The French generally do things quite slowly, in no particular hurry. They have a fantastic quality of life in part because of this — not many of them say, I need to slow down. Life is just moving a little too fast. But to an American, this can be the most frustrating part of dealing with French people, especially in doing business. There is simply no sense of urgency about anything, whether it be on the part of realtors who should be trying to make a commission off of you, to restaurant owners who are supposedly trying to sell their restaurant to you, to waiters who should be trying to turn the table that you’re sitting at while waiting for your check. None of them seem to make the connection that expediency is in their best financial interest. Our realtor was astonished that we were able to cram as many appointments as we did into our last visit — the conventional wisdom is that no more than one appointment per day is possible. C’est impossible.
When we first began trying to get information on restaurants that were listed for sale in France, we essentially got no response from anyone. Not from owners who had listed their restaurants directly, nor from realtors. Dominik wrote up a short spiel to send with our inquiries explaining who we were and what our proposed project was (the French love the word “project”), which got some more replies, although still with an average response time of more than a week. Our realtor, Madame Cadiere (muh-DAMN ka-dee-AIR), is an absolute godsend and is really the one who is finally going to make this thing happen, but even she took two weeks to respond to our first email. Dominik finally did some internet sleuthing to figure out what agency represented which property, who was the agent, what was their phone number, and just called them directly. That seemed to work the best, even though they were always stunned to be taking a call from the United States. It’s for the best that we decided not to buy a goat farm, though, because the agricultural cooperative people just won’t answer the phone.
I think Mme. Cadiere feels sorry for us, which is a good thing. Or maybe she just feels maternal. She is an unlikely blonde, petite, late 60s firecracker who clearly knows how to get business done in France. When we wanted to see a house that she didn’t have listed, she walked right into the listing realtor’s office and asked to see it. She was completely unruffled while the listing agent yelled and threw her checkbook and stomped around the room because we had unreasonably presented ourselves just before LUNCH TIME (I was so disconcerted that I just turned around and stared at the wall), but after a ten minute demonstration, we all got in the car and went to see the house. There were even goodbye bisous all around. She also didn’t hesitate to show us a restaurant on piste in a ski resort, gamely hiking more than a kilometer straight up the slope, in her hiking boots, in the rain, with a cold, after having had a glass of red wine at lunch (of course). I had a blister on my toe and decided not to go. She has changed my ideas of French stalwartness.
Things have really started moving now that Mme. Cadiere is on a roll. I think she assessed on our last visit that we are genuine, and that we really are about to spend some money. When we got back from our last trip, we started shopping for a bank (as you may recall from my earlier post, you have to have a French bank account to form a French corporation). We had already made an appointment with a bank and booked the next trip when Mme. Cadiere got together with our new French lawyer (whom she also referred to us) and re-wrote the playbook.
Thankfully it appears that there won’t be any problem making the purchase in our personal names and then forming the corporation after we move there. Then we can transfer the restaurant and other assets to the company, as well as the expenses we’ve incurred for tax deduction purposes. So there’s no need to form the SARL yet, or open a bank account yet, because everyone agrees that this is impossible. C’est impossible. But we’ve decided to finance part of the restaurant so that we can buy a house as well. For this, we need a dossier to submit to the bank for the financing, and for that we need an accountant. So yesterday morning, we woke up to an email conveying that she had scheduled appointments for us for three houses, with three banks (none of them being the one we had originally made an appointment with because Mme. Cadiere says that they are the worst), as well as the accountant who will do the official income projections for the restaurant, and with the lawyer to sign the compromis de vente (sales contract). The itinerary she had drawn up included appointments into Thursday and Friday, when I should be sitting in the medina in Casablanca. Dominik called her to say there must have been a mistake, but she replied that we MUST reschedule our flight. Luckily we were walking the dogs to the lake when Dominik told me, because this left me screaming expletives into the empty woods.
We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to rebook the flight — and the rental car, and the hotel, and the dog sitter. First we tried calling Royal Morocco Air, but they told us that we had to go through the booking agent, justfly.com (I know, I had never heard of them before either, but this is what happens when you use kayak). Justfly apparently uses a call center in India, so I had to get on the phone to help Dominik with the accent. The agent offered us a return flight routed through Casablanca and then a nine-hour layover at JFK before finishing the leg to DC the next morning. It was hideous, but I was grateful that it was only a $300 change fee. I agreed, but when he tried to book it, he said, “Oh my, because of your class of ticket, this is not available to you. However, I will call the airline directly and see what I can do.” He promised to call back within 15 minutes. I think you can see where this is going.
After an hour, I starting looking a one-way tickets, thinking we might have to abandon the second leg and just book a new flight for the return home. I was really excited to see one right at the top for only $509, which at this point seemed like a bargain. But then I saw that it was on Aeroflot. And then I saw that it was for a 50 hour trip. When I opened the details, I saw that it had us flying from Geneva to St. Petersburg and spending the night, flying from St. Petersburg to Moscow and spending the night, and then flying directly from Moscow to DC in one leg. “Honey, do you want to go to Moscow?”
We decided that getting last minute visas for Russia would be impossible, and it’s probably not the best time to be flying into DC from Moscow anyway. We seriously considered one option that flew Geneva to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Reykjavik, then Reykjavik to Boston, and finally Boston to BWI (which is more than an hour away), landing at almost midnight. We decided against that one because two of the connections were tight and I thought we might not be able to get an Uber from BWI to Virginia in the middle of the night. We also ruled out one with an overnight layover in Porto, Portugal, because it was too short to do anything but sleep at an airport hotel. One of the more ridiculous yet attractive options involved taking a train from Geneva to Paris on Friday night, staying overnight in Paris by the Gare de Lyon, and then catching a flight out of Charles de Gaulle which would take us through two more connections before home the next night.
Since three hours had passed, we decided to call Justfly to see what they had come up with. Of course there was no indication in their files that we had ever called or that anyone had ever promised to do anything. The new call representative simplified things by just claiming that there were no flights available, but she did offer to cancel the tickets since there was nothing available, for a fee. They charged the additional fee to the credit card immediately, but they’ll get around to refunding the rest in six to eight weeks. Of course.
I don’t even want to tell you how much it cost to book a transatlantic flight on only three days’ notice, but at least we’re flying on Scandinavian Airlines to Geneva and back with just a short stop in Copenhagen each way. I’ve never flown Scandinavian Airlines, but there are no weird connections, no landing in the middle of the night. And no Moscow.
Copyright 2018, Rachel Howard