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This Little Piggy Went to the Bank.


Before moving to France, I really tried to anticipate all of the situations that I would get into; the misunderstandings I'd encounter due to language barriers and cultural differences. Aside from my personal crisis of 2011, nothing has surprised me too badly. Even in my early days here, the culture shock wore off within weeks, and I'd like to say that I adapted fairly quickly to French living.

Haha! Think again! Forgetting that I'm still and always will be a foreigner here (regardless if I'm getting married); I was handed with yet another reminder that I know nothing here.

With her fashion week paycheck in hand, once upon a time, an American girl walks into a French bank....

To open an account in the States is really quite simple: You walk in with money (or sometimes even without), you ask to open an account and within thirty minutes you have an account number, starter checks, and a little welcome packet. Easy as pie.

Here. Not so much.

After having doors literally slammed in my face by several banks that I foolishly thought I could just mosey on into, I was ready to give up on doing it myself, and planned on using my French life preserver that I call Aurel. It wasn't until I passed a bank on the way home that I figured to give it one last try. For the sake of keeping the company's identity anonymous, we'll call this bank Shmociete Gjeneral. 

As expected, the woman denied my request after I went through my entire narative about how I just signed my work contract, I'm American, I would like to deposit my paycheck, and then go to H&M to stock up on winter basics. Her affirmative nod to the winter basics bit was probably the only reaction I got from her. The rest of what I was saying was being wasted on someone who was clearly disinterested in my situation and well me, for that matter. She waited for me to finish, handed me back my passport as if it was a pair of soiled panties, and proceeded to escort me out of her precious bank. Request so denied.

Being inquisitive by nature, I just had to know why I wasn't a desirable candidate. I had a nice amount of money to start with, I was willing to pay the annual fees, and once I received my bankcard, these people would never have to see my face again. All good points, right? I then had a breakthrough. I knew exactly what was going on here. How could I have been so dim?

I turned to the woman before stepping out. "Just tell me," I said in a low hush before looking left and then right, "Is this like when a Catholic wants to become a Jew and the rabbi refuses three or four times just to test their willingness and dedication to convert?"

Silence. So naturally I continued for clarification purposes.

"In this case, I'd be the shiksa," I explained while pointing to me, "And you'd be the rabbi." 

Well I got part of this sentence out before she turned her back and was gone.

Coming from New York and attending over 45 Bar/Bat/B'Nai (twins) Mitzfahs, this analogy made perfect sense. I even practiced how I'd approach the rabbi back when I myself wanted to become Jewish, so I too could join in on all the fun. I'm sorry but a Confirmation party could never rival a well-done Mitzfah. For example, Lindsay Gold's Condé Nast themed Bat Mitzfah? It doesn't get much better than that. Each table was a different magazine cover...with her face on it. The Vogue table showed little Lindsay in a velvet puff-sleeved Betsey Johnson dress looking dark and mysterious. The Bon Appetit table pictured her cooking with a plaid apron and chef's hat on with an "extra" - presumably her grandmother. And my personal favorite, the Golf World table that had Lindsay posing provocatively in hot shorts on a golf cart. 

Pure. Genius.

Anyway, I'm getting way off track here. My point is that my willingness to become a member of a French bank was evident, and I even had a paycheck from a fancy French fashion house to back me up.

Now I understand why my French interns in New York were absolutely astonished after I sent them down to the bank to open their American bank accounts for the year. They didn't understand why they were offered 50 bucks to thank them for opening it, and were each given a white teddy bear fashioning a t-shirt with the bank's insignia printed on the front. Not having yet lived in France, I just figured that they were excited to speak English and to have an American bank account. Little did I know...

After calling Aurel in total confusion over why I can't spend my hard-earned money, he made a few phone calls, sprinkled his French fairy dust and found one bank that was willing to take my money: the bank in the post office. I guess this is where all of the unqualified applicants go after being rejected by the fancy banks? I have no idea but it feels good to finally be making euros, leaving my exhausted American bank account alone for a while, and to not have to explain to every server and cashier in town how to swipe an American ATM card.

Just one more thing checked off on ma vie française!
 Ca fait du bien!

Bon week-end a tous!

What happened a year ago today?

51 comments:

  1. Wow, you didn't have a bank account till now? Wasn't that costing you lots in fees? I have heard these stories, but it was super easy for me, I even got zero fees for a year. Of course, at the time I did have a CDD with the guvmint, which might have helped.

    Btw, you probably have this already, but just in case you don't, you need assurance responsabilité civile propriétaire, especially now you're working with kids (it's compulsory anyway, but I was told when I was an assistant that if a kid broke an arm or whatever, I was on the hook for it). It's probably in with whatever rental insurance you have anyway.

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    1. The fees were through the roof, I was going insane. Everything cost me double! I'm glad that's now behind me.

      LOL! The "guvmint".

      Oh, I'll ask my boss about this insurance. Or I can peruse my CDI, I'm sure there's something in there about this...at least I hope there is.

      Thanks for the head's up! Good to know, because these boys are rough.

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  2. Oh yes, French and Europe is hatd with bank accounts. Most of them needs you to give 6months of account statement from previous bank (so mine was from Finland), cadh, work contract and decend income. Luckily my friend was working in a bank so he opened my account very easily. Just sign 50 different papers like true french administrative office and good to go ;)

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    1. I heard it would be difficult (again, I really don't know why) but didn't think it would be like this! I'm glad there was an easier alternative with the post office.

      Oh you lucky girl! You have a friend that works in a French bank! That's like gold here! Enjoy your perks!! : )

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  3. Hehehe. Sorry but I feel your pain and trust me, you will spend far less time in line at La Poste than at Schmociete Djeneralis.

    Thanks for your lovely comment chez moi (don't know if you saw it but I also said run don't walk to Bread is Pain) et Bon Weekend, toi aussi!
    Bisous,
    Heather

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    1. I stopped by BIP (yes BIP)! She's just great!! I need to leave a comment today. Thanks for the push! ; )

      Schmociete Djeneralis...hehehe...

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  4. Sounds like a similar situation here in Spain! Years ago when I first arrived it was quite easy. The banks welcomed you with open arms and gave you a free account if you were under 26. But now the laws have changed and they have made it impossible for foreigners to open a bank account without having all your legal papers in line and a legal job without direct deposit. I also have had to have my hubby sprinkle his Spanish fairy dust to be able get things done! Sometimes it's the only way! Congrats on being one step more integrated into French life!

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    1. Hahaha..Someone who believes in being an independent woman and doing things on your own, sometimes the fairy dust is the only way...and you know what? It works almost every time! Sometimes you just need the help of a native! : )

      Ah, banks in Europe...we're all definitely not in Kansas anymore.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Now that's sounds like a fabulous Bat Mitzvah! I wonder who her party planner was?

    Yes, I've always been frustrated by the reluctance of French banks to take anyone's money. And have you ever wondered why there are SO MANY BANKS everywhere? They are as ubiquitous as bakeries, I swear. Even in little towns you'll have 3-4 different banks. None willing to work, of course.

    As with most things French, it all depends on who you get at the window. I send my students to the banks near AUP, the American University, because those are all set up to deal with American students and the tellers "get" them. Really, you'd think a bank would want to have money in their coffers...even if it just for a year...you get x number of students depositing all their rent, tuition, grocery money and that's a good chunk of change.

    Still, it's just too much work for them to have to deal with. *rolls eyes*

    And while we are dissing the banks, have you ever noticed how the female employees in the banks all dress like low rent hookers? None of that "business suit" funny stuff. The tellers wear see-thru black crocheted knitwear, with a black balconnet underneath, and the "Bank Officers" (and I use that term loosely) are usually dressed in skin-tight leather pants, sky-high heels and a sheer chiffon top with the requisite lingerie peeking through. Doesn't instill much confidence in me.

    Oh, and never ask a bank to break a bill for you. Change is something they just can't make.

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    1. Lindsay's Bat Mitzfah really was fantastic!! I drank like three virgin pina coladas and danced NEXT to the boy I had a crush on. In those days, that was more than enough. I was smiling for a week!

      Hahaha, yes! The staff does dress a bit provocatively! LOL! One of the women at one of the banks I visited was wearing leggings, stilettos, and a a cropped blazer! I thought it was an interesting choice for work. Even in fashion, that would have raised an eyebrow...

      Leggings and heels is total Peggy Bundy.

      Glad I wasn't the only one who noticed this. : )

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  6. Yeah, I went to three banks who rejected me and then walked into the fourth who accepted me. You just have to keep trying! Their "policies" change by the hour and minute according to who's working at the moment and how close it is to their lunchtime. Senseless and frustrating, but feels good once you're finally accepted into the elite. :)

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    1. "Their "policies" change by the hour and minute according to who's working at the moment and how close it is to their lunchtime." Ahah...that's EXACTLY it. LOL!

      With me, the banks didn't like that I signed my work contract only a few weeks ago and they didn't understand why I worked at a top French fashion house for only a week. Freelance people, freelance!

      The post office didn't seem to care about these details...not sure why. Now I'm suspicious...here's hoping for the best.

      It feels good to finally have a French bank card with my damn name on it. It was well worth the trouble!

      Thanks for commenting!

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  7. Mexico and Panama are the same way. The American passport means nothing to other countries. A shocker for some. Not surprising to us. We just pull out what we need for the month out of the ATM and pay the fee. Such is life!

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    1. Judging by the woman's treatment of my passport, I believe you when you say that the American passport means nothing. I was doing the American ATM thing for a few years and it did work, I was able to get by. After a while the fees on my tiny salary was starting to kill me. I also blame Paris, this isn't exactly a "cheapy" city. :)

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  8. I just saw this!

    http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/france

    Congratulations on your nod! Well deserved dear! From a reader's standpoint, the hard work you put into entertaining us with each post is not going unnoticed. We notice and apparently this site does too!

    I'll drop a comment this weekend to show my support!

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    1. Thanks Allison! There are also some other really fantastic and talented bloggers who have been nominated as well! I urge you all to check out who is on the list and leave a note for the blogs you love!

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  9. ...and I always thought a Bar-Mitzva was a religious ceremony!! Sounds more interesting than a wedding, just think of the family traumas there! LOL!

    Your blog is becoming addictive, I keep getting home and tune in for my next episode of Ellas life.

    Congratulations on getting a bank account. I think it is similarly difficult in the UK, ( although I have been with the same bank for many years) Every time I am in the customer service queue there are irate people, shouting and storming out on frustration because they have not been accepted.

    Love Denise



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    1. East Coast Mitzfahs are INTENSE. It IS a wedding. I miss those days. Every weekend was a different party which mean a different dress and a different gift. My mother was ECSTATIC when those days were over. It must have cost her a fortune!

      Thank you so much Denise, I'm glad you're enjoying the blog as much as I enjoy writing it. :)

      Ah, so it's the same in England too..this bank snobbery. I really don't get it....

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  10. I thought it would be useful to have an account in the UK for our visits there, but found it impossible, even though we are citizens! The bank tellers aren't stuck-up there, so one told me unofficially that it is something to do with stopping money laundering. I gave up in the end and get cash in NZ before we set off. As for the banks missing out on students depositing tuition fees, etc, I read somewhere that banks make their profits from people in debt, not people with money. If that's true maybe that's why the world economy is in dire straights! Anyway - I'm glad you finally got an account. GMx

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    1. Thanks Gwan's mom for offering some reasoning behind European banks' resistance to accepting foreign customers with cash. Money laundering, hmm, that hadn't even occurred to me, but it sure makes sense. Especially with rich Americans who are notorious for having secret bank accounts all over the world.

      I'm surprised that it was difficult for you, as you are English!! Wha?!

      As for the students, that's just cruel and evil..as are most banks...

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  11. what a pain! I will have to mention this to my students as a cultural note. (I teach French to beginners)

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    1. I think my teacher in NY had mentioned this, I guess I didn't believe just how difficult it would be! Yes, this would be helpful for your students as a head's up!

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  12. damnnnn-...Norway is looking pretty easy right about now. _ glad you got it sorted! :-)

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    1. Thanks! Yep, all sorted out and ready to spend! Ha!

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  13. You mean up until now, you didn't have a French bank account?!

    In his book, David Leibovitz recounts his tribulations with the French banking system... he was finally able to open an account when he showed the ladies at the bank that he had published a pastry recipe book! That was his key!

    It's a catch 22, really: they ask you to bring a hydro or gas bill as proof of residence to open an account... but you need an account to get your hydro or gas connection to begin with... or something along those lines. Completely crazy!

    Another way of doing it would have been to open an account with HSBC in NY and ask them to set up an acccount in France on your behalf. It might have taken a month, but they would have done it.

    In the Netherlands and Finland, if you have a work contract, Bob's your uncle! Easy as one-two-three! Same in Taiwan and South Korea, as it were.

    Oh, and I'm reliably informed that you can only deposit cash in a handful of bank locations in Paris... most of them around the Opéra which, incidentally, is also pickpocket heaven (direct causal link, methinks).

    Oh dear. N'importe quoi!

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    1. Eeek! All bills are under my barbu's name so.. hummm... Maybe I better get to publishing a Grenoble coffee-table book or something!

      Me thinks it'd be wise to set up an account in a French bank in the south of France. The guys are super flirty in Provence; they let me get into museums and such for free (though I have to chat w/ them the entire visit). May work for opening a bank account. ;-P

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    2. "A coffee table book about... Coffee tables";)

      There's a thought... A nice few days in Nice to open a bank account... Are you taking that down, Ella?:)

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    3. @duchess - I thought of going through HSBC too but I have a great relationship with my current American bank (they've done HUGE favors for me in the past) that I didn't have the heart to close the account. I know, there's no love in banking..leave it to me to find the heart in it.

      I'll go through the post office this year and hopefully my contract and savings will look more impressive to a real bank next year. That's if I even want to change...

      @grenobloise - I should have taken a trip down to the South! Just for the experience in itself! Haha, you coquine, you! I bet it's YOU who is doing all the flirting! ; )

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  14. Haha I always had to explain how to swipe my american bank card too! They don't understand the no-chip card in Europe!

    In Spain it was super easy for me to open a bank account, that being said, looking at Spain's bank situation, maybe it shouldn't be so easy

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    1. They so DON'T understand a card without a "chip". I've had so many annoying conversations, convincing servers that the card will work if they just swipe it. A lot of the times, they wouldn't even try and I'd have to walk to an ATM to withdraw funds. I'm glad THAT'S over! Head. ache.

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  15. Well on this plus side you'll finally have a more secure bank card, even if Seb did have to give up a kidney or something to get it! (I had lots of fun with my bank card in the US when I went over after we went chip & pin *ahem*) I work on the IT systems in a bank, and I swear the rules behind the scenes are mad o.O

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    1. Whoa....what are the rules? I know you can't share but I'm so curious. How are decisions exactly made? "We're short cash this month, so let's just charge all of our customers a 20 buck "Service fee" that most of them won't even notice" ? This is what I imagine! Heck, I've experienced it! Ha!

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    2. Oh no, it's more like the scary way they secretly stalk you, all very disturbing!

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  16. Right about now I'm feeling like the pampered expatriate in Paris because our relocation agent set everything up for us and it all went off without a hitch. Not knowing how difficult it is to get a bank account, I guess that I should have been more thankful. At the time, Stephane and I were just surprised that we wouldn't see an itemized description of what the other one spends from our joint account. When I mentioned this to our account manager, she looked at me like I was a naive child and explained that certainly there would be things that I would buy that I wouldn't want Stephane to know about and vice-versa.

    Hope you're having a great weekend!

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    1. That is SO French to hide your purchases from your spouse!! Hahahaha!! Too good...

      Yes, you are very lucky to not have had to deal with the bureaucracy behind the French banking system and that everything was handled by your relocation agent. I would have much rather been in your position than mine!

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  17. Yay! Congrats! Such a big deal!! You have a 'pouce' now ha.

    I know what you mean about being tired of saying "Cette une carte etrangere/ Il n'ya pas un pouce, faut glisser la carte" ...

    Still looking for a boulot -- and trying to sell my paintings. o_O

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  18. @ grenobloise: carte à "puce":)

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  19. @Duchesse -- haha I thought it was wrong but was too lazy and under-the-weather to Google it. :P Thanks

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    1. How could you think you had a card with a thumb when clearly you have a card with a flea? Duh! ;)

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    2. When I read "pouce" at first, I thought you were giving her the thumbs up, seriously!:)

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  20. This is what worries me. Honestly, it keeps me up at night. La Carte Bleue is so freaking hard to obtain. I'm actually considering paying a relocation service to open an account for me once I get out there. I don't need the stress.

    How are you liking you post office bank? =/

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    1. Oh don't let this stuff keep you up at night. This is all part of the experience! It's annoying but what you can get from everyone's stories is that it eventually does work out..you just have to pound down a few doors!

      The post office bank is so far so good...talk to me in a few months though.. ; )

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  21. I seriously do not understand why they make it so difficult.
    I was lucky because when I first got here, we were able to add my name to my husband's account so I didn't have to go through all the drama, but then this summer I went to open my own account and it took me three trips with different batches of paperwork and each trip needed an appointment so it actually took five weeks from my first to my last to open the account, and they ran a credit check on my husband! It's absurd, I'm depositing money in your bank, not applying for a loan! But at least it's finished now.
    Good luck with La Poste, we have an account there... they're interesting... :)

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    1. SL, I wanted to just add my name to Seb's account but the French fashion house wouldn't write both of our names on the check (his bank requested that BOTH of our names had to be on the check) or even deposit it into an account with an additional name. I needed my own in order to get paid.

      Insane.

      Oh no...why is La Poste interesting? I KNEW there would be a catch!! I hope the catch doesn't cost me money...that's all I ask.

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  22. All I can say is that you dodged a bullet with the SG. Incompetent bunglers. The lot of them. Enjoy La Poste!!!

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  23. "Enjoy la poste" LOL! It's been nothing but a party since I opened the account! Ha!

    WELCOME HOME!!! You were missed around these parts!

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  24. I seriously love your blog. I feel like I am not going completely crazy living in Paris and other people suffer the same problems I do!! All part of the charm of Paris I guess!!! Even after 2 years here, I still manage to find things, like this, that are way harder than they need to be.

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    1. Thanks Coco Marie! I've said this to you before but I love your name! It's fabulous!

      Yes, us single gals who come here on a whim or for work have our work cut out for us where it's a never ending adventure! You can always rely on me to get in the merde here in Paris! You are so not alone! ; )

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  25. Just want to say...stumbled upon your blog today and am hooked! As an American living in Paris myself, your comments on the French and Paris are great! Especially the bizarre banking rituals...BNP just sent me a card that literally just has my online log in information on it...tell me why this is important or necessary? haha. Will def keep reading, thanks!

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  26. Glad to know I'm not the only one. Getting my bank card took me SEVEN WEEKS. Not even kidding. And I had EVERYTHING: work contract, valid visa, a photo (but of course)...


    I also don't understand the whole "RIB" situation. And how when you give one to someone, it basically means they can take whatever they want out of your account, whenever they fancy. My friend's landlord withdrew double her rent a week ago, and she was deeply in the red without even knowing about it! I also love how purchases made with carte bleue don't show up on your online statement for about a week, so you never really know how much money you've got in your account... sigh.

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