The Downside of Technology: Paris Week 1

When I was 19, way back in 1979, I went on the obligatory “see Europe on $10 a day” trip with a Eurorail pass and a well used copy of Frommer’s Europe on $5 per day. ATMs had not been invented and 19 year olds were not given credit cards, so I had cash and traveller’s checks. Cell phones only existed on Star Trek, so my single call home in 2 months was from a Post Office booth in Rome, where I waited in line to make an appointment with an attendant, then waited (for hours I recall) until I was called and told my call had been placed. I was directed to one of a dozen wooden booths which lined the office. Once there, I picked up the phone with my mother and we talked for a few minutes, all the while my eye on the clock since the phone call was outrageously expensive.

Nor were advance reservations possible. On arrival in Rome at midnight, the hostel was full but we were welcome to unroll our backpacks and sleep on the grass. Also in Rome, I showed up at the train station but no seat was available on the last foreseeable train to Paris (a train strike loomed in Italy), so I plucked myself in an aisle for a while before moving to the luggage car, stretched out with other backpackers and tried to sleep.

Fast forward to today and all the technology that is supposed to make travelling easier. HAHAHA!!!

I have come to the conclusion that all this technology is a giant joke perpetuated on the unsuspecting public by a group of technologically savvy nerds trying to justify their salaries by creating idiotic means of doing just about everything these days, then adding layer upon layer of complexity masquerading as security solely designed to screw me.

To wit: A day after arriving in Paris, I received a message from Hotmail, my email provider for at least the last 18 years saying it had detected strange activity on my account (I had signed in from Paris) and needed to be authenticated. Simply enter the verification code sent to the phone number associated with my email and all would be fine. Except I had changed phone numbers when I left Canada so the number was no longer valid. I managed to find the security settings on Hotmail and changed the number to the Latvian number I had been using. A text message with a verification code arrived, I entered it into Hotmail, and Hotmail responded that I had successfully changed my security code and it would take 30 days before implementation. In the meantime, I could access Hotmail using the link provided.

Except I could not. I spent hours trying and all I got were circular messages routing me back to the “enter your new number” message and wait 30 days. I tried Hotmail’s help icon, but received only a snarky message saying it was not a chat and it would need a screenshot of the message before it could assist. I tried to use my Outlook email to respond but it too is connected to Hotmail and was equally inaccessible and impossible to send a screenshot even if I had been able to take one.

In a panic, I called my computer savvy son at 6AM. His none-too-happy groggy advice was to set up a Gmail account so at least I could receive emails and he would see what he could do. I did so, all the while thinking what a bother this was. All my accounts were set up with my Hotmail email address- the bank, expedia, my contacts, Phoenix and pensions….it would take me forever to contact each and give them a new email address.

Fortunately, and no thanks to Hotmail/Outlook, after 24 hours I tried to connect using my Mac Air computer, as opposed to the IPhone or the IPad and instead of sending me on a never ending roundabout, it sent me to a very long list of security questions:

  • Did you ever use Skype? Yes, in 2007.
  • What number did you call? Thank you father for having the same number forever.
  • Did you ever buy any Microsoft products? How the f$*$%&# should I know.
  • When and where did you open your Hotmail account? In Winnipeg maybe in 1998.

Something clicked since the next message told me I had answered enough correctly to pass security and access my account. After 24 hours without Hotmail and a lot of sweat, frustration and working out alternatives, I was finally allowed into my own account.

Technological disaster number 2 occurred a few days later when I was booking a flight to Australia. I have decided I cannot bear staying in Paris over the winter when the sky is dark, the rain is never ending and it is cold. The departure and returning airlines confirmed my tickets on-line but the next day I received emails from both airlines advising that my credit card was subject to verification and, failing that within 48 hours, my reservations would be cancelled. To verify, I simply needed to send a pdf of my passport, my credit card statement and an indemnity for the amount of the ticket in case the charge was fraudulent. This was ridiculous. Even assuming I had the capability to do all of the above, I don’t want to share my credit card information with overly nosey airlines. The other option was to go to the airline office with my credit card and passport and prove it was really me charging my card. Since the office was not too far away, I walked over and a very helpful employee both verified me and the charge and explained that, in all likelihood, the charge was flagged by the airline since the card was issued in Toronto but the charge came from Paris.

Problem number 3 occurred as I tried to book a train trip, in France, on the French national railway line SNCF. I duly registered my account, filled in all the necessary information, gave it my credit card and was promptly declined. Their FAQ advised that only credit cards equipped with a 3DS/Safekey system would work and suggested I try again with a card with that system. I don’t know what it is, I have never heard of it but I highly suspect none of my cards have it. I foresee a future trip to the train station to buy the tickets.

All of which has me longing for the good old days of traveller’s checks, live reservation agents and snail mail.