October 2018 Newsletter
I’m happy and relieved to tell you my much-worried and written-about new sewer system works: no back-ups, no smells, more suck, faster drain. The yard is greener, and the driveway, with a truck load of new gravel, looks welcoming, like ‘come on in and park here’. The whole thing seems to be a resounding success, though we’re only one of three houses hooked-up to the system and it may be too early to judge. Still, ‘One less thing to worry about,’ I thought—and then I went to the bank.
I went, as I usually do when I arrive in Plobien, to check on my balance (less than I thought), to see if the money I wired had arrived (it did); and to withdraw euros to shop for food (I didn’t)—because also as usual, the method I used to withdraw money last year is not the method they’re using this year.
Last year, if I wanted a large sum of money—How large? I don’t know—I had to wait a day or more to get it. Why? Because the bank does not have its own source of funds. That’s right. This international bank gets its money from daily depositors, so if I request 3,000 euros and only 2,000 are deposited, or they only have 2,000 left after giving everyone else their money first (as I suspect), or they only have hundred euro notes and I request fifties, I have to wait until they have what I requested even though I would gladly accept the hundred euro notes if they were offered. Smaller sums—200, 300 euros—were available immediately. No more. This year, ALL SUMS have to be ordered in advance. No money is available immediately. Zero. All my life I believed the money in my account was mine. Now I know it’s theirs until they decide to give it to me.
I also know I could use my French debit card to get money, but my maximum limit is 450 euros a week, and I don’t want to waste any of those euros on something so trivial as food. So I order 200 euros to be delivered the next day or the day after or whenever they feel like giving it to me, and I pay for food and everything else with checks. This way I get to save my 450 debit card euros for the emergency I hope never comes—and that’s how it is until the day I decide to raise my credit limit.
In the U.S., my credit score is in the mid seven-hundreds. I have no idea what it is in France, but whatever it is and however they figure it, 450 euros a week is not enough when traveling, and this year we’re traveling a lot. I walk into the bank, wait my turn in the wedge, and hand the lad behind the counter my debit card so he’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. “Bonjour, Monsieur,” I say to the twenty year-old who looks fifteen. “Cette ete je suis en voyage a Croasie et c’est necessaire plus d’argent dans le carte.” This summer I’m going to Croatia and I need more money on this card. C’est possible?
Without looking up my account, seeking the approval of 52 other people, or giving me 25 forms to fill out, he hands me back my card and boldly, authoritatively, assuredly, says, “Bien sur.” He then writes “Ma Carte” on a slip of paper and says in perfect English, “You can go online and do it yourself.”
Maybe I can, and maybe I can’t, but why should I? I’m here, at the bank, with this obviously qualified youth, and he can do it. “S’il vous plaît,” I point to the computer on his desk, and say, “Ici” (here) and “maintenant” (now). C’est possible?
“Oui, oui,” he nods, “but it will cost you seventeen euros (about $20.00). If you do it online it’s free.”
I know better—or I should—as I’ve already had the experience of trying to pay an electric and water bill online and failing—but he’s so young and helpful and optimistic, I think I should at least go home and try. After all, we’re not going to Croatia until September and this is July and there’s still plenty of time to pay the seventeen euros.
I return home hopeful (thanks to the lad), expecting failure and frustration (thanks to the electric and water bill experience), turn on my computer, and quickly find Credit Agricole’s website. After minimal searching, I easily locate ‘Ma Carte’. To access it, I have to open an account. No problem. I answer a gazillion questions—all in French— about my life and finances, then, as instructed, I Download. Nothing happens. I hit Download again, and this time I’m told I need to Upgrade. I don’t know if this is a comment on my French, the answers I provided, or my life, but I do it, though I have no idea who or what’s being upgraded. When finally I am—it takes a while—I hit Download again, as instructed, and a screen pops up that says, “There’s a problem with Google Chrome. We’re working on it. Bye.”
I go back to the bank and say to the young lad, “C’est une problem,” and before I can finish he says, “with Google Chrome. We’re working on it.”
“Ok, so now can we do it here?”
“Yes, but it will cost you seventeen euros.”
I look at him like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and as calmly as I can, say, “The problem isn’t me or mine, it’s yours, the bank’s. Why should I have to pay for that?”
“Oui, oui, oui,” he agrees, and even more calmly explains it’s bank policy, and there’s nothing he can do about it. If he makes the change here, in the bank, seventeen euros will automatically be deducted from my account. I’m pondering my choices, none of which I like, when he asks, “Do you have an iPhone?”
“Oui,” I say, and show it to him. He takes it, and says, “I will make the change using my phone, and you won’t have to pay because you’re not going through the bank.” Great, I think, perfect: here I am, in the bank, bypassing the bank, raising my euro limit and denying the bank its blood money. What can be better than that? I don’t even care that I have to give him all of my passwords to do it. He asks me questions, I give him answers—the same answers I tried to enter an hour ago—and watch his fingers dance as he enters data on his phone, then mine, then his, moving information and files back and forth, until he finishes, looks up, says, “Voila!” and hits Download. “There’s a problem with Google Chrome. We’re working on it. Bye.” appears on his phone.
He shrugs. “I think it will be fixed soon,” he says, but when Donna and I leave for Croatia, the credit limit is still 450 euros a week.
NEWS ABOUT (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living
On September 2, The New York Times reviewed the book along with three others, including Peter Mayle’s latest and last book, in a review entitled ‘Parade of Francophiles’. It’s a bizarre and snarky review, but it’s The Times, and it’s a Sunday Book Review, and the book is short-listed as one of four books about France to read…. Since then, sales have jumped dramatically. If you want to read the review, here’s the link.
The book also received lovely words and reviews from three writers I greatly admire: Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating and The Lost Vintage; Michelle Richmond, author of The Year of Fog and The Marriage Pact; and Keith Van Sickle, author of One Sip at a Time, Learning to Live in Provence. Read what they wrote here.
When I was in Paris this past summer I met two well-known and respected American ex-pat bloggers: Roger Nahem from Eye Prefer Paris, and Terrance Galenter, from The Paris Insider. Terrance interviewed me and aired the interview on his podcast.
Here’s the link: www.markgreenside.com/interviews
Most important and meaningful, though, are your emails and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Whenever I need a boost, I reread them. If you haven’t reviewed the book yet, please consider doing so, as those reviews are critical for the book’s success and my mental health. If you’d like to contact me, I can be reached at:
Please, feel free to share this newsletter with anyone. If you’d like to read previous newsletters, they are available on my website and Facebook. I’ll be attending my first book club in a few weeks in Berkeley and a book signing on November 2 at Alliance Française in Philadelphia.