Monday, October 22, 2012

Cherchez La Ferme, Part 2

     As you might recall, Part 1 ended with our house hunting efforts going south and Cynthia marshalling forces against financial ruin. However, to understand her approach to money matters, a little background is in order. 

      Cynthia has been looking after our accounts, such as they are, for most of the time we've been together. When I met her, we were both working in New York City and barely scraping by. So I was amazed and impressed to find out that her savings account contained 5 times what mine did and on half the salary. Her father was the only person I know of that a stockbroker actually fired as a client. The need to control his finances was so intense that he ended up having to drive 120 miles from Lafayette, Louisiana, to New Orleans and the only guy in southern Louisiana with the patience to deal with him.  So it's in her blood and she's good at it.

      You might also recall that we had been having trouble finding a place in Bordeaux because of an unusually low rental supply and our lack of in-country credit history. Most of the houses we were shown had some potential but for one reason or another we just couldn't see ourselves living in them. My wife's an old house person and old houses in the States have limitations of their own but, once again, it's different here. For one thing, judging from the size of most of the bedrooms, during the Belle Epoque everyone in France was the size of Toulouse Lautrec. And in a country that's very name is synonymous with sex, the most popular position must have been standing up.

       Many rentals here don't come with appliances - no refrigerator, washer, dryer and, in some cases, no stoves. We were anticipating having to spend a small fortune so when we finally found a fully equipped apartment we liked, it looked like we were home free. The owner spoke perfect English, was very accommodating and had actually gone to college in Lafayette and once lived in New Orleans. Plus Alexandrine, our relocation agent, thought that because she knew the rental agent, we would probably be spared a "caution", as the escrowed rent account is called. But when our copy of the proposed lease came, it contained stipulations that we pay all rental fees, 6 months rent in advance plus escrow a year of rent for three years. Not only did this come as a complete shock, it meant that our bank account would be drained and then some. I have to admit that my attitude was that there wasn't much we could do about it. If we wanted to stay in this country we might as well admit defeat and see about taking the money from my 401(k).

      This was too much for my wife and she called up her inner Blutarsky. "Over? Did you say over? Nothin's over until we decide it is." And no way was she letting anyone tie up as much as a dime (7 centimes) for three years.  I'd like to say that she charged into the rental office and forced them into a deal completely on our terms. But Cynthia absolutely refused to accept that theirs was the only solution and dug in her heels. In the end we still got screwed but not as much and at least had a few euros and our dignity left over.  A car, however, is going to have to wait but since our new place is right smack in the heart of Bordeaux, we're pretty sure we can do without one for a while.

      Before moving to France we heard horror stories about the bureaucracy and its fonctionnaires so had concentrated most of our efforts at trying to anticipate what we'd need for visas and permits. Our difficulty finding a home was completely unexpected since nothing we had read or heard gave us any reason to worry. In contrast, we virtually breezed through the immigration process and are now the proud holders of a carte de sejour, a residency permit.  So big government was no trouble and free enterprise nearly ruined us. There could be a moral here.
       This is how our experience sometimes felt.

       And in case you didn't get the Blutarsky reference:




  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! Can I come visit you now?????

    1. Yeah, c'mon over. I might have to start including one of those calendars with availability dates.