I know I have mentioned several times that moving our life to France was going to be one of life’s big adventures, and we certainly have no regrets at all about making the leap. We have successfully negotiated our way through the paperwork that is needed, and I am even sitting here now, having a quiet day, after having had my second vaccination yesterday. In fact I would go as far as to say that we are feeling very comfortable with our new little life here.
There are though, some things that still leap up and ‘bite us on the bum’ when we’re least expecting it, and the one thing that still tends to catch us out is our banking, not our liberal spending (Andy literally has to force me to buy clothes), but more the structure of the system here, and once again I fell headlong into the ‘plafond’ trap again this month.
I have always been used to being able to spend what money we have had in the account, and we still can, but from time to time, the system here still catches me out.
We bank with Britline, having set the account up, when we were looking to buy the house, and it has always been simple and easy to use. The problem though, is that there are plafonds (ceilings) on how much can be spent or withdrawn over a set period of time. It’s not just Britline, but it just seems to be a way of life with banking in France.
I had never heard about these, until I had to do the walk of shame from IKEA, the day after we bought the house, but I quickly learned.
Andy and I had spent the first day together buying the important things for the house (fridge, washing machine etc), handing over my shiny new debit card to pay. The following day I dropped Andy (and his shiny new card) for his flight back to the UK, and popped into IKEA to get other necessities, like beds, mattresses and something other than a garden chair to sit on. I placed a huge order for delivery, then ambled around the shop, filling a trolley with all the necessities of life, from toilet brushes, to cutlery, kitchen utensils, and of course, wine glasses. It was a mammoth shop, and I was almost wondering how I would fit everything into the car for the trip back.
It seemed to take forever to unload all the items at the till, popping everything back in the trolley to wheel it back to the car , making sure that I handed over all the pieces of paper detailing the items that I had ordered to be delivered…. All in all it came to well over a couple of thousand euros … even for me that’s a massive shop.
I slid my shiny new debit card into the machine to pay, and it felt as if the world came to a grinding halt, when it just came up on the screen as ‘payment refused’. That was impossible, we had plenty of money in the account, and the card had been working perfectly well the previous day, so I tried again, with the same result. The woman at the till, took the card, rubbed the chip, in the hope that, perhaps that would work some magic, but no, still those horrible words ‘payment refused’
Perhaps you have reached the ‘plafond’? she said, with my mind racing to the fact that plafond meant ceiling, and yes I was at 50,000 feet, bright red and mortified with embarassment, but surely I didn’t need to be pulled down from the quite ceiling yet.
By now it felt as if everyone at the tills had stopped, to watch what was happening with this bright red, totally embarrassed woman trying to pay for her goods with a card that just was refusing to work. The woman at the till, patiently explained to me that accounts in France have a monthly ‘plafond’ on card spending, and that with the previous day’s spending, I had probably reached it. It didn’t mean I wasn’t able to pay, perhaps I could pay by cheque?
A cheque? I hadn’t used a cheque for years in the UK, it had almost become an obsolete method of payment, with the shift to bank cards, and easy transfers. In my mind, cheque books had been consigned to the bottom of the drawer, only to be found on the rare occasion, when no other options were available.
Of course we had a cheque book for the french account, but no I didn’t have it with me, as I had no idea that cheques would be used so easily. Perhaps I had a credit card I could use? she asked helpfully….No, I didn’t have that with me either as I didn’t see any need to carry it. I didn’t even have Andy’s card, as that was on a plane with him, on its way back to the UK
So after, what seemed like an eternity, with the eyes of everyone at the tills boring into my skull, I had no option, but to leave the piled trolley at one side and to lift my head up high and walk from the store, with my dignity in tact. In fact, if I’m perfectly honest, it was more a head down shuffle, with me trying to make myself as small as possible as I did the walk of shame, and I still suffer nightmares of it ever happening again, but we won’t mention that!
So a valuable lesson was learned, and after chatting with Britline to understand a bit more about the account, I returned to IKEA in Avignon the following day, to go through the whole process again … this time with cheque book, passport, and a credit card just in case!
Since then we have been relatively on top of it, but last month were caught out again, when the order from the builder’s merchant was much bigger than planned, so my card was at its ceiling by the next food shop, but happily Andy was able to take over with his.
This week though we came across a new plafond that we hadn’t hit before … the one on doing ‘virements’ to pay the artisans, who have done work on the house. Normally this hasn’t been a problem, so when it came time to settle the final bill from the ebeniste, who has done a fantastic job at the house, I messaged him to say it would be in his bank later that morning.
I had totally overlooked the fact that there may be a ‘plafond’ on these types of transfers too, which quickly became apparent when the system refused to send the money, on the grounds that it was above the level that I authorise myself. I called the bank, to ask what could be done and was told that they could do a transfer over the phone for up to 4000 euros, but as this was above that amount I would have to fill in a form and send it back to them, so that they could complete it through another department.
I thanked the advisor, and promptly went back to the drawer to find the chequebook and pen, apologising as I handed the cheque over to Pascal, as it meant he would have to take a trip to the bank to pay it in.
So after years in the darkness of the desk drawer, the cheque book is now our friend again. Dental treatment is paid for with a cheque, and our new glasses too this week (the optician even asked which day of the month we would like them to pay it in, the 20th or 30th). All our large purchases are paid for with traditional paper and pen, with our day to day life taking place on the debit cards.
It isn’t as if we can simply draw cash out to cover it either, as there are stringent limits on the amount we can take out in notes too, which has sometimes seen us planning a week or so in advance, should we be having a significant trip to a brocante or vide grenier, where cash is still king.
So five years on we are still learning. We’ve changed our account now to a card that allows us higher plafonds each month on cash withdrawal and card payments, which will take a little pressure off, but those hard ceilings are still there.
I am sure though, that we will still occasionally get caught out, when we just want to spend our money. The next big bill on the horizon will be the cost of putting a new engine and gearbox in Fifi, (more news on that soon)…
But there is no point in doing anything, but get used to being a little more thoughtful over what method we are using to spend our money, and if we bash our heads on those ceilings, to just laugh at our own forgetfulness & ineptitude and pull out the chequebook again.