intersted in swinging both ways... but who knows.

Enjoy the rest of your stay.
(What car is it by the way?)

Anonymous said...

Pardon my ignorance. But shouldn't it be the rental car company's responsibility to fix the car? or even replace it witn another one?

GB said...

Actually I don't tend to think of Europe as 'Alien' W. I guess I used to, when I was as young as my avatar looks, but not any more!

I normally describe cars by size and colour Trevor, so I can say with confidence that it's a small metallic blue type of car :-). However on this occasion I also know that it's some kind of two door Nissan, if that's of any interest. I also think that the Moroccan guy was far more interested in money than gay sex, because as far as I could tell from the chats we had, he really was a very red-blooded hetero.

You're right of course 'anonymous', whoever you are, but if I'd got the car hire company involved it would probably have been more tiresome because their nearest office was km30 away. At one point the Moroccan guy was going to drive me over to their office to get another car, which probably wouldn't have been a convertible, and then would I have had any responsibility to get the broken car back to them once fixed? Anyway, the way I was able to do it, it only really cost me a couple of hours out of the holiday.

GB xxx

Humming Bird in Hyde said...

Wishing u a realy nice enjoyable holiday GB :-)

close encounters said...

sounds like a serious pain in the neck.

if it's not too rude to ask ... when you say that you were generous with the Moroccan ... what sort of level of euros were you splashing around ??

Guy In London said...

GB, me thinks the kind of "tip" he was after was not cash .... per chance ... ;-)