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Dry cleaning is never an enjoyable task. Not only is it expensive but you’re also stuck without clothes you may need for several days if you don’t plan properly. However, sometimes it must be done. I have several items in my closet, many passed down from my mother, that cannot go in the washer and dryer. Generally I am able to wear them more than several times before they need to be cleaned. But eventually it needs to be : a spill, a smell, or they just start to lose their shine and I know it’s time to cough up the big bills.

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I am happy to say that I only had to send in items for dry cleaning once so far this year. A few sweaters I’d been wearing for months, a couple blouses, and a raincoat. I was appalled at the price tag, but the man at the desk was nice enough to give me a slight discount and I knew that what had to be done had to be done after all.

As my mom and I were going through my clothes and packing for my move from France to Rotterdam she pulled out several items “I’ll pay for it, but these need to go to the dry cleaner”, she insisted. Eventually, I gave in. A couple days later we went down to the dry cleaners together and handed over my sweaters, a favorite coat, and a new dress I’d just bought second-hand a couple days before at one of the wonderful Aix markets. The same gentleman was behind the desk and we chatted a little as we went through the clothes and priced it all out. He asked me when I wanted to pick up the clothes and I said as soon as possible. We decided on Saturday. Here the story takes a turn for the worst. From a great restaurant review the other day, I am sad to say this time I do not have such a nice story or flattering of an opinion to share.

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A picture of the window, with some of the letters scraped off.

Saturday came around and, busy as we were enjoying the nice weather, my birthday, and doing more moving preparations we forgot to stop by the dry cleaners. It was closed, as most things in France are, on both Sunday and Monday, so Tuesday morning I dropped by post-gym to check the opening time. The service shipping my bags was supposed to arrive that day and so we had to get the clothes ASAP. Still halfway down the block, I knew something was not right. The sign outside the door (which had been there just the day before) was missing. Approaching, I noticed that most of the words had been scraped off the door and windows, including the name. Face to the glass, I saw that the inside had been almost completely emptied out. I was speechless. Where had they gone? I had walked by just the other day and all had been normal! The owner had said nothing to me when we dropped off my clothes or discussed the pickup time!

Returning to the apartment I told my mom of my discovery. “They open at 9:30,” I said. “Can you go and see if anyone is there? I have to finish the packing and wait for the luggage people.” (Window of 9am-6pm = lots of time to sit around, tidy, and watch TV.)

My mom returned not much later, (prepaid) cleaning tickets in hand, with a phone number scribbled, crossed out, and re-written over one of them. “He said something about remodeling, and to call this number tomorrow,” she told me. “But I think you should go talk to him yourself so you can clarify in French,” (his English was rudimentary and, as those who have met her know, my mother has no French skills – hard as she tries).

I went down to the cleaners and met him as he and several other men were loading things into a truck. I explained that the movers were coming that day, was there any way I could get my clothes, where were they even?? Nodding his understanding, he added another number to the one he had previously written (which he explained was the store’s number). This time he gave me his personal cell number saying that I could text him that afternoon and he would try to get me my clothes. I thanked him and returned to the apartment.

Unfortunately, when I texted him I received no response. The movers came, took my bags, and left. I decided I would just have to text him again the next day (when he had originally wanted to give us the clothes) and I would go to the post office and ship them myself. Another expense, but, unfortunately, a part of life, and especially of moving as I have come to learn after four years of University and two of living abroad.

The inside up close.

The inside up close.

The next morning I sent him another text (all in French of course) reminding him that I left the next day, would it be possible to meet so I could get my clothes. No response. Went by the store, as empty as before, minus the movers and trucks. I was starting to get desperate now. We spent the day working on other last minute details with a little window shopping thrown in to enjoy our last day in Aix-en-Provence. All day I waited anxiously for an answer from the dry cleaner. 3:30 came around and nothing. Checking my phone I noticed that his sent read receipts, so I could see that he had not only received, but actually seen and looked at both of my texts.

Running out of time, options, and patience, we decided to use some of my skype credit to call the bank. The cleaning had been paid for with a visa card, there was a chance we could get the money back for that at least. (My poor coat though! I kept thinking to myself.) The bank said we would have to give it a couple more days to properly refute the charge. Taking up my phone one last time I actually called the cleaner. Of course, there was no answer. When I re-entered the living room a few minutes later my mom smiled slightly. She didn’t need to understand French to know I had scolded him as any proper Frenchwoman would (something I never do, in any language). Unfortunately, yelling at a voice mail did little to get me my clothes if he simply continued to ignore all my attempts to contact him.

Turning to the ever-powerful internet and google I searched the cleaners, knowing it was part of a larger company, to see if there was a mother store in Aix I could go to for information. I found one about 30 minutes north (by foot) of city-center. Looking at their phone number I realized that it was the original number that had been given to my mother to contact which we had assumed was for the now-closed store and would thus do us little good to try calling. Realizing that this was not the case, I called up the store.

The phone was picked up gloriously quick (clearly news of the crazy American wanting her clothes back had not yet spread the the dry-cleaning community) but right away I was confused, I heard a muffled greeting, a pause, and several more, but could barely even tell what language the woman was speaking. I was thrown off, thinking for a minute that she was speaking to me English (how do they know when I’ve barely even opened my mouth?!? I find myself asking so often. It doesn’t help the issue that the nicer weather has brought all the tourists with it). After a moment of mumbled greetings on both our parts I determined that she was, in fact, speaking French. I began to explain how I had taken my clothes to the other cleaner city-center. I had barely even started when she interrupted “Yes, they’re closed!” she exclaimed as if she was imparting some great worldly wisdom upon me. “Yes, I know, so do you know where I can get my clothes?” I asked trying to keep my patience.

Street, building, and sign on building (outside sign was missing by now).

Street, building, and sign on building (outside sign was missing by now).

Let me interrupt myself here to say that, like many other people I know, I do not enjoy talking on the phone. Not in the least. Unless it is with a very close friend and even then I often find it awkward and frustrating. (And if it’s with a friend or family member, I might as well video chat them so as to see their face and expressions at least!). Not enjoying phone calls in my native language makes me even more reticent when it comes to conducting them in French. Voices are muffled, words distorted, and you are without any visible cues that can so often save a conversation in a language where you don’t always understand every word.

Back to the story: next thing I know the woman on the other line is giving me information about a mall I have never heard of and a bus line that will take me there. “Okay…” I say hesitantly, never having heard of this mall. I had simply been expecting (hoping) the clothes would be at the store I believed myself to be on the phone with. The address in google maps, however said nothing about a mall. “I’ll go look it up. Thank you,” I told her, taking note of the name and ending our call. Turning to my computer I typed the name she had given me into googlemaps : centre commecial de bellevue. I got a result in Martinique. Certainly hope that’s not where my clothes are… Next I tried to simply type centre commercial (shopping center) thinking maybe I was misspelling bellevue. Nope, still nothing and here we were, at almost 5pm, last day, no clothes, and at another dead-end.

“Let’s go down to the tourist office,” my mother – a woman who never gives up until every option and more is exhausted – suggested. “They can call back and speak to them in French to better determine what’s going on.” I agreed, although I was becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that this was a hopeless search. The woman at the tourist office said she wasn’t allowed to make such a call. When I asked her about the name of the mall she gave me a blank stare. “Are there any other centre commercials nearby?” I had been to one once earlier in the year and was vaguely thinking maybe it was that one. She mentioned one, but I knew it wasn’t the same. I tried calling the store back myself, but both times the call was dropped (although I am not sure this was entirely by accident I cannot confirm…)

“Let’s just go up there and see,” my mother insisted, still unwilling to give up (what would I do without her I sometimes wonder) Running short on time before closing, and not sure that we wouldn’t be sent to another location altogether when we got there, we decided it was worth it to take a taxi (less than 20euros it ended up round trip). As we approached the address of the phone number, I saw a sign that said Centre Commercial Bellevue. “C’est ça!” I told the driver, and he turned into the driveway. “Là, le ‘Must Pressing’.” I explained as he pulled up. My mom told me to go in while she waited in the cab, just in case we had to go somewhere else yet. I explained this to the (very confused) driver, and hopped out of the car.

Luckily, miraculously, thankfully (I could go on and on) as I walked in I explained the situation to the woman (she was no where near as enthusiastic as I) “là- je pense que c’est ma chemise!” I exclaimed, pointing to the blouse behind her. Torturously slowly she recovered each of my items, but I am just happy to have them back. The next day, before our plane to Italy, my mom and I stopped at the post office to send the extra items off to Rotterdam, along with a bottle of creme de cassis I had introduced my mother to a couple days before. Now we just need to see if they arrive safely (I have the coat with me at least!).

Silly, I know, but it's one of my favorite jackets : safe and returned.

Silly, I know, but it’s one of my favorite jackets : safe and returned.

Luckily, although quite the adventure everything worked out in the end. And as my mother and I always say – and you can clearly see here – I now have quite the story to tell. (Not something that would have happened in the US I think). Do you have any similar stories? Any laundry horror stories, or other lost items while traveling (just wait till my next post for that one!)? Let me know in the comments!

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