Friday, January 18, 2008

Chalk it up to Experience

I don't know about you, but I'm just a teensy bit afraid of plumbing.

In the States, whenever the floater thing in the john went haywire, I knew how to do little band-aid fixes. Jiggle the handle, attach loose parts with wire: it never lasted long, though, and eventually I had to call in the authorities. Men always used guy-terms around plumbing, mostly to scare the women away, I think. Gasket, trap, flapper valve, trip lever, pipe plug. And phrases like "Your female threading is worn down," or "I think you need a new ballcock." Excuse me?

In Paris, plumbing takes on a whole new meaning. Forget the terminology for now. There's a beast lurking in the plumbing, and it's called calcaire. The water in France is very lime-y. Early on here I heard dire warnings of the need to put anti-calcaire tablets in the dishwasher, the washing machine, yadda yadda. I complied. Ever obedient, I pour special rock salt into a compartment of my dishwasher every few months, and I don't know why. I am among the truly intimidated.

French television commercials feature concerned (but secretly thrilled) plumbers removing chalk-caked, unrecognizable elements of various cleaning machines, the anxious female homeowner looking aghast. Invariably she has her head in her hands, wishing she'd remembered to use XYZ anti-calcaire product. "Don't let this happen to you!" is the message. Honestly -- it's scary.

When I moved into my apartment, a shifty plumber came to fix my water heater (which also heats the radiators). Once again, dire warnings -- this time about cleaning my pipes and faucets on a regular basis.

"Oh it's simple enough, madame, he said. Once a month you soak them in white vinegar, and it will clear out the calcaire."

So wait a minute. You mean to say that someone like me who is challenged enough just remembering to pay her bills on a monthly basis is supposed to remember to go around the the various mesh-screened spouts in the apartment and soak them in vinegar for half an hour -- every month?? I think not. And even if I did figure out how to remove the mesh screens, what about all that evil calcaire clogging my pipes? I can't exactly flush them with a white-vinegar enema. I thus imagine my pipes slowly getting hardening of the arteries with scale build-up, and eventually the water flow will slow to a trickle, then a drip, then... oh no!

So I've been pretty much ignoring that creepy guy's edict and somehow doing just fine. I simply can't believe that each citizen of the entire population of Paris spends six waking hours per year soaking their plumbing parts in vinegar. There is too much else to do in this burg.

But this week I started noticing that my shower nozzle was weakly spewing little arcs of water off to the side, and precious little water was dousing me where it needed to go. It was clogged with calcaire! Finally, last night I braved the plumbing frontier, and actually unscrewed the shower head. I soaked it in an anti-calcaire solution, brushed off all the little white pieces of chalk, and screwed it back in.

And I lived to tell the tale.


Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Ah, the calcaire! You should see my tea kettle... yikes.

The only thing more intimidating than a Parisian plumber is having to deal with a French insurance company if a plumbing incident ruins your kitchen cabinets. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Uh-oh. Plumbing's only a daymare but that sounds like a real nightmare. But that reminds me to go make sure my assurance d'habitaton (or whatever ) is up to date.

Or maybe not..

Autolycus said...

Don't panic. I never realised Paris has a hard water problem like London's, but from my experience here, the limescale will only form where the water dries in the air - round the mouth of a tap or holes in a shower-head. That's what you need to use the vinegar on. Once a month would be very thorough: I do it only when it gets really visible, just as you've done.

Incidentally, that plumber was very thrifty, when you think of the expensive limescale removers there are on the market that really don't do anything different from any mild acid.

P.S. I love your blog, but your new header image pushes all the text down "below the fold" - could you make it a bit smaller?

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Thanks so much for the helpful advice! I'll sleep better knowing I'll have a steady flow of water.
BTW, that plumber wouldn't have dared try to sell me anything, since he repaired just one piece in the water heater and billed my landlady for a whole new heater. Oops! I guess his pencil slipped.

And thanks for the note on the blog banner; I'm working on making it not-too-big, not-too-small.

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