France Bound

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France Bound
  My second granddaughter was born on June 5, 2006. The baby, her parents, and her three-year-old sister are launched on their way to being a larger and unified family. Even though this seven pound child didn’t make her entrance into the world easily (or rather, quickly – a 12-hour-long labor is no fun), she’s making up for it by being extremely well-behaved and doing what infants do.   It’s now time for me to return home – at least for a while. The thought of being back in France gives me an adrenalin rush. Yes, there will be tons of “to-do’s” awaiting my arrival. That’s reality when a person shuttles between two continents. Invariably, each time I leave one place to go to the other, I ponder the similarities and differences between the two. Is life easier in the US or in France? There are pluses and minuses in both locations.   Upon arriving home, I hope there won’t be too many surprises – especially ones dealing with money. In France, most people opt for bills to be paid via their bank’s automatic withdrawal system. If you write a check, don’t expect for it to be returned at the end of the month. Bank statements reflect a check number and the amount. There’s no reference made as to whom or where the money was issued.   This must be one of the reasons the French maintain such incredibly good records. Some keep every bill from cradle to grave (we’re even talking about utility statements, etc.). Each year, notebooks full of papers multiply. Being of the “throw it out” school of thought, I find this habit an enigma and wonder where people store the masses of documents that accumulate. Remember, most individuals live in smaller spaces (especially in the cities) than people do in the U.S.   Regarding money in France, it’s mandatory that you maintain a high enough balance in your checking account at all times to cover your expenses.  French banks don’t look kindly upon people writing rubber checks, and have the legal right to suspend check-writing privileges for three years if your account is overdrawn. Happily, we have a banker who is nice enough to shoot us an email informing us to transfer funds toute de suite. And he isn’t kidding.   While I’ve been in the U.S. caring for my mother, not a week has gone by that she hasn’t received a minimum of two pre-approved credit forms that only require a signature to activate a plastic card enabling her to sign on the dotted line. I wonder how many of these credit card offers may end up in someone else’s hands.   Coping with Mother’s bills in the US isn’t as hard as I would have imagined, thanks to Paytrust. All bills are sent directly to her assigned Paytrust PO Box in Sioux Falls, SD and are paid via the Internet. The bills are scanned and Paytrust subscribers, notified by email, can note which bills fall under what category, issue payment and never have to buy a stamp or trek to the mailbox. At the end of the calendar year, you can order a CD that has a record of every transaction and can be downloaded to fill out your IRS forms. How I wish there were a Paytrust system in France.   Since I’ve been known to purchase an item or two via the Internet, I’ve received invitations as well. “Zero interest for the first six months, consolidate your debts” and wham bang – consumers are overextended. Naturally, before you realize it, hefty interest payments kick in.   There’s no question that some people in France are in debt. But, rarely will it be because they’ve charged a car, etc. Most people qualify for only a debit card – so if the money isn’t in the bank, you’re out of luck.   If a person needs to borrow money for business reasons, he or she makes an appointment to see an officer where they have banking relations. Generally, people can’t withdraw 5000 euros from five different credit cards – simply because they don’t have them. But, since cross-border banking is now legal in France and the EU, it won’t be long until there’s a proliferation of credit card debt. C’est la vie réelle.   I’ll enjoy my next few days in Washington while preparing to leave – which entails more things that I care to ponder. Managing households on two continents is enough to give anyone an Excedrin headache. But, such is the life of an expat.   I can’t wait to get home and have my first croissant from Kaiser Bakery. A fast walk in the Luxembourg Garden will give me an immediate Paris fix. The first day I’m home, I’ll definitely head to Le Select on Blvd. Montparnasse and let my favorite waiter, Henri, make a fuss over my homecoming. I’ll take the metro to the Grand Palais to see the newest exhibit and…
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