Friday, December 5, 2008

Plumber Tales

So I'm not sure if it was because I am a woman, a gringa, because I have an accent when I speak Portuguese, or if the plumber just preferred to learn on his own, but maybe next time he'll consider listening to what the blonde chick tells him!

We had been trying to get someone out to fix the leaking cutoff valve in our main guest bathroom for awhile. Last week on Tuesday, a guy came out to take care of it. Eric had told his boss over the phone exactly what the problem was and what needed to be done. The plumber arrived a couple hours later than the scheduled appointment time and after taking over a half-hour to figure out how to shut off the water to the bathroom, followed by about an hour of banging around and chipping the tile on the bathroom wall, he emerged with the valve removed to show me the problem. I was less than impressed as we had already diagnosed the problem: the seal on the screw-in part of the valve was no good. The plumber then told me that he needed to go to the store and buy a replacement valve. Since he had arrived so late, by this time I had to leave in 30 minutes to get to my night class. I asked him to just put the leaky valve back in and come back the next day. He said that he was busy Wednesday, but he could come Thursday morning and we agreed to that.

Thursday came and went and I never saw or heard anything from Mr. Plumber. But I can't say I was overly surprised - I'm starting to get used to that kind of stuff here.

Eric called this week and talked to the guy's boss again explaining that he had never shown up. Oh, well, yeah, he wouldn't have - he left last Wednesday to go out of town for 20 days. Lovely.

The guy said he had someone else who could come out though and replace the valve for us. Perfect. Eric explained again exactly what the issue was and what needed to be replaced (adding that it was no longer just the screw-in part of the valve, but the whole unit as the last plumber had managed to strip out the threading.)

The second plumber showed up right on time Wednesday, much to my happy surprise. I took him into the guest bathroom and showed him the valve that needed to be replaced. I also explained to him that we had discovered that the last plumber completely stripped out the screw-in part of the valve in all of his banging around and whatever else he did in there. I informed the new plumber that it was only barely hanging in there stopping the water and he should not try to mess with it until he had turned off the water. I explained that a large stream of water would come shooting out if he tried turning the valve while the water was still on. He shook his head in agreement, told me he understood, and I left the room to get back to my work in the next room.

Well, I guess he couldn't take my word for it. Not 20 seconds after I walked out I hear water spraying everywhere and about 15 seconds after that he is shouting for me to come back. What I witnessed next I really wish I had on video to share - it looked like something straight from The Three Stooges! The guy is rather short - I'd put him just over 5' tall. The valve is rather high on the wall behind the toilet - he just can reach it standing on the floor. I walk in to find the screw-in part of the valve in his hand and a hard stream of water shooting from the now wide open valve. The plumber has stepped up onto the toilet and is frantically trying to push and hold the piece in his hand over the gushing stream of water, but his shoes aren't getting a very good grip on the toilet seat lid and he is slipping from all the force he is exerting against the open fire-hydrant in my bathroom. Meanwhile, water is spraying everywhere, the bathroom already has an inch of standing water and he is completely soaked. (I've never been more thankful that bathrooms here all have a drain in the floor!) It took everything I had not to laugh. I really wanted to casually say, "See, I told you so" and walk back out of the room. But he wouldn't have understood me anyway, and my entire apartment probably would have ended up flooded, so I restrained myself.

He starts yelling for me to go to the roof and cut off the water. But I had a better idea. I took the valve part from him and shoved it into the wall. He was trying to stop me and telling me something about how much force was needed to stop the flow of water (obviously thinking a woman couldn't handle such a job.) Since I was much taller and could stand with my feet on the floor and get more traction, I was able to more or less stop the water. Much better than he was able to anyway! I told him I would wait while he went and got the water turned off (I've never been on the roof of our building. I really have no idea how you even get up there or where the water shut-off valve would be once I got there. And with the lack of success he was having in the bathroom, well, I figured it'd just be simpler for me to hold back the water and send him up.)

Once the water was turned off, just like someone had suggested in the first place, he came back down to get to work. Well, he didn't have a wrench big enough to remove the valve from the wall. And his prepaid mobile phone was out of minutes. So he asked to use my phone and made four phone calls to locate a wrench. He left and after nearly an hour he returned with a wrench. But he didn't have a replacement valve. So then he left for about 30 minutes to buy parts. He returned empty handed as he couldn't figure out what he needed. So he leaves a third time, taking the valve with him this time, and returns an hour later with a new valve but the old one is not with him anymore. After 20 minutes he has the new valve installed, the water turned back on, and he is showing me that it works now. I paid him and saw him out. I'm not sure if I've ever been happier to see someone leave.

Meanwhile, we have water in our guest bathroom again and no leaks. Oh, and the wall opposite the cut-off valve got a real good power washing at no additional charge. It probably needed it anyway, I suppose.


Márcio Pareto said...

Oh, it's so irritating, isn't it? We live with that here, but it doesn't means that we think it's normal.

"I've never been more thankful that bathrooms here all have a drain in the floor!"
How is it in the USA? How do you manage to clean the place without a drain?

"See, I told you so"
Here we say "Depois não diga que eu não avisei" before the fact, and "Eu disse" or "Eu te avisei" after. (with the same "face" of "I told you so")

Emily said...


House cleaning habits are quite different in the US actually. Less throw-water-all-over-the-floor and more just damp mopping/scrubbing with a bucket of water and a mop. (And with a 'real' mop - not a rag wrapped around a squeegee!) It's sort of hard to describe, but we use a lot less water on our floors. Because our construction usually involves a lot of wood (as opposed to concrete like in Brasil) we would actually have terrible issues with rot, mold, etc. if we flooded our floors with water while cleaning as is the custom here!

That is one advantage I have, I guess. It is at least possible to clean my apartment here the way I know how! (A Brasilian moving to the US would have trouble cleaning the same way that they did in Brasil!)

Now, see, you're making me all dangerous by teaching me these kinds of comments. ;) Sometimes it's just best that I don't know exactly what the phrase is in Portuguese!!! hehehe

Corinne said...

Sounds like next time I should just send over my husband to do your fix-it jobs :)

Ray Adkins said...

Your plumber story is hilarious!!
It sounds like your plumber lacked professionalism to say the least.
We have professional plumbers here but they do charge an arm and a leg for anything you need done.
Last November we needed a plumber to clean the soot from our furnace and drain air out of the pipes from our "base board" hot water heater, and it cost us U$770.00, we have never managed to have the plumber here to do any job that we had to pay less than U$500.00.
But they do get the job done correctly and they know what they are doing.
I don't know what it's best, well, you got your valve replaced and your problem taken care of and I am almost 100% sure you paid less than 500 bucks...

Justin said...

Given the number of engineers in our family, I'm surprised I'm the first to ask why Eric didn't fix it himself ;)

Emily said...

A. No Home Depots or Lowes. (Where the heck do you buy a valve anyway?!?)
B. This valve is the sole water cut-off valve for the bathroom, which leads to no other shut off valve in our apartment.
C. Turns out, you have to turn off the water to our entire half of the building's bathrooms to make the repair - that's 10 apartments without water to their bathroom. (We'd much rather blame any delay on someone else!)
D. We paid R$70 (US$28) for labor. If we run that through the engineering decision making matrix (and considering that his wife's distress counts for very little), it is financially more beneficial to have Eric at work and Moe the Plumber fix the valve.

doradolabela said...

Hi Emily!
It's the first time I read your blog, and I am enjoying it very much. I am a Brazilian girl(originally from BH) living now in China (before I lived in US for 3 years). I completely understand your frustation about your plumber issue. I have to admit that even Brazilians have the same irritating troubles sometimes. hahahahaah
Next time you need to find something to fix on your apartment try to go to Telha Norte or Leroy Merlin shops. They are not the same as Home Depot or Lowes, but quite similar.