Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thoughts on a Sunday

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I've received so many messages this week with  "praying for Paris" and tear face emojis.  It's left me feeling conflicted - I'm grateful I've got so many family and friends thinking of me, but on the other hand, I'm annoyed that there is such a big fuss made about this event while shootings are a multi-daily occurrence in the US.  I mean, I literally woke up the next morning after the Champs-Elysée shooting to see "Two policeman shot in Seattle" as the first story on my news app.  But then you turn on the news, and there's no mention of it, only the Paris incident. Ironically enough, C just wrote an article on this very topic that was set to publish next week - ie why are Americans so scared to come to France when they're much more likely to get shot at home - though I'm not sure if they will post it now or wait a few weeks.

Also, how are you all feeling about the first round elections today?  I'm still not quite sure who to vote for (besides not Marine Le Pen, obviously).  I've watched all kinds of interviews, we watched "15 minutes pour convaincre" the other night - though there was no convincing going on for me.  I can definitely understand why so many voters are still undecided, and it does feel very reminiscent of the US elections.

And then there's the question of whether or not to vote your beliefs, or to vote the person who's most likely to beat FN?   C is very much of the "vote your convictions" stance, whereas I'm terrified of what could happen if Le Pen wins, so I'm leaning towards a vote stratégique.  Though if you look at the polls, I'm not actually sure who that would even be. 

Obviously the polls are not always the best predictors, but I am leaning towards the polls being a bit more reliable in France than they were in the US this last round.  So many Americans were ashamed to say that they were voting for Trump that they lied to pollsters and it completely skewed everything, whereas it seems to be not as shameful to say you're voting FN here...

I'm somewhat encouraged though by all the pictures yesterday taken of the long lines showing French citizens voting abroad, and the long lines reported at many polling stations already today.  C & I will vote just after lunch, when it will hopefully be a bit quieter...

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Faire racheter son pret immobilier, part 2

So assuming you answered yes to all of yesterday's questions, and you've done your simulation online to make sure the gains are there, it's time to think about how much this is going to cost you.

Depending on how much money you still owe, you will have at least a couple thousand euros in frais de dossier for this process - both to your old bank and your new bank, for the early reimbursement penalty, and for the new caution bancaire.  The bank won't tell you this, but if you've got the money saved up, you can pay these expenses out of pocket instead of having them included in your new mortgage. You will need to specify this when you apply however, because otherwise the bank will automatically include it so they get that extra interest.

This is also a good time to look at your mortgage insurance, and to see if there are opportunities for savings there, or if you want to change your percentage of coverage.  Initially C & I were both at 50%, but he wanted to go up to 75% this time due to reduced income and some of the crazy places I travel to.  Don't forget that you are not obligated to chose the bank's insurance, you can also go with a third party for oftentimes much cheaper.

Lastly, you need to decide if you want to keep paying the same amount (or more) and shorten the length of your mortgage, or if you want to keep the same duration and lessen your monthly payments.  Keep in mind though that most banks will still want you to stay around a monthly payment of 30% max of your total revenue.

After that, it was only a matter of choosing which banks we wanted to contact.  The application file was fairly easy to prepare - it mainly contains everything you had to provide when you applied for your initial mortgage, plus some more recent fiches de paie and avis d'imposition, so it just takes time to make all those photocopies plus a lot of ink.

During your meetings, you can also ask about negotiating their frais de dossier (most of ours put it initially at 1000€ and dropped it down to 500€ when we asked about it), and to see if you can negotiate any discounts on your monthly banking fees, assuming you will be required to move all of your accounts to their bank.

Once you've had all of your meetings with the various banks, it will take them around 2 weeks to get back to you.  If they decide to extend an offer, you will have to wait a minimum of 10 days (and a maximum of 30 days) after receiving it before signing and returning (similar to when you signed your original mortgage).

And that's about it in a nutshell.  Hopefully this has been helpful - and really a lot of this information applies as well if you are currently house-hunting.  So even though it's time-consuming, it's definitely worth it - this process will have allowed us to save nearly 30,000€ total!

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Faire racheter son pret immobilier, part 1

This is a post for those of you who are lucky enough to own a home in France (and unlucky enough to still be paying it off lol).  If you haven't heard yet, interest rates in France are at historic lows.  Like so low, the banks are lending money almost for free, at least when you take inflation and the yearly value your bien will gain into account.  It's true that they've gone back up slightly in the past month or two, but it's still a steal if you've got a mortgage or you're looking to get one.

Just to give you an idea, when we signed our mortgage 2 years ago, we also got one of the lowest rates France had seen in a long time - 2,85%.  Now we are going through the process of refinancing our mortgage, and we just received an offer at 0,95%.  So I thought I'd share a few things we learned along the way. 

Initially, we'd planned on paying down a significant amount of money in cash that we've managed to save up over the past few years.  Being mortgage novices, we assumed we could pay off the lump sum and then refinance for a lower amount. After nearly a three month wait, we found out this was not the case and we lost out on the 0,85% interest rate.

If you want to pay money down, you need to first pay your current lender (and there is a small penalty fee that comes with it - I believe 3-6 months' worth of interest), and once that has gone through, you can then start the process of either renegotiating or refinancing your mortgage.  This will take a few months however, so you'll have to decide whether or not it's worth doing that and risking interest rates going up.

I'm mainly going to talk about refinancing here though, because very few banks will accept renegotiation (because what do they have to gain?), unless you have already done the work of finding a few other hard offers from competitors and you can force their hand.

First, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
  1. Do you have more years left on your mortgage than you've paid back?  For example, for a 20 year mortgage, do you have at least 10 years left? 
  2. Do you still owe a large amount of money?  (Some sites estimate this as 50,000€, some 75,000€)
  3. Is there at least a 1% difference between your current rate and the rates offered now?
  4. How much will your lender charge you in penalty fees? 
  5. Do you have time to devote to the process? (It took C one full day to compile everything and then we had to have rather lengthy meetings with each bank). 
There are websites out there that can help you calculate all of this.  C was initially hesitant about the process given how time-consuming it was and how little time we both currently have, but it only took a quick estimation on MeilleurTaux to show him how significant the savings would be.

This is getting long again, so more on the next steps tomorrow!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A unique way to experience Venice

C had been meant to accompany me on my last trip to Egypt, and when it got canceled, he found himself with several unnecessary days off.  We talked about seeing if he could cancel them, but dear friends of ours had plans to come stay at our place during those dates, and we were worried about our place getting crowded, so we decided to see if we could find a last-minute trip to take. And that's how we found ourselves packing our bags for Venice!
I've wanted to go ever since my early days in Bretagne.  Not long after arriving in France, my bank (which offered all kinds of special deals for young folks), sent out an ad for a 3 day, 2 night trip to Venice for 189€ for Valentine's Day weekend.  My younger self found this to be an impossibly romantic idea, and I worked hard to convince Fab that it was a good idea.  Unfortunately, reason won out - Fab was working a minimum wage job and I was an unemployed student - so we didn't end up going. But it's been in the back of my head every since, and luckily I was not let down all these years later.

We arrived Friday evening, and then got a fairly good start on Saturday to begin exploring the city.  We spent the morning roaming the back streets, found a small spot for lunch, and then headed over to the marina for our gondola lesson! 

I'd been waffling back and forth about doing a gondola ride - it just seems like one of those things you have to do in Venice.  But the insane cost - 90€ for a 30 minute ride - just seemed like highway robbery. So I did some research online to see what the other options were:  doing a shared ride, taking a water taxi, etc.  And then I came across a small article about Row Venice.  They are a non-profit association run by female gondoliers, and they give 90 minute lessons for the same price as the 30 minute gondola ride.

And it was amazing!  We had so much fun learning how to steer the boats, and it is definitely a lot harder than it looks. It was also a good chance to ask any questions we had about life in Venice, the city's history, etc. I'd definitely recommend checking them out if you are planning a trip there.
Sunday, we visited the Doge's Palace and did their "Secret Itineraries" tour, which provided great insight into the building and many of the rooms that are completely closed off to regular visitors (book in advance online).  After that, we headed over to Burano island, where I was blown away by all the gorgeous colors.

That evening, we had dinner at a place near our Airbnb.  It was a small restaurant that we had walked by many times and it always appeared to be full, so we figured that was a good sign.  I started to have some doubts though after we ordered and they slapped down plastic silverware on our table, and then things went downhill even further when I noticed them dumping frozen dinners onto plates and then microwaving them.  Can you imagine? Microwaved pasta in Italy?!   We had a good laugh over it all though, and then bought a bottle of wine and some strawberries to share at 'home'.

Monday morning, we had also pre-booked fast pass entrance tickets for St Marc's Basilica. I had heard the lights were only on for an hour a day, so I had booked for that time period, but it still seemed pretty dark inside, so who knows.  I was also a bit perturbed by how you had to pay to see nearly anything of interest inside the church, so between that and the extremely rude staff, I left feeling kind of 'meh' about it.

And then it was time to head home.  But it was a lovely trip - relaxing and interesting all at the same time.  If you go, I definitely recommend just booking in lots of time to wander around the side streets - it's sort of like Paris in that way, where you can easily spend an afternoon just roaming the city. And it's surprisingly small and walkeable - our Airbnb was in the north of the city, and we were still within a 15 minute walk of all the major sites.  The only time we took public transport was to and from the airport and Burano.  It was a bit more spendy than I was expecting to eat out, but there are other cheaper options too (takeaway pizza slices and sandwiches, etc).


Monday, April 3, 2017

Random thoughts on a Monday

I'm sitting here in my hotel room in Monte Carlo, thinking how lucky we are to have international travel at our fingertips in today's day and age. 

It could be the wine talking, but I wonder my ancestors would think of the fact that I was in Japan on Thursday, France on Friday, the UK on Saturday and Monaco on Sunday.  I'm even having a hard time wrapping my head around how crazy it sounds. 

Though sometimes when I travel, each place is so different and the days are so busy that the previous trip seems ages ago already, even if it was just the other day...

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Anatomy of a Japanese hotel room

You've probably heard before just how teeny Japanese hotel rooms are (read: even smaller than Paris hotel rooms), but I thought it'd be interesting to post about some of the differences I've noticed. This hotel was nice because there was actually a bit of room at the end of the bed where I could full open my suitcase.  Many places don't even have that and it ends up being a little like Jenga to move around the room.
Earthquakes are a fairly regular occurrence here, so there's always a flashlight and very detailed instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
You'll also almost always find a pair of pyjamas - I tried them on once and looked quite ridiculous, so you won't find me wearing them nightly lol.
And of course, the famous Japanese toilets.  I always get worried I'll accidentally press the wrong button and get a 'surprise', but eventually you learn what the different symbols mean and some luckily have English translations. I am definitely getting onboard with the heated toilet seats though.  (Also, it's pretty ironic given the advanced technology of these toilets, but there are a surprising number of Turkish toilets still in use in businesses/restaurants/bars/etc around the country).

One fairly new trend I think is having a particular floor or wing dedicated to female travelers only.  I don't remember seeing anything like this during my last visit (or maybe my male colleague didn't know they existed).   I'm not really sure why they exist, because I tend to think of Japan as a pretty safe country for a solo female traveler, but I also know there are a rising number of women-only train cars, taxis, etc here, so there must be some sort of concern somewhere.

But a nice benefit of these women-only rooms are the added amenities.  Almost all hotels will have tea/coffee, sandals, a hair dryer etc, but the female-only rooms also have very nice bathroom products - usually Shiseido face creams/shampoo/conditioner.
They also usually have a selection of skin care products - here we have face oil, cleansing milk and a face lotion, along with a hair clip, a head band, relaxing bath salts and some strange relaxing foot pads.
Most have also had a humidifier in room, and my last hotel even had a facial steamer! I couldn't figure out how to use it, but here is what it looked like:
So even though the rooms are small, there are a few nice touches that make them more comfortable.  Voila - now you know what to expect if you ever visit Japan. :)

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

If you don't like poo talk, you better move on...

So a lot of the customer sites I visit require very high biosecurity (=cleanliness), and many go as far as to require visitors to take a salmonella test before arrival.  The salmonella test usually involves pooing in a cup, and then bringing that cup to a lab for testing.  You wait a few days, and if you get the all clear, you're good to go for the visit.

For whatever reason, my colleagues are required to do them all the time, but I have yet to be asked to do a salmonella test for any of the customers I've visited worldwide.  (I realize though that by writing this, I am probably jinxing myself).

I went to Germany last week for a few days, and the last guy who visited told me they not only required a pre-test, but also an on-site test.  The feasibility of this really piqued my curiosity. I asked the poor guy all kinds of awkward questions like "What do you mean an on-site test?  How does that work?  But what if you don't have to poo?  What do you do then?"

He explained that the on-site tests involve a very long Q-tip and some flexibility.  So that brought on more awkward questions.  How do they give this Q-tip to you?  How do you give it back to them?  Does it come with a vial?  (yes)  Is it see-through?  (yes - cringe)  Do you need to get an actual 'sample', or is it enough to just swish it around up in there? (Answer - he had no clue, he had never dared to ask).  How uncomfortable is it to hand it back to the site manager?  (Very).  I was also dying laughing inside picturing some of our older, very straight-laced Republican male employees having to do this.

For my visit, I had not been asked to do the lab test before my arrival, so I was dreading them having me do it onsite.  Luckily though it never came up - and I sure as heck was not going to bring it up - so I was saved from the poop test for yet another day. 

I swear, my job is so random and strange sometimes...