In France it is important not to actually answer the phone when it rings because you will then spend half an hour trying to evade a pushy salesman who wants to sell you photovoltaic panels or a computer voice that wants to tell your fortune.
It is much better to have an answering machine deal with them for you, so here are some suggestions:
Firstly consider whether the message on your answering machine should be in French or not. You will find that English, or even better Italian or Spanish, will deter the majority of cold-calls straight away.
For the more persistent I suggest that you then give a series of choices to your callers.
1. “If you are calling to sell me insulation or solar heating please be advised that I am unlikely to hand over large amounts of cash to a company I have never heard of. If you are convinced I will change my mind after a long conversation please post details of your proposal including all costs and benefits, three refences from satisfied customers and your SIRET number and I will be happy to take a look.”
* Note – it is important not to actually give an address, you don’t actually want a postbox full of sales literature!
2. “If you are phoning to tell me ‘I have received an important message, please push # to hear the message’, please consider how important your message really is. I have been informed hundreds of times about these important messages, have never listened to a single one, and my life doesn’t seem any the worse for it so far.”
3. “If you are calling to pretend you want to book our gites when really you want us to sign up for (and pay for) a listing on a holiday rentals site we have never heard you are wasting your time. Even if you call back every day for the next two weeks you are still wasting your time. Thank you.”
4. “If you would like to tell my fortune – well, in that case you will be able to guess my response already. After an extended period your phone call will automatically be forwarded to the France Telecom help line since they presumably gave or sold our number to you in the first place.”
5. “If you are going to start by asking (a) whether I am under 50 (b) whether I am a property owner (c) whether I am a taxpayer or (d) any other question that sounds like it comes from a credit application form please be advised I will lie to you from start to finish.
If you ask me to confirm that I am a property owner aged under 50 I will say that I am 75, and rent the house from an illegal immigrant. You get the idea.”
* Slight risk with this one – the last time I told a cold-caller I was not under 50 it was less than two minutes later that my details had been passed to their department selling something suitable for the over 50′s instead. They seemed surprised when I now claimed I was less than 50…
Of course this series of options will make your answering message rather long and tedious for any genuine callers, friends and family, but they will soon get used to it and quickly learn that they have time for a nice cup of tea while they wait for you to answer, or ring on your mobile instead…