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On Being Boring

I moved from London to Brussels with my husband nearly 10 years ago. When I told people we were moving, the news was greeted with bemusement: why did we want to move to a city that was possibly the most boring place on earth? Ten years later and I can honestly say that I've had more fun here than I ever did living in London. It might not be the most exciting city in the world but it is a fantastic place to live. It is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, great museums and galleries, beautiful architecture, a forest (yes, a whole forest), and so much more... And if that doesn't convince you, well, get on a train and you could be in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or, yes, London in no more than a couple of hours... Which other city can you say that about?

Sigma: nil / Amazon: one

I really wish I didn’t have to tell this story. But after being left shaking and in tears today, I’ve decided I’m going to anyway.

Do you remember this post here from the end of February? It marked the beginning of a what I thought was going to be a long and beautiful love affair. I had saved up my coins (quite a few coins), taken the plunge, and invested in Sigma’s Art series 35mm 1.4 lens.  It was perfect. Just perfect. I raved about it on my blog. I raved about it on Facebook. I told friends they should buy the lens too (and at least one of them did). It is a really truly beautiful lens. Or at least it was until it stopped working.

Before I go any further, I just want to say this – lest there be any suspicion to the contrary: I take extremely good care of my lenses. I have never ever had one break on me before. Not even slightly. Not even the really cheap Canon one I bought 8 years ago. They all still work exactly as they’re meant to. So having a treasured, very expensive and very new lens just stop working for no apparent reason was, believe it or not, a very upsetting experience. I went out one sunny morning for a photo shoot and it died it my hands. It stopped focusing properly. It would focus for a couple of shots. Then would stop again. After a few minutes, it stopped auto-focusing altogether. I was heartbroken. I actually cried. Quite a lot.

My husband reassured me. My friends reassured me. It was still under warrantee. I would be able to get it fixed. On the following Monday, before calling Sigma to find out what I had to do next to get a repair (the Benelux site is less than forthcoming with this kind of information), I decided to put the lens back on my camera for one last try (I had taken it off to check another lens and make sure the problem wasn’t with my camera).  Miracle: it worked again! I was very relieved but, I have to admit, I didn’t immediately relax. When something stops working for no apparent reason and then starts again, just as randomly, you’re left wondering what’s going to happen next. When will it stop working again without warning? And sure enough…

Last weekend, we were in London, visiting Hanno’s brother who is very ill. We had all gone to Greenwich together for a treat. I took out my camera, determined to get a picture of Hanno and his brother together on the banks of the Thames. Click. Click. All good. Click… Nothing. It had stopped working. Again. All gone.

As soon as we got home, we looked on Amazon( to see what to do next. Their information was very clear. If the fault occurred more than 30 days after receipt, we should contact the manufacturer directly. Sigh. Ok. I found the Sigma Benelux site. It is very sparse on information about what to do if your lens stops working while it is still under warranty. So I decided to call them on their “customer services” number and ask. I called the French number and the phone was picked up straight away by a middle-aged sounding man. Good start. It went downhill from there. Very very quickly.

I explained that I had bought one of their lenses a few months ago and that it had stopped working. He seemed genuinely perplexed as to what that had to do with him.

Me: Well, I was wondering what I should do to get it repaired.

Him: Just take it back to the shop you bought it from.

Me: Ah, yes… I bought it online, from Amazon.

Him: Well send it back to Amazon then.

[I explained the 30 day bit. After which, the conversation went something a little bit like this – I don’t remember exactly what was said. It was all too quick and too horrible. And in French. But this should give you the general tone:]

Him: And what do you want me to do about that? I don’t have to help you.

Me: But under the law, sir…

Him: If you’re going to be rude to me, I’ll just hang up. Don’t be rude to me. I don’t have to talk to you.

Me: I’m sorry sir. I’m very sorry, but as the manufacturer, I thought you had an obligation to replace faulty products when they’re still under warranty. Am I wrong?

Him: Look, you knew what you were doing when you bought the lens off Amazon and now you have to deal with the consequences. You didn’t buy the lens from me. I didn’t get anything when you bought the lens. So why should I help you?

Me: But it’s a Sigma lens, isn’t it?

Him: Sigma don’t sell to Amazon.

Me: I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.

Him: Sigma don’t sell to Amazon. You didn’t buy the lens from Sigma [apparently the Sigma lenses on Amazon aren’t from Sigma! Good to know]. You knew what you were doing. You did know you were buying it online didn’t you? So now don’t come complaining to me. You didn’t buy it from me.

Me: Well, it is a Sigma lens sir so, unless Amazon are selling stolen goods, surely, it did come from Sigma originally. I did buy it – directly or indirectly – from Sigma.

Him: Look, you’re not paying for this line [it wasn’t a free phone number so I’m pretty sure I was]. You don’t pay for my computer. [some incoherent rant] But now you expect me to help you. Why should I help you? You can send me your lens and I’ll repair it but you’ll have to pay me.

Me: Err…

Him: If you take your lens into a shop, I have to send someone to pick it up. That costs me. Then I have to repair it. That costs me. Then I have to send it back. That costs me. [I bought the lens. THAT. COST. ME] Why should I do that for you when you didn’t buy the lens from me?

[After this last rant – which I’ve shortened by the way – I was genuinely confused. For a horrible moment, I thought maybe I had made a mistake and called a privately owned shop that sold Sigma products instead of Sigma themselves. So I asked…] I’m really sorry. Have I made a mistake? I thought I was calling Sigma, the company. Am I actually talking to a Sigma reseller instead?

Him: No, this is Sigma. But I’m Sigma Benelux. When you buy off Amazon, I get nothing. So now you can deal with Amazon. You must have known you were buying online so now that’s your problem not mine.

Me: OK, look, I’ll just try Amazon again. Thank you [I honestly didn’t know what to say anymore].

Now, what you’re not getting from all of this is just how unpleasant this man was being. This wasn’t just said. It was barked. His tone was accusatory and condescending. It was thoroughly unpleasant. By the end of the call I was physically shaking and burst into tears as soon as I put the phone down. Anyone who knows me will tell you: I’m not a rude person. I don’t provoke people into shouting matches. Even when people knock me off my bike and I end up in hospital, I apologize to the owner of the car in case I’ve scratched their body work (yes really). In other words: I wasn’t horrible and obnoxious to this man. He had no reason to be horrible to me.

I wasn’t complaining that my lens  – my very expensive, very new, very loved lens – had stopped working. These things happen. It sucks but it happens. I wasn’t even demanding that they repair my lens. I just wanted to know what the procedure was, what I should do next. He could just have said “first you need to contact Amazon. I know they say after 30 days blablabla… but please call them. They are legally obliged to help you”. That’s all he needed to say. And I would have put the phone down. Maybe slightly peeved at the circularity of the process, but not crying. There was absolutely no reason for him to be so unpleasant. No reason for him to make me feel that by using Amazon (which, last time I checked, was a pretty above-board operation) I was somehow involved in some deceitful, criminal activity (and just for the record: even though I bought the lens off Amazon in the UK, I paid Belgium VAT to have it delivered here)… I had the temerity to reach out to them (the lens manufacturers) when one of their products presented a manufacturing fault and I was left shaking and in tears. That’s not on. That’s never on. That’s just plain wrong whichever way you look at it. Sigma: you need to sort out your customer service. Please.


Happy ending: Hanno found a number to call Amazon in the UK and explained what had happened (including the horrific treatment from Sigma). They immediately offered to have the old lens picked up – from Belgium! – and have already sent out a brand new replacement with special next day delivery – to Belgium! You might say “well, they were legally obliged to give you a replacement or to get the lens repaired” and that may well be so. But to be so quick and so nice about it? Nope. They didn’t have to do that. Amazon: one – Sigma: nil. And the result? I had been saving up to buy an 85mm lens from Sigma. That money is now going to Canon instead. And you can be damn sure Amazon will be getting my purchase!

1 August 2013 - 10:30 PM tara - oh honey... :( i'm glad that amazon did the right thing. but geeeeeeze. canon lenses all the way for you now. xooxo

1 August 2013 - 10:33 PM Carrie - Yikes! That's horrible. You should really write the Sigma HQ a letter. Seriously. There's no reason that man should have treated you that way. Even if he couldn't help you, he should have been more polite and/or given you a main Sigma number to call in the US or whatever. Yuck! And YAY for Amazon being so above board. I've been very happy with their service over time.

1 August 2013 - 11:13 PM ralph - Gah. I want Very Bad Things to happen to that man. I'm sorry Cass, I hate hearing when someone is treated so horribly, but especially when it's someone as kind and good-hearted as you. Sending you a million good vibes to replace the bad ones from He Who Can't Be Named. HUGS.

1 August 2013 - 11:33 PM Angie - Mr Sigma Benelux sounds like a complete knob! I hope that the head honchos at Sigma find this and do something about him (and apologise to you). I can't wait to see what you get up to with you Canon 85mm - always look to the positive! {{{big hugs}}} xxx

2 August 2013 - 7:55 AM WSM - Years ago when I was a tri-lingual secretary my next door neighbour, a textile designer, asked me to chase up Cacharel who'd bought some designs from her 18 months before and never paid her. She'd drafted a very English, slightly apologetic letter for me to translate. I took it home, looked at it and though "there is no way I can translate this into French and/or get any action". So I wrote my own letter to Mr Cacharel himself along the lines of: It is now 18 months since your company bought my designs. I am still waiting for payment. I want payment by return or shall be taking legal action. Do you know what? She got payment within a fortnight! I think with the French you often be on the attack from the off ... certainly with Parisians ....!! Not so much in the Tarn ... but glad you've resolved it anyway. Thanks for calling the other evening - lovely to speak. Sorry I was slurping spaghetti covered in home made pesto while we chatted - I was starving. Seeing your Daddy tonight ... whooppee xx

15 August 2013 - 4:16 PM Julia Jardim - Wow, I went almost mad reading this. It seems so surreal.. I'm sorry you had to go through it, because only reading your impressions was enough to give me a headache. And Amazon gets bonus points for saving the day ;) I had a looong wishlist of lenses sitting on my desk (computer) in which Sigma was a frequent name. Oh well, not anymore.

22 August 2013 - 10:54 PM Ingrid - I wish you had not been treated this way. It's awful. Here's sending you a big hug from me and us and we.

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