Utility Bill

A year ago today… setting up a bank account in a foreign country isn’t always simple, as Delia told me about when she moved to the UK.

We had started the process early… at The French property show I had spent some time talking to Guillaume on the AXA stand about Car, house and health insurance… and in October I started the process of opening an AXA Banque account. An 8 page application form later… Guillaume was great fielding the form (by email) back and forth until it was just right. Then it stalled because we didn’t have proof of our address. Once we had found the gîte (or the spaceship) we thought the rental agreement would suffice but no, it needed to be a utility bill.

Lacking a utility bill was to cause many recurring problems… with tax and car registration, internet provision, health cover… in fact almost anything… including utilities!

Back in the spaceship… being a private rental, there was no chance of a utility bill with our name on it. You would have thought that the AXA contents insurance policy would work but no. Credit Agricole advertise a nice English speaking service to open a bank account but they were more expensive (no free banking in France, on-line statements, payments in and out even debit cards cost) and there were many problems that we read about on various ex-pat forums – none for AXA but that was probably because no bugger could open an account! AXA Banque had a nice English leaflet but language wasn’t the problem especially with Guillaume’s help. In retrospect perhaps Credit Agricole would have been a good idea, even once we got our AXA banque account we found we could only withdraw up to 300€ a week (from Credit Agricole cashpoints, Axa were only in big towns!) which made it difficult when the rent was due in cash.

We finally managed to open the account by presenting the ‘Compromis de vent’ – the binding contract to buy our house. However when,2 months later we actually did move from the spaceship they wouldn’t change our correspondence address to the our new house without … yes you’ve guessed it, a utility bill!

It was to be May before we got our first utility bill that was fit-for-purpose (nothing but genuine utilities) – it is now framed in gilt and displayed in pride of place – finally we had arrived!

The house hunt
The search had been going on throughout our time in the spaceship we hadn’t fully decided on a budget so we were looking at quite a range of prices, from less than 75k€ to 140k€. We very quickly found the house of our dreams, set in rolling hills, in our ideal location.

Chalais1 Chalais2 Chalais3 the garden

The location of the Chalais house and the back garden

But, when we looked at internet availability – it was satellite only. Estate agents couldn’t see the problem – download speeds of 20mb after all. But VPN (which I’d need to do any work over the ‘net) and Skype (or VOIP) just doesn’t work. So back to the search.

We actually hadn’t sold the UK house when we came to France– we had exchanged but not completed and, unlike France when once the ‘compromis’ is signed it is binding in the UK the buyer can pull out with little penalty. A bit of a gamble but finally on the 6th Jan 2014 the money popped into of hot little hands (well… our UK bank account at least – since we didn’t yet have a French account (see above J).

Food
Our first shopping bills were sky-high, it took a bit of adjustment to eat the way the French do (and not buy novelty things). Meat has different cuts.. faux filet is more or less sirloin, rumstek (rump steak…well d’uh) prices are around 20-25€/kg, free-range (élevé en plein air) chicken tends to be around 8€/kg – so we tend to wait for specials that can knock the price down by 50% – the freezer helps. Beef Bourguignon is often sold in 1.5kg amounts (usually skirt and shin) and on sale can go from 8.50€ to 4.30€ (I just bought 3 kg for the freezer). How do I cook the bourguignon when Delia can’t eat onions I hear? It’s usually beef and carrots, more or less, sometimes celery and various root vegetables. The key is a 4 hours in a slow oven with a whole bottle of red wine which at 3€ not extravagant and it’s what we drink too. Plus a spoon of Bovril… all the supermarkets have a ‘foreign’ section (mostly English) but we want to fit in so we tend to avoid these overpriced shelves. That being said, we do import; Bovril, Marmite and Porridge oats (which are only available as whole rolled grains top quality but I like my porridge sloppy). Our UK shopping bill had been about £350 per month, we changed our French monthly bill from 450€ to eventually about 350€. Most of those savings are probably the wine!

Lunch times would not be the same for me without real French baguettes – even supermarket ones, though on 2 days a week the baker delivers and we buy a slightly bigger baguette (pain Parisien). Nothing tastes like them . Delia loves them too but needs to eat them sparingly and usually eats bread machine-made spelt loaf. We get our spelt delivered in 25kg bags from a Brittany mill – tasty, slightly nutty and otherwise a perfect replacement for good wheat flour (not a patch on the baguettes though J).

Now
Adjusting to temperatures in single figures, not often sub-zero this week. There has been some blue sky but my morning and our afternoon walks with Sienna have often been moist. Currntly enjoying not being woken by Kookaburra laughing or those insane ravens that sound like amplified version of those moo-ing devices you can buy in souvenir shops – shaped like small tins that you turn over for a sound not completely unlike a cow/sheep/goat. We now just have the clinking of the radiator warming up.

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