Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shoddy goods: what's the EU doing about them ?

We saw a spotlight we liked in Antibes' Conforama store. It was floor standing, attractively gold-lacquered, had a small powerful halogen bulb, and could be angled. So they ordered one in, we payed our €75 or thereabouts, and thought we should get at least 10 years of use, if not longer.

Imagine my surprise on having to replace the bulb after a few months - they are not cheap. Then it began to flicker the other day. On opening up the lamp compartment, I found to my horror that there's been overheating, which has roasted the electrical insulation such that bare wires are visible. In fact the only thing that prevents the exposed wires from touching the metal casing - making the whole appliance live - and probably lethal - is a tiny plastic sleeve.
And suppose the bare wires had made contact ? Would we not be protected by an earth wire ?Nope, because the appliance, despite having a metal casing, comes fitted with a two pin French plug, with no earthing socket. In Britain, the only metal appliances that are allowed to be sold with a two-pin, unearther plug are those deemed to be "double-insulated". I hardly think that a tiny plastic sleeve separating live electrics from casing would be deemed "double-insulated".

So what do I do ? Traipse back to Conforma. Demand a refund ? Well, there' a problem. I've mislaid the receipt, and it's probably out of guarantee anyway. But there's a wider issue at stake here. The appliance in my view is badly designed and potentially hazardous. And we have bought other stuff at Conforama, as well as Carrefour across the road, that is frankly shoddy. And despite most if not all being imported goods, mainly from the Far east, they have not been particularly cheap.

We also bought a table and four chairs at Conforma, with a fairly rustic but attractive hammered enamel finish. After a couple of years, had to throw one of the chairs out - a broken back, clearly unrepairable, and later spotted another identical chair in our local skip.

There was the Indian carpet with a label that reads "Sun...". Yet after a few months it looks ancient due to bleachig and yellowing , while the underside still looks new. One assumes that some local dye, possibly vegetable in origin, has been used that is not light-resistant. That's another €45 wasted.

Then there's the rowing machine from Carrefour, which you put together yourself. But the seat does not glide - there are no runners, and in fact tips dangerously from side to side. Thinking I might have assembled it incorrectly, I returned to the store to look at the display model, and found it to be in an even worse state than my own.

There's a pattern then, of buying goods, invariably imported, that are simply not fit for purpose. It was the same in England some 5 years ago when i was trying to upgrade our house to ensure a quick sale. We bought and installed a B&Q bath, the only one available off the shelf, that was "shell style". But as soon as water splashed over that raised shell rim, it had nowhere to go except the floor. B&Q refused to give a refund. We ended up taking it out and down to the local dump, and replacing with anothher bath. I bought packs of wood tile flooring for the kitchen, made from "Rhodesian ". Within weeks, all the parts exposed to direct light faded, so one was left with a mottled effect. Again, not fit for purpose. One could go on - B&Q ceramic wall tiles that were a mixture of two entirely different shades, a pull cord light that was absurdly noisy, etc etc