Life in France


This week’s goal is to host a dinner party on Tuesday night and determine a list of most important projects to focus our renovation efforts. But first: courage. We start the day with a little trip into a nearby town to introduce ourselves to the local police. According to friends in the area, it helps smooth things over if you’ll go in to the local gendarmerie and introduce yourself. I won’t lie, this sounds entirely risky to me, mostly because I’ve spent my entire life trying to avoid an encounter with the police. But our friend insists it’s for the best, and we trust him, so off we go. We pull up to a very empty looking building on the back side of a quiet little town. Inside, a young officer greets us at the door with a very serious expression. He waits patiently as we stumble through our introductions in broken French. Then, just as we feared, he asks us a question.

To be honest, this is the moment we fear in EVERY conversation. As my husband puts it, “It’s not that I’m afraid to go out and try to speak French to people. It’s that I’m afraid once I do, they’ll say something back!”

But he’s a smart guy and he’s got a nifty little gadget that saves the day: his cell phone. Whipping it out of his pocket, he pushes a button and then holds the phone up to the officer, encouraging him to repeat what he’d just said. Lifting a brow, the man eyes the phone. Then, ever so slowly, he leans forward and speaks into the end of it. A moment later, the phone dings and then a voice speaks from the phone, translating his question into English! Once again we are saved by technology. This never fails to impress the locals and soon we are conversing. We answer the man’s questions while he takes notes, then hand over our passports for him to copy. Another officer comes out to meet us, carefully studying each of us before disappearing back into the other room. As we leave, there’s an audible sigh of relief from our small crew.

“I’m so glad that’s over with!” I cry.

“I bet we are the most exciting thing that’s happened there all month,” my son declares, and we all agree.

Next up, a trip north to meet with the bank. Banking has been a major hurdle since day one of this endeavor as it appears few European banks want anything to do with Americans these days. A little research on the subject seems to point back to some new regulations passed by our IRS a few years ago to control funds traveling out of the U.S. into foreign markets. It made a lot of paperwork for banks and I guess they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, so they stopped offering accounts to anyone who isn’t willing to keep a hefty fortune in their safe to make it worth their time. This sounds like exactly the kind of thing I would ignore in the news, but it has made the reality of moving to France near impossible for us. You see, it takes money to move and money to live and money to pay bills and, apparently, money to prove you’re a legitimate member of society. So, this banking thing is kind of a deal breaker. After months of trying to get a bank account online from the U.S., we finally decided it would be easier to tackle it once we were on this side of the ocean. Now…it’s not looking much easier from here.

It’s an hour drive to the bank and this is the second time we’ve driven to meet with a member of the bank to apply for our account. The first time they put us off, insisting we’d have to get paperwork situated first despite the fact we had all of our paperwork in our hands that afternoon. Now we’re hoping she’ll open the account so that we can go ahead and set up our new phones and internet service because it’s getting increasingly harder to get anything done without a real connection to the outside world. And did I mention we have a house full of teenagers? In other words, we NEED internet NoW!

But, this is France.

We arrive at the bank and discover that, surprise, the meeting has been cancelled and the account manager isn’t even at work today. The two other employees shrug, not really moved by our expressions that range quickly from shock and outrage to disappointment. But, we’ve brought a secret weapon…Mike.

Our incredible friend Mike has been a complete treasure and there’s no way we would have gotten this far without him. When Graham and I came to scout out the house in October, we rented a local home on and discovered that it was owned by a British couple who had relocated to France. Amazing! Not only did our hosts speak English, we could ask them what it was like to move, buy, and renovate a home in rural France. We had hundreds of questions and Mike was happy to answer them all. He has been an incredible blessing since day one, willing to help us research, introduce us to all the right people, and even call to harass people for us if necessary in French. In other words, he’s the BEST!

So, Mike steps up to the counter and offers the lady standing there his most condescending look before demanding to know exactly what she’s going to do to fix this. She says something in French which I assumed was a vague attempt at “not my job, not my problem.” But Mike was having none of it. He demanded she do something to make it right. We’d made an appointment, drove an hour, and desperately need our account in order to set up other services. She argued that it was impossible to do without a residency visa and he insisted there had to be a way. Back and forth it went until Mike finally declared that she either make it happen or find someone who could.

By this time a line was piling up in this little local office and we could hear the quiet grumbles behind us as the clerks ignored them. I was suddenly grateful we’d driven an hour to handle this and weren’t making enemies in our own village.

At last the woman returned with a phone pressed to her ear and started punching numbers into her computer. Mike leaned forward with a conspiratorial smile. “It looks like she’s found a way after all. Imagine that.” He had us pull out our necessary paperwork quickly and shoved it across her desk before she could change her mind. Within minutes it was finished and we left triumphant. To celebrate, we took Mike to lunch.

“You really do have to yell at them sometimes. If they think they’ll get into trouble for doing wrong, they’ll just tell you it can’t be done and hope you go away.”

This may be our downfall. Honestly, if he hadn’t been there, we certainly would have left after the first disinterested shrug or the dismissive, “C’est impossible.” And it could have been catastrophic, because we need that account. Before long we’ll have bills to pay like water and electricity and without a bank account, we won’t be able to pay. In America, we would just give the company a credit card number if our bank account wasn’t sorted, or go down and pay cash in their office. But, that doesn’t seem to be an option. What a relief to finally be approved and an account to cover these expenses.

As we drove home, I think we were both really impressed to have tackled two major issues in one day. Every single item on our to do list here seems to be monumental and take ten times as long as we want it to, but one by one we’re still checking them off.

“Honey, I think we’re doing it,” I whisper with a smile

“Doing what?”

“We’re living in France.”

He grins and nods, his eyes set on the horizon. “Yep. We’re doing it.”

And thus begins week two. With a bit of courage, and little help from our friends, we might just make it to week three of this crazy #chateaulife.

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