Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Discoveries around the villages - Sunday

We woke up to see Vetheuil in daylight for the first time. On one side of the cottage is a large stone church. On the other is a a view of the Seine River (pronounced sane, according to an audio guide). The house is historic and has appeared in a couple of Monet paintings. The bed is in the attic with 4 foot clearance on the beams, so we decided to use the pull out couch on the first floor. It works well with nice lighting from a couple of windows and easy mid-night bathroom access, a feminine must. My only objection is the painting of a rabbit staring at us, giving us the stink eye. He knows about the rabbit's feet from our youth.

The village has a collection of houses and a handful of businesses. It is a few kilometers away from the next village, with very rural, agrarian areas in between (rednecks worldwide unite - they may eat brie here, but they still have lawns with cars of various levels of functionality in the yard, along with rusted debris and maybe a cheap above ground pool that is now more accurately described as a lagoon). It's a bit strange to be so rural and yet be an hour away from the heart of Paris. In Washington, DC, three hours out is still suburban with 7-11s on every corner (two of them with literally adjoining parking lots minutes away from 10 other 7-11s in Manassas, Va, at least an hour from DC). There is a village very close by, across the river. The absence of both a bridge and warm water mean you can't get there from here.
We headed to the Bolangerie, the bread store (stores seem very specialized here), which is only open at specific hours and not at all on Mondays. It was very fresh and tasty-we plan on being regular consumers of the chocolate bread. We discovered that of the three restaurants in town, one has gone on holiday for two weeks. It is common in France for entire small businesses to go on vacation at once. In two weeks, we will return to a house that is a 10 minute walk from a 24/7 Super Walmart where we can buy sun screen and microwave pizza with a special combo price of $9.99 at 3 am. And we will not be the only people there at 3 am. And we know people who apply sunscreen at 3 am (J+J :) The only thing you can buy here at 3 am, or probably 11 pm for that matter, are certain family planning devices from a machine bolted to the front of the pharmacy, or so I've heard~.

Consequently it has been a struggle to get used to concepts like siestas and en masse vacations. A big struggle. It's not that we don't appreciate the beauty, the history, the different culture - it's that we want it all, those things and extreme convenience too.
The other affordable restaurant is the pizzeria. We had to take our paninis, which were good, to go because lunch hours ended at 2 pm. I got a "carte de fidelite" stamped, so our ninth order comes with a free pizza. Now I am truly a savvy local.
We walked 3 km to St. Martin, where the market is, to explore a little. It appeared closed, but when we asked a man about the hours, he opened it for us.

There are many English books in the cottage (Anne is a Brit). After perusing a book on the perils of Nutrasweet, which I don't like anyway because it tastes sour to me, I settled in on some books on France. I think L's Rick Steves guidebooks are great, but I found some books about actually living here and not just visiting.Live and Work in France (different from another book in the cottage, Living and working in France), was very revealing. For example, the annual TV tax is around $200 (used to fund the PBS type channels that a small percentage of the French watch), so that might explain why we don't have a TV. I guess this is not terribly uncommon in Europe. It's an example of the government deciding what is best. If this tax were imposed in the US, the races would come together to riot and burn down PBS broadcast towers and interrogating Lach Mi Sing to see where the money goes.

The book covers a lot of financial matters. Inheritance here is fascinating. Ascendants (parents) and descendants have very specific required inheritances, regardless of your intentions expressed in a will. The spouse does not automatically get everything, even if you say she does, though she gets rights to live in the house she may now no longer completely own. Throw in children from previous marriages and affairs and you have a Jerry Springer situations popping up at every funeral home. For example, if I died in France, my parents automatically receive 50% of my assets, now owning part of Lara's house and car (hopefully I would have to at least be a resident for these rules to apply; otherwise, I have instructed Lara to smuggle my body to a more libertarian country). I don't know why the government has to decide these things. The book said you can pay €1500 to switch contract systems to avoid some of these problems, but just writing down your intentions doesn't count for much.Another interesting legal concept here is "En Tontine," a system of joint ownership in which the death of one partner triggers 100% of the assets to belong to the other partner, regardless of inheritance rules. So your business partner has a strong financial interest in your death.
In describing the process of getting paperwork processed, the book notes 1/4 of the French work for the government and 10% of those have no discernible function.

There is of course national health insurance, part of the 20% payroll taxes for social security. However, you pay upfront for nonemergency services and are reimbursed later by the government. There are automation programs to shorten reimbursement times to 5 days, but I'm sure like any paperwork process, there are delays. (Hey, buddy, can I borrow a few grand for knee surgery? I'll pay it back soon). The reimbursement rate is only around 70%, so most people have to take out private supplemental policies to make copays more affordable. We've had health procedures costing thousands of dollars in the US with no upfront payment (part of the US's crazy system is that it's hard to charge upfront because they don't have much of an idea of what it will actually cost).

I find these observations fascinating not because I come from a perfect culture with perfect systems (B+,anyone?:), but because I find system analysis fascinating. Senior Analyst was my job title after all.
The book distinguishes greatly between the rest of the country and Paris. It calls Paris the coldest and most unwelcoming city to foreigners in Europe.

Which leads us to the next day...

Footnotes~Some of our wives are asleep at 3 am. Can't we also have a vending machine with twix and Cokes?

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