20 Million Wrong Numbers

cafe de la gare
Since drinks are not sold on local trains,
they are available right outside the stations.

Before You Can Say it - It's Cannes Time Again

Paris:- Saturday, 25. April 1998:- The French organizers of this summer's World Cup football championship in France, the CFO, has found itself with 110,000 unsold tickets. Last Wednesday, it offered these for sale by telephone.

France Telecom booked 20 million calls trying to get in to the CFO's sales numbers. By the end of the day, they had unloaded exactly 15,000 tickets. According to evening TV reports, each sale required 10 minutes to handle, and the sizeable staff of 90 operators and all the extra lines were totally overwhelmed.

There are three numbers that can be called. One for calls coming from within France, one for France's overseas territories, and one for ticket seekers in European Union countries.

Calls from Britain alone totalled 250,000 within the first five minutes of the lines being opened., and added up to four million for the day. A telecoms expertelephant arch at bagatelle estimated the chance of making a successful connection at one in two million.

German and Italian fans went nuts when all they got was a recorded message. Denmark tripled its lines to France for the occasion, but only six percent of the calls from there got a connection. The Dutch were so frantic, they blew out the fuses on their own telephone system, paralyzing access to local emergency services.

One of the odd constructions at the Parc Bagatelle.

A hairdresser near Dunkirk spent all day Wednesday on the phone and estimated he dialed the magic number 500 times, over a period of 12 hours. Unsuccessful on Wednesday, he started over at 8:00 on Thursday. On the first call he got the familiar recorded message but on the second he got a live voice.

Hardly believing it, he ordered 16 places in the Bollaert Stadium, because, he said, "Je suis un fidèle supporter de Lens," according to Le Parisien. For Thursday, the CFO managed to move 20,000 tickets to eager buyers.

France Telecom is doing okay on the deal because calls that do go through are being metered at 1.09 francs per minute. Getting the auto-answer costs nothing, but getting put on hold starts the metre running.

Le Parisien's Friday report seems to have ended up like a lot of the calls - nowhere. With a front-page box with the telephone number that is bugging the world, it says turn to page 20. There is a page 16 and 21, and pages I to XII in between, but there is no page 20. There is no report in today's paper either.

Assuming they take the day off tomorrow, I estimate there should be 30 to 35,000 tickets left for sale on Monday. I am not going to phone them to ask though.

Meanwhile from Brussels, 30 Eurodeputies petitioned a court in Paris, to force the release for public sale of 712,484 World Cup tickets reserved by the CFO for VIPs and other assorted bigwigs. Regulartulips at bagatelle fans all over Europe wanted to know why telephone numbers for specific matches had not been set up.

A tiny fraction of the tulips at Bagatelle on Wednesday.

A few friends of friends of Metropole asked me to see what I could find out about getting tickets. Although the official-looking shop on the Champs-Elysées has World Cup plastered all over its front, it sells only souvenirs. I was there twice before this week's fire-sale and each time was told there were no tickets available.

There were also reports that tickets were only being offered in concert with official ID's, and that both the ID and the ticket were necessary to gain admittance to a stadium - supposedly to outfox the scalpers.

Yet, TV-news broadcast one report made with hidden cameras, that appeared to show ticket sales going on in back rooms someplace. On account of local interference, I could not hear the audio portion of the exposé.

Even If You Get a Ticket, Be Prepared for Camping

The World Cup and hotel scams have not been news until now, but there is getting to be some talk floating around about price gouging. There is a semi-official reservation service called 'Mondiresa' which is supposed to have 650 or 750 hotels under contract.

These are not supposed to hike their rates more than 25 percent over normal. The consumer magazine 'Que Choisir' says in a survey that hotels in the cities where games will be played have upped their room rates from 30 to 58 percentwedding champs elysees above normal, with the average increase for all being 41 percent.

One hotel operator in Montpellier was on TV-news the other night and he was pretty angry with Mondiresa. He said they had contracted for half his rooms, and he hasn't had one reservation come in from them.

Just stepped out of the reception for a minute, for the photo of a lifetime. Good luck!

The result is, he has a half-booked hotel for the period of the matches to be played in Montpellier and another half that looks like it's going to remain empty. And this is a town where other hotel operators have raised their prices by 58 percent.

Charlie, Will You Open the Envelope Please?

Oh, what a whirl we live in France! I am not going to get around to putting in all the guff for the Tour de France in this issue - it's coming right after the World Cup, so stay tuned - and along comes the 51st Cannes Film Festival.

Oh glamour, oh excitement! The brave steamship 'France' now rebuilt and sailing the seas as the 'Norway' will return for the festival as the 'France' for 48 hours, to serve as a floating gala auditorium - in particular for the 'really big show' that winds up the festival. Actually, this 'gala' will be ashore, and there will be a dinner after it on the ship.

The following are the official French entries for the film competition:

'Ceux Qui M'Aiment Prendront le Train,' directed by Patrice Chéreau, with Charles Berling, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Dominique Blanc and Pascal Gregory.

'L'Ecole de la Chair,' directed by Benoît Jacquot, from a book by Mishima; with Isabellecamping - metro bus Huppert, Vincent Martinez and Vincent Lindon.

'La Vie Révée des Anges,' directed by Erick Zonca, with Elodie Bouchez, Natacha Réginer and Grégoire Colin.

'La Classe de Neige,' directed by Claude Miller, with Clément Van Den Bergh, Lokman Nancakan, François Roy and Yves Verhoeven.

Paris' Camping's jolly yellow bus.

The 'hors competition' films sound like an interesting grab-bag of old and new, with 'Primary Colors' by Mike Nichols and 'Blues Brothers 2000' by John Landis. Is he allowed to do this to the 'Blues Brothers?'

The Week's Other Interesting News:



Since I'm not sure the World Cup business above counts as 'SportsNews' I will add this little note about a recent sporting event.

Playing in Stockholm last Wednesday evening, the French national team managed to generate the headline 'Un Match Vraiment Nul' from La Parisien on Thursday. Just two months before France has to pull its rabbits out of a hat in front of the world, 'les Bleus' managed to come home with a grand score of zero-zero - and this time it did not seem to count as a 'win.'

The SportsBar is Still Open. No Kidding!

While real SportsFans lead otherwise normal lives, those at the SportsBar, known as the Football Café explain their dreams about the rapidly approaching World Cup championship matches to analysts they do not know well. The rest of us are truly lucky that real SportsFans not only have a 'Football Café' in which to twirl away their thoughts, while spouting their soccer-psycho-babble while lying down and drinking World Cup SportsBeer. Three cheers and a huzza! for the 'Football Café!'

Less uplifting are the 'official' Web sites: represented by the FIFA - which stands for Federation International - and the French Organizing Committee, known to all far and wide as the CFO. I don't what the initials stand for, just like RATP does not sound like métro to me.

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