As the work on Mom’s apartment continues, we have found ourselves having to go out to make purchases of items like lighting fixtures, appliances, etc.
France is much more complicated than the States for many things. First, stores here do not tend to carry stock. Part of that is because you have to pat VAT on stock, even if it hasn’t been sold. So, clearly, lots of places don’t want, or aren’t able to do that. Even at the big chain stores, there are often lots of items that aren’t in stock and which have to be ordered. We went to Pamiers, which is about 45 minutes away, to a big store called Conforama, which is a bit like an Ikea. When we moved into our place 3 1/2 years ago, we bought all our appliances from them and discovered that they are very willing to give you a deal when you make large orders, so we tend to go there first.
We chose appliances (fridge, washer-dryer combo, cooktop, microwave), the kitchen cabinets, a dining table, chairs, a bedroom closet and a set of drawers. They were in the midst of a big sale, so between that and the discount they gave us on the items that weren’t on sale, we saved over 500€! Plus they threw in free delivery. Some of the items aren’t in stock and have to be gathered from other stores in the region, but it will all be delivered on the 28th of July.
Now, here is where another weird thing about France comes into play. We couldn’t pay for it! We had Mom’s checkbook (it’s a joint account so I can sign), but the store’s policy is that for amounts over 1000€ they will only take a cashier’s check. Our bank is in Limoux, which is in a whole different direction than Pamiers, and it takes about an hour to go from one town to the other. This was Tuesday. Wednesday was booked with other stuff, so we said we would go to our bank on Thursday morning and then go back to the store to pay in the afternoon.
You might be wondering why we didn’t pay with a credit card. We could have paid with one of our American cards, but then you lose money on the exchange rate, plus if use it to buy stuff, as opposed to just getting a cash advance, they also charge an extra percentage on top of the exchange rate for purchases in other countries, so all the money we saved on the stuff we bought would have been eaten up in fees. We have one French credit card, but the fees suck, so we don’t use it. Our other French cards are debit cards, and those limit the amount of money you can spend on them per month and weren’t useful for a really big purchase.
You might also wonder why the store doesn’t just take your check and wait for it to clear before they turn over what you bought. There is no answer to that other than “they just don’t.”
JM called the bank to arrange an appointment for us to go in, transfer money from Mom’s savings into her checking and get a cashier’s check. This is where another “fun” thing comes into play. BNP (our bank) doesn’t let the local branches write cashiers checks! The main, regoinal branch (in our case, Montpellier) has to do it, which means you can get a cashier’s check, but it takes 4 or 5 days to do so. However, we could get the whole sum we needed in cash; I guess they’re allowed to have that in the local branch. So, we went to Limoux and got cash. Drove back to the Possum Kingdom to drop Mom off and walk the dog, then drove back to Pamiers to pay Conforama.
Conforama closes for lunch between 12 and 2:00 (but really, 2-ish, more like 2:15 by the time they open the doors), but that was cool, because we did have lunch out at our favorite Chinese restaurant, which is a bit of a treat. And, I was able to do some other errands at Carrefour, which doesn’t close for lunch.
Finally, we got inside and found our friendly sales clerk, Michele, who had been helping us. That’s where we discovered yet another very “French” thing. You CAN pay with cash, only no more than 2999,99€ in cash!!!! We thought it was a joke by this point. Why didn’t these people want our money???? Apparently it’s one of those efforts to keep people from laundering money, but, my God! It’s an appliance and furniture store! A lot of purchases are going to be over that limit!!!
So, in order to not have to come up with yet another method of paying for our items, poor Michele had to rewrite our invoices so that we had two invoices, neither of which went over the mystical number.
We made it through, but just barely. By the time we got home we were exhausted by the absurdity of the entire situation. I love France, I really do, but sometimes you just have to shake your head in wonder at some things.
Ciao for now.