Saturday, November 3, 2012

Starting to Feel at Home in France

Bienvenue to my new place.  My French shopping cart makes it feel even more homey!

“No, I don’t want to have sex with you,” said the dark-haired American ingénue to her French male companion (yes, he’s French; it’s all about the scarf and the Converse sneakers) as they passed me in front of the Place Grangier post office.

Ah, oui, I’m back in France.

And I’m sitting in my French apartment that my husband, Brad, and I own lock, stock, and temperamental water heater.  Sorry to have left you hanging for well over a week.  Thanks for all the cheers and pep talks you left me in my last post.  Between my arrival and the final signing last Tuesday I was running a marathon of paperwork and preparations during the day and trying to understand French utility websites by night.  No time to post.  I’m currently sans internet in my French paradise.  Or much heat.

However, I’m now the proud owner of a French checkbook the size of my e-reader.  With my trés charmant banker in his trés chic suit, M. Masson, and the help of his young intern, Anaïs, who had taken English in high school (and who, by the way, looked like she had stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting with those tight ringlets past her shoulders, pale perfect skin, and a rose where the rest of us have lips) we managed to finish the business that Brad had started in the summer.  We had a wonderful time playing at pantomimes since my translator phone app didn’t seem to want to work deep inside those 17th century stone walls.  And he googled a lot.  The only real glitch was when M. Masson walked me outside to try my new debit card.  I stuck it in the ATM and everything came up French.  Oh woe!  When I stick my American card in, it recognizes its nationality and automatically gives me a screen in English.  C’est la vie.


This process involved a lot more people beyond dear M. Masson.  There is Charles, our agent.  His job, as I understand it, is simply to make contact with the owner, show up at some meetings, and be a go-between of some sort.  He reminds me of the actor Jean Dujardin.  He loves to laugh and the English phrase he knows best is “Theez ziz not a problem, Julie” for everything (even when I expressed concern my gas water heater was on the verge of blowing up).

There is the ancienne propriétiere, the seller.  I saw her so many times in this process that I started to feel like she was my second daughter.  She gave me a quick round of instructions on all appliances, but in that very French way where they talk very fast, pointing and pushing buttons and saying comme ça (like so) as if everything is immediately evident.  Clearly it wasn’t because I think I screwed up the water heater.  But at least she saved most of the how-to guides for the appliances (but not for the water heater) and she carefully wrote out all information I’d need to transfer all utilities into my name.  And she sold us the furniture and left some pans and dishes so I could eat right away.

The interpreter arrived late to the closing.  For her, English seemed to be a third language; perhaps she earned an A in her French high school class as her qualification for this job.  I listened intently in French, then if I didn’t get the gist of things I looked at her.  Clear as mud.

And the two notaires.  You know those annual day-long readings of James Joyce’s Ulysses?  That pretty much describes the job of the French notaires at a closing.  They’ve shipped reams of paperwork across the ocean to us.  Some for reference, some to sign and return the original.  They’re very serious about this paperwork.  At one point I caught my notaire, Leo D., looking intently at Brad’s power of attorney signature and even trying to scratch it with his fingernail to verify its authenticity because my husband had signed with a black pen.  I held my breath.  What would happen to the deal if I accidentally had packed the copy we made instead of the original?

The closing is about reading every single page of that pile aloud.  In a French monotone.  The notaire for the previous owner would periodically stop, look at me, and wait for me to say, “Je comprends.”  (Shhh.  Just between you and me, I wouldn’t say I understood perfectly, but I recognized most of the important words on the page. I think.)  Right from the get-go, though, a huge controversy ensued over some rule of French property law.  My notaire was waving something he had downloaded from the internet about Missouri divorce law and division of property.  The other notaire kept repeating the words “community” and “contract” amidst a flurry of French words.  And the interpreter, basically nodded toward that notaire and said, “What he said” in English.

No one in that room could make clear to me what I was supposed to say je comprends to.  Plus, they were reading from a paper I didn’t seem to have.  As I frantically searched all the papers I had brought with me the possible nightmare gripped my mind of the apartment deal ending before it began because I didn’t understand this one question.  Through no help of anyone there, I decided they were trying to review marriage and property law.  Unless there is a pre-nup all French property is split 50-50.  I think.  It’s not that way in my state (the paper Leo was waving) so they wanted to know if we have a pre-nup and if I understood French property law.  I told them “Notre voiture (car) ensemble Notre maison (house) ensemble.  Notre compte banque ensemble” and waved my French checkbook with both our names on it (and which Leo examined closely to verify, specifically pointing out “ou” – or – between our names, signifying either one of us could make the deal).  Yes, we own everything equally.  No contract because when we got married we had only two rotten cars and one over-active dog.  And we were teachers.  Not much to fight over.  I thought it was best at this point not to add a bit of side humor by saying that, on the other hand, I thought Brad owned our new car a bit more equally than I did since he drives it and it gets the empty spot in the garage at home.

After clearing up this point at the beginning, and an extensive rundown of French taxes in the middle, we ended with the reading of the history of our building (don’t ask).  It’s the same old rigamarole because we’re in an historic district.  Don’t change anything on the outside without permission.  Don’t hang your laundry out the window.  Don’t change anything or take down any walls on the inside without seeking permission from city hall.  Wait.  Roll back.  On that one everyone in the room looked at each other and laughed.  The consensus was no one ever tells city hall.

And with that, my husband and I became property owners in France.

Come back later and I’ll tell you about things in France seemingly more complicated than trying to buy an apartment.  And maybe my heater will be working properly by then.

One of my neighbors taking his afternoon sun in the window of his restaurant

If you could buy a second home, where would it be and why?  Share your dreams with us in the comments box.  And if I don’t respond to comments right away, I’m still waiting on that internet and will have to hit up the wi-fi at the McDonald’s on the other side of town.


Scoop (Leslie Scoopmire) said...

You lucky, lucky duck! Bon chance!

Lee I said...

But, where will you hang your laundry???

Congratulations. Yes, I'd choose France if I were to move somewhere. If I were to win the big powerball lotto, we would be able to charter a plane so that three cats (six when Sister and Brother-in-Law travel with me) can travel with us as well. That would take actually buying a powerball ticket.

Patricia said...

I'm enjoying following your adventure, Julie. Congratulations on surviving the bureaucratic part of the adventure. Loved this - "Don’t change anything or take down any walls on the inside without seeking permission from city hall. Wait. Roll back. On that one everyone in the room looked at each other and laughed. The consensus was no one ever tells city hall." It just proves to me that at the end of the day, we are more alike than we think no matter what our nationality!

the fly in the web said...

I used to think that notaires had to take a special course in flipping over pages and pointing to where you had to put your initials...

And the reading aloud is a relic of the days when not everyone could read....but it used to infuriate me, so I'd get them to send me a 'projet de l'acte de vente' before the ceremony so that I could make sure everything was in order - and check nothing had changed when the droning took place.

Anonymous said...

Julie, I love your writing. You have such a delightful sense of detail. I look forward to your posts.

If I were going to get a second home, I would go to the Greek Islands, in the Cyclades, on the Island of Paros. It's so lovely there. In the tiny port city, the ferry boats travel and back and forth all day, bringing cargo and tourists.

A walk up the meandering white-washed path to town (no cars) winds up to the residential area, where people also rent out rooms in pensions. These rooms feel so ancient, organized around a courtyard where there are endless flowers and vines: hair-raisingly beautiful hibiscus, bougainvillea, some other blossom I couldn't identify, which smell heavenly.

A short motor-bike ride away is Golden Beach, pristinely beautiful: not too rough, not too calm, water just the right temperature. And, depending on who shows up, nude or partly covered.

Whenever I need a to calm or center myself, I visit Paros in my mind. It would be a fantastic for a second house.

Nadine Feldman said...

Congrats, Julie! Love the story, especially the marriage/property law stuff. Hope you get the water heater going soon!

Before we moved to Washington, we debated whether to keep the house in Houston and just have a second home. We decided to be in WA full-time, and that's working really well for us. It's so gorgeous that we've lost all desire to travel, at least for now! (Never thought I would say that.)

Congrats again!

Julie Farrar said...

Well, Nadine, you live in such a perfect part of Washington state that I could see not needing a second home.

Heidi, I haven't gotten to Greece (or any Mediterranean islands) yet. I studied ancient/classical Greek for 4 years in college. I'd love to visit the places in the stories.

Ah, Fly In The Web, you have it perfect. My notaire did it with a bored detachment without even looking at the pages. He even knew which ones needed my signature without even looking.

Lynn at Southern Fried French said...

Felicitations, Julie! You survived the closing, you can survive anything. Post More photos! Already I love the porch, in perky green. And I want that cat.
Bon courage!

Muriel said...

Congratulations! You did it!

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