French Phone Numbers
With the help of my son, Expresso, I set up an international bank account when I moved to France. Money is automatically sent—in dollars—from an account in the United States to an account in England. Whenever I need money in France, I arrange to have the dollars transferred and converted into euros. (The current exchange rate, by the way, is not so good: one dollar is discounted to eighty-eight euro cents.)
In addition, the international bank issued me a debit card so I could make purchases in France from my euro account. The only problem is that I have to remember a password consisting of four numbers. To get approval for a charge, I have to punch in the numbers on a pad apparently designed for baby fingers.
I’ve mispunched a few times but refuse to relinquish the task to whoever is with me. I’m getting better. I have no idea why I can vividly remember the house number of my first home forty years past but not a four-digit number I use every few days.
I replaced my American cell number with a French phone numbers. The new ten-digit number somehow seems longer than my old ten-digit number—maybe because French phone numbers are formatted in five batches of two instead of the American pattern of a three-digit area code and a seven-digit number.
I’ve given up memorizing French phone numbers, including my own. Instead, I asked my grandson, the Wizard, to program essential numbers into my landline and cell phones. Once the problem was solved, I forgot about it.
Weeks later, when I was at a laboratory for a blood test, I was asked for my phone number. I don’t think I imagined the look of disdain on the face of Dracula (the technician who was going to draw my blood) when my expression turned blank.
Then I remembered! “Un instant, s’il vous plait,” I said as I fumbled for my cell phone in my purse. However, to open my phone, I had to punch in a four-digit number to get through the first level of security required by the server. Then I had to enter another number for the second level of security to open the cell phone.
Fortunately, I remembered both, opened the Notes app, and found my phone number.
I recited the number to the technician in French, or at least my version of French. Perhaps my pronunciation wasn’t as good as I thought, because she asked me to read what she’d written to make sure the cell number was correct.
Of course, I have another number to gain access to the internet in my office and yet another to open my laptop.
On a more positive note, I can call people in the United States at no charge on my landline or cell phone using WhatsApp. Plus, the internet here in France is incredibly fast compared to what was available in Nevada County. I enjoy typing in a website address and seeing the page appear on the monitor immediately.
My apartment building has a six-digit code to unlock the front door, as does the gated complex where my son and his family live. More numbers to memorize! At least my apartment and mailbox numbers are the same.
Figuring out which floor of a building to go to is a challenge. In France, the ground floor is numbered zero. What would be the third floor in the United States is the second floor here.
This could be my paranoia again, but I think I’ve noticed a certain impatience from other elevator passengers when I stand staring at the buttons, trying to figure out which number to punch.
Forget the Lawyers—Let’s Kill All the Engineers First
I could give more examples of numbers that I must memorize to get through life each day, but you get the idea. I’m tempted to appropriate Shakespeare’s line and suggest we kill all the engineers. They are, after all, the ones who came up with these systems and subjected me to vexation because I can’t keep track of all the numbers.
Then I remember that the scoundrels in Henry VI were the ones who wanted the attorneys killed. The lawyers were the good guys.
Similarly, many of my friends are engineers, and they are good people. Moreover, I would not like to live without all the conveniences they’ve created to make modern life easier, including my computer’s password manager that reliably memorizes all my passwords and the digital calendar that keeps track of my friends and family member’s birthdays.
Still, could we design a world that doesn’t require memorizing an ever-growing list of random numbers? Is that too much to ask or am I the only one who is struggling?