Category Archives: Finances

Banking Bloopers

Today’s post is reposted with permission from paris im(perfect), the blog of American writer Sion Dayson.  There’s little practical information here but Sion’s experience here is an engaging all-too-real tale about what happens when an American expat encounters the French banking system.   The moral of the story?  Life in France will be frustrating, even maddening at times but there’s usually a happy ending.

by Sion Dayson

For the first year I was in France, I kept all my money in a sock.

This was well before the global economic crisis, so it was not a protest against untrustworthy banks.

BFF Socks

No, the clothing/cash method wasn’t my choice. It’s because no bank would let me open an account.

Now y’all must remember, I came to Paris on a bit of a whim with not much of a plan. I moved straight into someone else’s tiny studio so my name wasn’t on any official document that could have helped me at first: the lease or gas/electricity bills (proof of stable address), payslips or work contract (proof of income).

Even after my name was plastered on everything from the phone bill to EDF (electricity bill – the best proof of residence) and I had just gotten married, this still wasn’t enough. We went to J’s bank where he had been a client for 15 years and they refused my request.

This became one of those tricky catch-22’s so infamous in France. To get my first carte de sejour I needed a bank account. To open a bank account, I needed my carte de sejour.

Euro

Thankfully, I had just gotten a job with Expedia, and through a personal introduction by a colleague to a bank counselor at the branch next door, they let me open an account (the personal introduction so often smooths over a situation, though funny that an introduction from a colleague worked, but by my husband, nope).

Anyway, I’ve been successfully banking for awhile now.

But my experience makes me wary. So when I received a check from England back in September, I made sure to ask the woman at the bank whether I needed to do anything particular with this (gasp!) foreign check.

The check was actually drawn in euros, not pounds, even though it was from the UK, so she said it would be fine. Just deposit it normally.

-Are you sure? I ask.

-Yes.

-Even though it’s foreign, I insist.

-Yes, no problem.

Ok, so I deposit the check.

One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. A month. No money in the account.

I go to ask about the status of the check.

-Oh, but it’s foreign, it just takes extra time, the woman says.

-How much time?

-You’ll see it in your account soon.

A few more weeks. I ain’t seeing nothing.

Same woman. I explain the same situation.

-Oh! But it’s foreign! You had to fill out a special form!

-I asked you if I had to fill out a special form the first time and you said no.

-Oh, but it’s foreign!

-Right, got that. So what do I do?

We have to track it down. She takes my copy of the deposit slip and tells me she’ll call the next day.

Next day, day after, week after. Nothing.

Go back. New man. Yay, explain the situation to someone new (and actually I am glad it’s someone new, as obviously original woman is not helping).

He makes some calls, photocopies my deposit slip again. Says he’ll call.

He doesn’t.

Go back again. Original woman. She says, oh! But we cannot do anything here. You have to go to your branch (I had deposited it in a different LCL bank than my main LCL branch).

Go across town (almost all of line 2) to my branch (it was close to the job I no longer have).

I recount the story again and say I was told they had to handle it here.

-Mais c’est faux, Madame! It’s false! Ce n’est pas nous! It’s not us.

(Of course not. Of course it’s never anybody’s responsibility.)

-Look, this check has been dangling in some vacuum for 2 months now. I was told to come here. You tell me to go back to the branch that 5, 6 times in a row has done nothing. Tell me exactly what needs to happen. What I need to say to them.

He shows me the form they will have to fill out, a “formulaire de recherche” I think it was called.

I go back to original bank. I say they need to fill out a formulaire de recherche.

-But of course, the woman says, pulling out the form before I can even finish.

OMG. I’m going to kill her.

So this sounds promising, right? They are “looking” for it. “Recherching” it.

Another month. Nothing.

I make an appointment with my bank counselor just to talk about this. I tell her to get on the phone with somebody who will sort this out right now. I’m not leaving the office until she does.

She calls someone. I hear her go “oh, c’est normal.” But then she kind of rolls her eyes, like, yeah, I don’t think this is normal, either.

Alright, is this post long and boring enough for you? Sorry, just a little longer to give you the full picture.

Because, oh wait, what?

Yeah, the story’s still not done.

I hear nothing after the phone call. I get an “avis de suspens d’une remise export a l’encaissement.” I’m not even going to try to translate because it’s still incomprehensible.

I call again. Give all of my information to some new person. She sounds capable. I feel like I’m in better hands.

Then she calls back 3 days later saying she needs all of the information again. They’ve lost it.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

I leave her a phone message. I leave my bank counselor a message.

I am ready to give up.

And then, four months after the deposit and numerous trips to the bank, I suddenly see my account credited. Just like that.

This is the positive lesson out of all this: just when things seem dire and impossible, something magically happens and the problem is resolved.

The other lessons? If it’s foreign, it’s going to be a problem in France. (Also, get your name on an EDF bill right away).

And really. Sometimes I think I was better off with the sock. :)

Sion Dayson is an American writer living in Paris. Her life is not as clichéd as that statement sounds. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Girls’ Guide to Paris, and a National Book foundation anthology among other venues. She’s currently working on her first novel and blogs about the City of Light’s quirkier side at paris (im)perfect.    

Tips for Getting Your New Year Off to a Good Start

Bonne année à tous!  Here are a couple of short items that will help you get off to a good start in 2011.

Les Soldes d’Hiver:  Yes, the annual winter sales start in Paris on January 12th at 8 a.m. and run until Tuesday the 15th of February.  Now is the time to make your plan of attack or risk losing out on the best deals or your favorite pair of shoes.   To get started, take a look at what Amy Thomas, a Posted in Paris contributor,  had to say in her article  on the Girls Guide to Paris site last spring.  (Spring, winter — what’s the difference?!)   And don’t forget: pretty much everything is on sale during les soldes, not just clothes.  It’s also a great time to buy housewares such as Gien porcelain, Jacquard Français linens, or any other French souvenirs you might have been eyeing.

Recycle Your Christmas Tree:  The city of Paris has set up 95 recycling points around the city through January 23.  (If you leave your tree on the curb by your building, it’s going to go into a landfill.)  To find a recycling point near you, go to this page on the city’s Web site and then download the .pdf file.   Your tree should be naked — no ornaments, no bags, and no flocking.

Catch Up on the Movies You Missed This Year:  From January 12th through the 18th, the UGC cinema chain and Le Figaro are teaming up to provide showings of 26 films considered among the best of 2010.  (Some of these released later in France than in the U.S. so don’t be surprised to see some of the 2010 Oscar winners among them.)  Best yet:  tickets are only 3 euros.   You can find more information here:  http://www.ugc.fr/typepage.do?alias=lesincontournables .  If your French isn’t quite up to snuff, check to be sure that any English language films are showing in VO (version originale).

Paris Pas Cher

Paris may not be the most expensive place to live as an expat (I think the honors go to Moscow) but it sure ain’t cheap.  But if you are clever and patient, there are bargains to be had.  Here are just a few ideas for enjoying the Parisian lifestyle when you’re counting your centimes.

Vente-Privee.com:  If you’ve got a hankering for designer clothes but not the budget, sign up for e-mail notifications from this on-line site.  You will get e-mails when a promotion is on.  Move quickly to make your purchase before stocks are depleted.   The offers are frequent (sometimes more than one a day) and the range is wide.  For example, this week, you can take advantage of sales on Longchamp bags and Hector & Lola cashmere sweaters.  In addition to clothes, the site also offers deals on shoes, wine, household items, beauty products, and even toys.

La Fourchette:  You can use La Fourchette to make restaurant reservations but the real reason to use it is to take advantage of the special promotions:  up to 50 percent off the bill, a glass of champagne, dessert, etc.   You can sign up to receive the offers in your e-mail or opt out of the e-mails and just use the site when it suits you.    You won’t find the hottest new restaurants here (as they can fill up tables without the extra promotion) but if you cross reference the good buys with restaurant reviews, you can enjoy a good meal at sharply reduced prices.

Groupon:  I haven’t used this site but here’s the information as reported by Ksam, author of Totally Frenched Out

The way it works is they negotiate some pretty great deals with companies all over France and then they publish them on their Web site (or you can choose to receive their daily e-mails). If enough people decide to participate, the “deal” is validated and they e-mail you your gift certificate. There are several ways to pay – I usually use PayPal.  FYI: The payment is only taken from your account if the deal is validated.

Here are a few that I’ve chosen – a massage + foot reflexology for 18€ instead of 50€, a 36€ gift certificate for the Happy Days Diner for 18€, a 15€ gift certificate for Jeff de Bruges chocolate for 7€, etc. Plus a surprise for C for our anniversary, but more about that later….

Groupon is available all over France, not just in Paris, so feel free to check out their site.  And if you do decide to sign up, it’d be great if you could do it through my parrainage link here.

And don’t forget the Web site of the guide book Paris Pas Cher.   While it’s not as extensive as the guide itself (which is available in pretty much every book store in town), it is free!

What are your favorite Paris deals?

Finding an Apartment in Paris

by Ksam

Congratulations!  You’re ready to start apartment hunting in Paris. It may seem obvious, but before you start looking, you need to figure out what exactly it is you’re looking for.  

Location, location, location.  Most people usually have a general idea about where they want to live,  choosing, for example, the chic quality  of the 5th or the 6th arrondissement, the bohemian 20th, the up-and-coming 10th or the low budget 18th and 19th?  It is a good idea to visit your target quartier at different times of the day, in order to get a feel for the neighborhood and whether or not you think you’d feel comfortable and safe living there. 

Apartment essentials.  Make a list of what you are looking for in an apartment.  With competition for apartments high, the chances that you will find THE perfect apartment are slim.  So make sure you know which items on your list are absolute must-haves and which you might be willing to give up  Would you take a 6th floor walk-up if it had everything else on your list?  Or would you be willing to consider a smaller apartment if it was exactly where you wanted to live?  Items to consider include overall size, number of bedrooms, storage space, access to sunlight, modernity of bathrooms, and the amount of work needed to get the apartment up to your standards. 

Pay attention to the calendar.  August is generally the most difficult time to look for an apartment because many agencies shut down for the month and  the owners are typically on vacation.  That said, September and October are often the most competitive because of all the students looking for housing.  May and June are usually good months because the school year is almost over and a lot of people are moving out. 

Assemble your dossier. While there is no standard list of items to include in a dossier, plan on pulling together these items: 

  • a copy of your ID card or your passport;
  • a copy of your work contract specifying type and length as well as date of hire;
  • a letter from your employer stating you are currently employed there;
  • your last three pay slips (as a general rule, they like you to earn at least three times your rent);
  • your last two tax returns;
  • your last electricity bill which provides proof of address;
  • proof you’ve paid your rent for the last three months; and
  • relevé d’identité bancaire (RIB) which provides your banking details.

Finally, French law requires that you show proof of housing insurance.  Common events covered by this insurance includes: a percentage of capital and valuables; legal costs incurred when personally liable or when claiming against a third party; civil liability; fire; explosion and related risks; weather-related risks (water damage); attacks on the building and acts of God; theft and vandalism to set amounts; broken windows. 

If you’re just moving to France and you have a package of benefits provided by your employer that includes housing, a letter of attestation from your employer that your salary and benefits are sufficient to cover the rent may take the place of some of these documents. 

Why so many documents?  French law makes it extremely difficult for owners to remove tenants thus the owner is almost always going to pick the safest bet.   As a foreigner, you are probably not considered the safest bet.  Thus you will want to do everything in your power to show that they will not be taking a risk by renting to you.  This could include writing a letter as to why you think you are the perfect locataire for this apartment. Or if you have already rented in France, you could ask your previous landlord if they would write a letter vouching for you.  

And what’s this garant I keep hearing about?  Because it’s so hard to kick someone out of an apartment, many landlords will ask you for a garant, or a co-signor, that is, someone in France who will agree to pay your rent in the case you don’t.  This can also be called a caution solidaire.   If you have a salary at least three times the monthly rent, a garant may not be required.  Given astronomically high rents in Paris, this can be tough.  In that case, there are a few options to secure a garant even if you know next to no one.  One is to ask your bank to be your garant.  This usually involves you putting at least one year’s rent into an account.  (Yikes, I know).  Second, if you are employed by a French company, check with your comité d’entreprise.  Many have lending schemes to help their employees with this exact problem.   Finally, you may want to consider using something called Garantie Loca-Pass, in which this particular company will act as your garant.  Be warned though that not all agencies or owners accept this method.    

Starting the search.  There are several ways to go about finding an apartment.  You can go through a rental agency, find something online, or try the word-of-mouth method.  

Rental agencies (see below) have the advantage of having someone else do the hunting for you.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have to go from agency to agency (and maybe on several occasions), but at least a lot of the legwork will have been done for you.  While the charges are high (usually the equivalent of one month’s rent), you may find it to be worth it if your phone French isn’t that great or you don’t have a ton of time to find a place. Keep in mind that a rental agent who has taken a liking to you can also put in a good word for you with the owner. 

Given the high cost of going through a rental agency, the market for online rentals (see list below) is quite competitive.  You may have heard horror stories of people calling 10 minutes after an ad was posted only to find out it had already been rented. Or showing up to visit an apartment only to find out there are 40 other people there, all with dossiers a million times better than yours.  

So what can you do?  My best advice is to look early and look often.  Most Web sites offer an alerte email service that allows you to enter your criteria and receive an e-mail whenever a corresponding ad is posted.   Take note that  some of these sites send out e-mails once per day or once per week, which means the good apartments will be long gone by the time you come across them. 

The word-of-mouth method is probably the cheapest method, but also the hardest, especially for new arrivals who don’t have a network in France.  There are a few ways to go about it though – you could consider posting ads on the various expat forums, contacting some of the more well-known expat groups (such as Message), or stopping by the American Church in Paris on a regular basis.  It may not be the easiest place to get to, but the ACP has a bilingual bulletin board that is updated daily around 2pm with new housing offers.  Along the same vein, you can also try the American Cathedral in Paris

Another tip is to take a look in the local bakery or supermarket when you’re buying that fresh baguette.  The people who work in these places are often aware of available apartments in the area, or will at least allow owners to put up an ad near the door. 

Okay, my dossier is finally ready.  Bring on the visits!   Here are some questions to ask the agent or owner, either before or during the visit. 

  • How much is the deposit?
  • How much is the rent?
  • Are there any monthly building charges on top of the rent?
  • What kind of heating does the apartment have?
  • Do you have an idea of how much the last renter paid for electricity? Gas? Water?
  • How much is the taxe d’habitation (an annual housing tax)?
  • Will I be reimbursed for any improvements made? (paint, etc.)
  • Do you accept pets?
  • What floor is it on?  Is there an elevator? 
  • Does it include any appliances?
  • What kind of storage does it have?
  • Is there are parking spot or a cave (a basement storage space, typically with a dirt floor)?
  • Does the apartment appear to be clean and well-maintained?
  • If there is a hot water heater, are you expected to pay for annual maintenance?
  • What is the water pressure like?  (Test this one yourself!)
  • What kind of light does it get?
  • How secure is the building?  Is there a concierge?
  • What are the nearby methods of transportation?
  • Where is the closest grocery store/post office/pharmacy?
  • If you have children, what are the neighborhood schools like?

Signing the lease:  The first thing to do is to celebrate!  (Actually, maybe you shouldn’t celebrate until you have the keys in your hand…).  So go in and sign that contract but first check the fine print. The lease agreement must include the following: 

  • the owner’s name and address and that of their agent (if using an agency);
  • a description of the property (number of rooms, garage, garden, cellar);
  • the date on which the contract starts;
  • the duration of the contract;
  • amount of the deposit;
  • rental amount and terms of revision/increase; and
  • declaration of common areas. 

The owners are also required to provide you with a copy of the DPE (diagnostic de performance énergétique), the building’s energy performance report.  This report details the energy efficiency of the building, as well as the risk of exposure to lead poisoning. 

Note that the average contract length for an unfurnished rental is three years.  You don’t necessarily need to stay for the entire three years, but if you leave early, you must give at least three months’ notice by registered mail.  The three month period is reduced to one month if you lose your job and can no longer afford the apartment, or if you have to move to another region or country for your job. 

As for how to pay, most places will give you the choice between paying by check every month or paying by direct withdrawal.  If you prefer the latter, make sure you have either already given them your RIB or that you come equipped with one to the meeting. 

L’état des lieux:  The next step is the état des lieux, literally meaning “the state of the place”.  And what an important step this is.  During the état des lieux, you will go over the apartment with a fine toothed comb.  It is in your best interest to point out even the smallest defects because if they’re not noted when you move in, they might be when you move out and you will be held responsible.  So go ahead and point out every single hole in the wall, cracks in the paint or scratches on the floor or windows. Prepared renters will come armed with a camera in order to have physical proof of the apartment’s condition when they moved in.  You may also want to bring your phone charger so that you can test all of the outlets. And don’t forget to make sure the water faucets and the shower work, as well as the heaters if possible. 

One thing to note is that the état des lieux can be amended after you move in if you happen to notice other things not initially noted.  This must be sent by registered mail however, and the sooner the better! 

Once that’s accomplished, you’re finally ready to move in.  Stay tuned for Part II in which we provide tips on moving and all the additional steps involved in making your rental your home. 

RESOURCES
 
Rental Agencies 

Century 21
FNAIM 
La Fôret 
Orpi 
Foncia  
Guy Hoquet 

English Language Sources for Rental Ads

AngloInfo:  Mostly short-term rentals, although you can sometimes find longer term rentals on this site
Craig’s List:   A word of caution about Craig’s List.  There are some legitimate deals to be had here, but also scams a plenty.   Be wary of any ad offering to mail you the keys after you send them a wire transfer.
FUSAC:  Not all of the ads are listed online, so pick-up a hard copy if you want access to all of the housing offers.
Paris Voice

Other Sites with Real Estate Announcements

Appartager: For people looking for roommates
De Particulier a Particulier : Rentals by owner
Seloger

For Students and Interns in Paris

Campus France 
Centre d’Information et de Documentation Jeunesse
Centre Régional des Oeuvres Universitaires et Scolaires  de Paris (CROUS)
Centres Internationaux de Séjour de Paris
 
FIAP

Rental Vocabulary

Abbreviation French English
F1, F2, T1, T2   F stands for houses, T stands for apartments. The number equates to a living room PLUS the number of bedrooms (that is, the kitchen and bathrooms are not counted).  For example, T3 would be a two bedroom apartment
  A Louer; Location offre For rent
Appt. Appartement Apartment
Part. Particulier For rent by owner
Prop. Propriétaire Owner
Loc. Locataire Renter / lessee
  Depôt de garantie Deposit
  Loyer Rent
C.C Charges comprises Includes building charges (and sometimes garbage removal fees or water) 
  Honoraires d’agence Agency fees
  Logement vide Unfurnished apartment
  Logement meublé Furnished apartment
G.S. Grand standing Luxury apartment or home
Séj Séjour Living room
Ch. Chambre Bedroom
Sdb. Salle de bain   Bathroom, usually with a tub
  Salle d’eau Bathroom with shower only
WC Toilettes Small room with just a toilet, sometimes a sink
Chem. Cheminée  Fireplace
  Cuisine intégrée   Kitchen has cupboards and countertops
  Cuisine équipée  Kitchen has some appliances, such as stove or refrigerator
  Cuisine américaine  Kitchen opens out onto the living area
  Cave  Wine cellar area in basement, typically with dirt floor
  Chambre de bonne Maid’s room (typically on a separate floor)
RDC Rez-de-chaussée  First floor (USA), Ground floor (UK)
  1er étage  Second floor (USA), First floor (UK)
  2eme étage   Third floor (USA), Second floor (UK)

 

Ksam never really had any desire to live in France, but seven years on and she’s still here. If you catch her on a good day, she may even admit she likes it. (Moving from Brittany to Paris helped).  She splits her time between traveling around France for her very-random-yet-enjoyable job and her apartment in the 15th. You can follow her adventures at Totally Frenched Out.

Tips for Train Travel in France

Traveling by train is one of the many delights of living in Europe.  You go from city center to city center, no long lines for security and boarding,  seating is roomy, and with the TGV (train de grand vitesse), you cover large distances in no time flat.

Buying tickets is another story.  You can go directly to an SNCF Boutique or train station and deal with an agent, or you can buy them on-line.  And no, it’s not just you.  The SNCF Web site has got to be one of the least user friendly Web sites on the planet.  But if you are patient and flexible, there are some really good deals out there.    Here are just a few things to keep in mind.

Discount Cards

The SNCF offers four different discount cards

Carte 12-25:  As you might gather from the name, this card offers reductions to persons between the ages of 12 and 25.
Carte Senior:  For persons over the age of 60.
Carte Escapades :  For adults between 26 and 59 years.
Carte Enfant + :  For families with a child under 12 years.

Although the details vary, you buy one of these cards, good for one year, at a fee somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 70 euros, and you get significant reductions on train travel.  With the Carte Enfant +, for example,  the whole family (up to 4 accompanying travelers, whether kids or adults), benefits from at least a 20 percent reduction on all train travel and up to 50 percent for travel at nonpeak hours.   If you take one long trip on the TGV, you will recoup the cost of the card in one trip.   It’s worth noting that the reductions are for travel within France only so if you take a train trip beyond French borders, the reduction only applies to the French portion of the trip.  You may purchase the cards on-line; no supporting documentation is needed.  Pick up the card from the ticket window at any train station or from an SNCF boutique.

Discounts are also available for families with three or more children who have applied for the carte familles nombreuses.  You must apply for this card and send supporting documentation.  Thus if you want to take advantage of the discount, apply well in advance of your travel.

Tickets are also cheaper at certain times of the year or days of the week.  For example, there aren’t too many deals if you’re leaving town the day that schools get out for the Christmas holidays.   But like all things SNCF, there’s no easy answer about when it’s most economical to travel.    Check here for a calendar (by route) showing the période normale (times when travel is expected to be light and thus priced cheaper) and the période pointe  (typically the holiday rush period) when your trip will cost more. 

The SNCF is experimenting with e-tickets.  At the moment, you can pick up tickets you order on-line at either an SNCF Boutique, in any station, or from an automated kiosk in every station.

Book Early

Like hotel and plane fares, the cost of train travel tends to go up as the travel date approaches.    Fares on the Eurostar (the train that takes the Chunnel between Paris and London) are at their rock bottom (about 80 euros round trip) if you reserve three months in advance.  Reserve at the last minute and you will pay four to five times that much.

For domestic travel, the SNCF releases a limited quantity of tickets designated as tarif prem’s 90 days in advance and that’s when you will get the best prices.   The prem’s tickets cannot be exchanged, however.  If you think your plans might change, look for the tarif loisirs.  It pays to pay attention; sometimes you can travel in first class for the same price as second class.  That being said, second class is generally quite comfortable and clean.

There is also a fare called iDTGV which is sold exclusively on-line and only to a limited number of destinations.  But they can be reserved as early as 6 months or as late as 5 days in advance of your travel.   iDGTV tickets are exchangeable but not reimbursable if you don’t use them.   These can have some very attractive prices, particularly if you don’t mind travelling at odd hours.

Types of Trains

Get ready for lots of different types of names and initials when it comes to train service:

The TGV is the high speed train that runs at top speed at 300 km/hour to a growing network of destinations.   That means you can get from Paris to Avignon in 2 hours and 38 minutes, easily an 8 hour trip by car.

Corail designates the non-TGV lines.   They are comfortable, just not as fast.

The Eurostar is the high speed train that travels between Paris and London.

The Thalys train is also high speed and goes to Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne.

Lunea designates overnight service with either couchettes (simple berths) or a 4 couchette sleeping compartment.

iDTGV is a marketing gimmick by the SNCF to make train travel more appealing to young people.  You can choose iDzen (the quiet car), iDzap (portable electronics friendly), or iDNIGHT.

Before You Leave

Before you hop on the metro or in a cab on the way to the train station, make sure you know from which station you will be departing.  There is no central train station in Paris (good news because that means no railroads crossing through the center of the city).  Instead each of the train stations handles departures for certain destinations.  These are as follows:

Gare du Nord:  Destinations in the north of France; Eurostar to London;  Thalys to Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne; Berlin and Moscow

Gare de l’Est: Eastern France (Reims, Strasbourg), Zurich, Basel, Frankfurt, and Munich

Gare d’Austerlitz:  Limoges, Toulouse, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Lourdes, Biarritz, Madrid, and Barcelona

Gare de Lyon: Lyon (of course!) plus Avignon, Marseille, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Nîmes, Montpellier, Narbonne, Perpignan

Gare Montparnasse:  Brittany, Bordeaux and other destinations in the southwest of France

Gare St. Lazare: Dieppe, Normandy and other northern destinations

And finally, before you board the train, don’t forget to “compost” your ticket.  There are  yellow machines at the end of each platform.  Simply insert your ticket in the slot and it will be mechanically time and date-stamped. 

Resources

Train Travel in France:  A Beginner’s Guide

TGV routes in France  (note all trains do not stop at all stations)

SNCF Guide du Voyageur (in French)

Eurostar bookings

The More the Merrier?

Good news if you have three kids or more under the age of 18. The French state is there to support you, even if you are but a resident foreigner. The carte familles nombreuses entitles you to discounts from some 90 commercial partners, the most significant being the SNCF, the French railroad. Families with three kids are entitled to a discount of 30 percent on train travel with the card, with progressively larger discounts for bigger families. There is a 19 euro fee for processing the dossier; once received the card is good for three years.

You may request the card on-line and enrollment materials will be sent to you by mail, including all the details about the supporting documentation you must supply and a postage-paid return envelope.  Why waste time?  You can get started right now.

Resources

FAQ from the Ministère du Travail, de la Solidarité et de la Fonction Publique (in French)

Details on train travel discounts from the SNCF (in French)

Writing a French Check

There’s not a lot to writing a French check, just enough, if you are an American, to get you thoroughly confused. The formula is simple. And the real trick? Don’t switch back and forth between writing French and American checks.

Checks are used quite frequently in France so you may find yourself writing a lot more checks than you did back home.

Take a look at this typical French check.

Follow the numbers and here’s how you write out your check:

1.  The amount of the check in text, for example, “deux mille trois cent vingt trois euros et 45/100 centimes”.  See below if you need help with your numbers.   The line below is a continuation of this line.  Draw a line through it if you are able to write the full amount on the first line.

2.  This is where you write the name of the payee, the person or organization to whom you are writing the check.

3.   Write out the amount in figures, for example 2.323,45 € Note that the French use a comma (virgule) instead of a period to denote the decimal spaces.   Similarly, they use a period (point) where we would use a comma.  For extra insurance, write the centimes figure higher up with a line underneath.  Make sure to put a hash mark through the stem of the number 7 so it is not read as a 1.

4. Write the name of the town where you wrote the check.

5.  Write the date.  Remember that the French put the date ahead of the month, as in 18 juin 2008.

6.  There’s no line but you should sign your name in this area.

All done! 

Tip:  Print out this post and stick it in your checkbook so you’ll have it handy when you need it.

Vocabulary

Numbers
1:  un
2: deux
3: trois
4: quatre
5: cinq
6: six
7: sept
8: huit
9: neuf
10: dix
11: onze
12: douze
13: treize
14: quartoze
15: quinze
16: seize
17: dix-sept
18: dix-huit
19: dix-neuf
20: vingt
21: vingt et un
22: vingt-deux 
23: vingt-trois
24: vingt-quatre
25: vingt-cinq
26: vingt-six
27: vingt-sept
28: vingt-huit
29: vingt-neuf
30: trente
40: quarante
50: cinquante
60: soixante
70: soixante-dix
71: soixante-onze
72: soixante-douze
80: quatre-vingts
81: quatre-vingts-un
90: quatre-vingts-dix
91: quatre-vingts-onze
100: cent
200: deux cent
1000: mille
2000: deux-mille

Months (always in lower case)
janvier 
février
mars
avril
mai
juin
juillet
août
septembre
octobre
novembre
décembre