Friday, January 12, 2007


I'm going to discuss something I rarely talk about with anyone.

Other than my husband.


You know, the kind that show up every month to tell you that you used so much gas or electricity or water?

As we should know by now, it's a little different here.

Let's start at the beginning.

The great thing about coming to this school is they make the transition a little easier. They act as a liaison between our landlord and us. We pay our rent money to the school and tell them if we have problems. That's a huge help. Just finding the place for us is a lot of help. They also got the utilities set up by the time we arrived. Those bills come to us here at our apartment.

The thing is, what is obvious to one is not obvious to another. I remember one time when I started a new job, I complained to my Dad that it took 5 minutes just to figure out where the employees were supposed to park. No one ever tells you the stuff you really need to know. And my Dad said that people forget what it's like to be new. Never more true than when you move to a foreign country. You ask stupid questions. But the hardest part is when you don't even know to ask the question.

We moved here in September and as soon as we could, we opened up a bank account (a requirement for getting the carte de sejour, as well). And we got our first stack of bills. And we waited for the checks. After a reasonable length of time, Mr. French went to the bank and inquired about the checks.

"Oh, sorry, we forgot to order them."

The school said, "no problem, we'll wait."

Good. We'd heard that people could pay all their utility bills at the post office, but then we found out that they charged a fee for the service. Mr. French asked the financial director at the school which was more expensive, the service fee at the Post office or the late fee for the utilities.

"Oh, there's no late fee. You just pay it when you get the checks."

Score one for the us! I love France!

Fast forward to December.

We received some bills, but because it was right up against finals week, we didn't pay much attention. There would be plenty of time after finals.

So, the 25th of December (the day before we leave on vacation) finds Mr. French doing bills.

"Look at these bills. Water is 101,96 euros! Gas is 190,89 euros! Doesn't that seem really expensive?" (Keep in mind that euros are more valuable than the dollar so the bill is higher in dollars.)

"Yes. What were our last payments?"

"Water was 20,31 euros, gas was only 46,42 euros."

"That's seems really expensive. How can that be right? That's not what they told us the averages were."

Thoughts of bathing twice a week and wearing the same clothes 5 days in a row started to crowd out the common sense in my mind.

"Is this why the French keep their refrigerators on warm? And wash their clothes once a month? This is only December!"

We couldn't figure it out. Plus we were leaving the next day and there was no way we could put more money into our French bank account to pay for all the bills, so we left the large one for when we returned. It would be late, but the French are nice like that.

Fast forward to January. We got back and Mr. French decided to have a French person explain the bills to us. She looked at it and couldn't understand what the problem was.

"It's not really all that much." she said.

Mr. French and I looked at each other.

"Yes, it is for the gas you used from September to December."

"Oh, so it's for three months at a time?"

"Yes, that is common."

"Oh, that's why it's so much."

"It's really not that much."

"Well, it is if you think it's for one month."

"Oh, yes, but utility bills are never for just one month."

Thanks for the tip.

She looked at the newest letter we had gotten.

Mr. French asked "This is just saying that I'm late, right?"

"Yes, it says that if you don't pay by January 12, they will shut off the gas."

"Oh, good. No late fee, just no gas."

French 1, us 1.

Now, you're probably wondering what that first bill was for, since we got it soon after we arrived. That was to pay for the privilege of using the water, gas and electricity, three months at a time. Now, I'm not saying it's not a privilege. It's just confusing. So we paid 46,42 euros, which is about 9-something euros for each month and 12 euros for installation fee and of course it's taxed. All before we paid for any gas.

French 2, us 1


shawnee john said...

Someone in the US still loves you...French 2, US 2.
And I think I know of someone else...US 250, French 2.

Julie said...

Just think how good you will be at explaining the differences between a socialist state (voila, France) and a quasi socialist state (a la U.S.)to S, C and J! Sorry for the pessimism. Sometimes it looks bleak, with the likes of Hiiiiillary in the race....and Pelosi Speaker of House.