Giving Cold Callers the Cold Shoulder

Don’t you just hate cold sales calls? You drop what you’re doing – normally on your foot – and rush to answer the phone only to find that it’s someone trying to sell you something that you have absolutely no intention of buying. This drove us mad in England; it’s no different in France.

All these calls have several infuriating features in common:

  1. They always come just as you’ve sat down to eat.
  2. Quite often, there’s no one at the other end since they call a range of numbers at once and speak to those who answer first.
  3. If there is someone, they speak so fast that you don’t catch up until they’re onto their 4th sentence and you completely miss the name of the company.
  4. They don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes you have to resort to putting the phone down to get rid of them.

There are certain times of year when increased numbers of cold calls are guaranteed. La rentrée – September back to work/school time – is the prime one. Then you are inundated with calls to buy double glazing or heating systems and have your house inspected for termites or other pests.

Living in a hard water area, we also get frequent calls from companies trying to sell water softeners. They don’t come straight out and ask if you’ve already got one. They start by saying, “We’re doing a survey in your region. Have you noticed how hard the water is in your area?” Knowing what’s coming, I always stop them there and say, “Yes, we have noticed and for that reason we already have a water softener.”

I do feel sorry for the people who have to do this for a living. I try not to be rude to them unless they are particularly insistent or bothersome. However, they themselves can be pretty rude. On one occasion, I explained politely to a woman that I really didn’t want to buy toiletries over the phone. She said, “You’ve really kept your English accent.” I put the phone down. On another occasion, someone conducting a survey told the SF, after he had admitted that he was a foreigner, that his French wouldn’t be good enough to continue! After all, he’s only lived in France for a total of 18 years.

The main point of all this, though, is that we shouldn’t be receiving this type of call at all. We have put our number on la liste orange with France Telecom. This means that a mark appears next to it in the phone directory, indicating that you don’t want to receive cold calls. It makes no difference. I have tried telling cold callers that we are on la liste orange. Some of them don’t even know what it is while others say we should take it up with France Telecom.

**2020 UPDATE: the Pacitel scheme described below no longer seems to work, if it ever did. But the French government has recently passed legislation to try to restrict the number of such calls. In particular, it’s now illegal for companies offering to insulate your home under the current government assistance scheme to make cold calls. Time will tell if this is effective or not. END OF UPDATE **

Help might be at hand. You can register your French number – fixed line or mobile – on a new website, Pacitel, to avoid getting these calls. Pacitel describes itself as:  

Une liste regroupant les numéros de téléphone fixes et mobiles des consommateurs qui ne souhaitent plus être démarchés téléphoniquement par les entreprises dont ils ne sont pas clients.

In other words, a list of fixed and mobile lines of those people who don’t want to be approached by phone by companies of which they are not customers.

Fortunately, we don’t get much in the way of personal visits. Occasionally, though, Jehovah’s Witnesses find the way out to us. Once, I thought I was being really clever. They always come in pairs and normally carry briefcases. I had already marked these two down as JWs. They advanced and spoke in French. I said, in the most appalling accent I could muster up, “Je ne parle le français.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” said the man. “I speak English.”

Copyright © 2011 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Hi Vanessa,
    yes, I do have fun with cold callers. Making it amusing is how I cope with their intrusions, and it stops me fromm getting bitter about something (annoying) I have limited control of.
    As for publishing my children’s book, my strategy is to attempt publishing the telemarketing book first, and from the lessons I learn through that (especially if I am unsuccessful), attempt to have the children’s book(s) published.
    Thanks for sending ‘Memory’ to me. It rang true to me. It has a real quality about it. i will email you further thoughts. Well done.


    • Hi Jimmy, yes it seems a much better strategy to make fun of something than to get cross about it. Good luck with the telemarketing book. Thanks also for your comments about ‘Memory’ – have emailed you separately.


  2. Hi Vanessa
    I don’t know where to start given the number of coincidences I have with your site.
    I started blogging recently and used the twenty ten theme. I am an aspiring writer (not at your caliber though) with a ‘highly commended’ award from a short story competition, an overenthusiastic children’s book draft that needs shaping into a trilogy, and a completed book on giving the cold shoulder to cold callers, called ‘Pranking Telemarketers 87 Ways,’ which is the purpose of my blog site.

    It sounds like I’m not as polite as you, however I just want to say that I’m okay with unsolicited calls now. I don’t carry any self-reproach afterwards (I did originally), as I’m in control and often have a laugh. I currently have six, what I call pranks, cold-shoulder replies on the blog. I would be flattered if you care to have a look. Hopefully some, possibly #2 “Another telemarketer calling” will be to your liking.

    P.S. is there somewhere I can have a look at one of your short stories?
    Well done on a lovely site.


    • Hi Jimmy and thanks for your comments. I’ve been writing short stories only for 18 months. I haven’t got anywhere near writing a book so you are well ahead of me there. I’ll take a look at your site – I’m interested in your strategies for dealing with unsolicited calls.

      The twenty ten theme is a good one, isn’t it? I have used at least two themes before that one but they weren’t as clean and streamlined as this.

      If you really want to see one of my stories I’ll email you a PDF of the one that won the Writing Magazine comp. The others are mostly published in books that you have to buy.

      Thanks again for commenting. Vanessa


      • Hi Vanessa
        thanks for your reply, the first reply at my site, thankyou. I like Steph J Dagg’s suggestion of reverting to English and saying I don’t understand. I have a prank whereby all my replies are simple ‘no’ statements from multiple languages (I have approx 15 written out in readiness). It’s hard not to laugh when I hear the cold caller confide with a work collegue that “I can’t understand what he’s saying” (I imagine the cold caller biting on a grimace, with a hand around his handsfree handset mike, looking exasperated at a co-worker). I don’t think I’m hurting anyone too seriously.
        I would love to take you up on your offer of reading your story that won the magazine competition. I regard it as an honour to have people let me into their world–whether it be imaginative or non-fiction.

        Cheers Jimmy


        • Hi Jimmy,
          Sounds like you have fun with your cold callers! You must get a lot – more than we do. However, I can see I’m going to be consulting your site regularly for further suggestions for getting rid of them. Are you going to publish your book or is it just for fun?


  3. This used to be a very rare occurrence in Spain but unfortunately………..

    I usually just leave the handset on the desk and hang up 10 mins later.


    • It seems to be prevalent everywhere. Your solution of putting the handset down and hanging up after a certain period is probably the most effective. We’ll see what this Pacitel scheme can do in France, but don’t hold your breath…


  4. I so sympathise. We’re on the liste orange too for our fixed line number, but I’m getting more cold calls on my mobile now. I shall sign up with Pacitel in the hope it helps. Our policy is to avoid answering suspicious calls (mealtime ones, number witheld) but if we do get caught, and they’re persistent, then we revert into English and say ‘sorry, don’t understand you’ and put the phone down. Works for a while.


    • Unsolicited calls are desperately irritating and we can only hope that the Pacitel scheme will stop at least some of them. You just have to put the phone down sometimes to get rid of them.


  5. They really are a pain, these cold callers. I have given up being polite and either put the phone back on the cradle or just down on the table. Then, after five minutes, I pop the phone back on its cradle.
    The other ones that get my nose are the announcements that there is an important message waiting for us. Not for us, there ain’t.
    I too pity the poor bods who have to make these calls because they have to earn a few bob to keep body and soul together. On the other hand, I hate the intrusion into my life.
    Thanks for the Pacitel tip, I shall be following that up.


    • I get the ‘important message waiting for you’ one on my mobile but have not yet had it on the fixed line. As for Pacitel, the proof of the pudding etc. I have no idea if it will make any difference, but it’s worth a try.


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