Banking in Paris

Once my carte bleue (CB – debit card) arrived, I had no complaints about my bank. I no longer had to use Australian money – as soon as my hours increased I could live on euros alone!

Or so I thought.

Last month I tried to use my CB to buy Eurostar tickets online. I filled out the form and entered the code that the website had sent me via sms. Then the website told me my bank had refused the transaction. On a second try, the same thing happened. Resigned, I used my Aussie card.

Then, this month, I tried the Eurostar again. Declined. I tried to buy return tickets from London to Oxford. Declined. I tried to withdraw money from an ATM in Oxford. Declined. I tried to buy a sandwich at St Pancras using my card. Declined.

So I went to the bank two weeks ago to complain. I explained the problem, and the woman looked up my details. “How much were the Eurostar tickets?”

“£173.”

“Oh, you have reached your withdrawal limit,” she explained.

Apparently I could only withdraw €500 in a 30-day period. Don’t these people live in Paris? As of last Tuesday my rent is €450 a month. My monthly Navigo pass is €95.50. That’s my limit exceeded, before I even consider food, let alone fun.

Registering my expression, she admitted, “it is very small. We can increase it.”

She then escorted me upstairs to meet with Christophe, who had originally opened my account for me. I explained the problem to him and he did some magic typing on his computer. “I have changed the configuration of your account – now everything should work.”

He handed me his business card, “if you have any problems at all, please call me.”

I left very happy – dealing with my bank had been so easy! Oh, how things had changed once I was a customer.

Then, three days later, I tried to withdraw money. €200 was declined. €100 was declined. I needed an extra €150 in cash to pay my rent on Tuesday the 21st.

I went home and tried to call Christophe but only got his answering machine. After leaving a message (I really should script them in future – I’m not even sure what I said), I visited the BNP branch near my room in the 13th.

I explained the problem to the woman at the desk.

“And where do you hold your account?” she asked.

“It’s with BNP, but I opened it at another office,” I said.

“You need to go to your agency.”

And here I thought it would be like Australia or the UK, where I could go to any Westpac or Barclays branch and be served. But no – I would have to wait until Monday and go to the branch near BTL’s office.

Having consulted my friends over the weekend, who said I should be able to withdraw money in person from one of the bank tellers, I visited my branch on Monday and asked if I could withdraw €500 (although this was much more than I needed, I figured it would be sensible to have some extra cash for when I next had to pay rent, on October 1st).

“I’m sorry, but we don’t carry cash,” the girl at the desk said.

I frowned, “but I can’t use my carte bleue and I need to pay my rent tomorrow.”

“Do you have a carte bleue?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said again, “but I can’t use it.”

At this point a woman from the next desk came to help. I explained the situation as well as I could while she looked up my details.

“You have a meeting here on Thursday morning,” she said.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “but that’s to change my address. And I need to pay my rent tomorrow – not Thursday.”

“Oh, how much is it?”

“€500,” I said.

“Okay,” she did some magic typing on her computer. “You will be able to withdraw €500 tomorrow.”

And I was! I paid my rent without hassle. On my Thursday meeting I told Christophe that I had been able to withdraw money without any trouble, and asked how much I could now withdraw in a 30-day period.

“€500 a day,” he said.

“Okay, but how much in 30 days?”

“You can withdraw €500 a day every day you like.”

Obviously I wouldn’t be able to do this for long, having only €409 remaining in my account, but it was nice to know that now I could spend my money as I pleased. I could empty it during the months I chose to go away, and be frugal during the other months. I left feeling like I had power over my income again.

Until yesterday, when I tried to withdraw another €200 to cover my October Navigo and the rest of my October rent.

Declined.

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