You know how it goes: you make a special drive to a neighboring town, to shop in a particular store. When you get there, it's closed. The sign says it's open all day Monday (journée continue — no noontime closing), and all day Wednesday through Saturday (but with a lunch break). Problem is, you are there on a Tuesday.
France. French businesses. They have the most inscrutably unpredictable hours. In Saint-Aignan, it's the recycling center. It used to be open only two mornings a week, but I could never remember which mornings. Then they changed the hours so that it was open every morning except Thursday. Why Thursday? Qui sait ? Now it's changed again, and it's open, I think, three mornings a week. Which mornings? Who could remember?
Why would a grocery store be closed on Tuesdays? Why not, I guess. Anyway, no tofu for me. The shop is called Planète Verte, and it's in Montrichard. And yes, tofu is exotic. You can't buy it in the markets or supermarkets in the Saint-Aignan area at all.
So I went to the bank, as planned. Because the real estate office through which we found our house here in the Saint-Aignan area was (and still is) located in Montrichard, we ended up opening a bank account over there. Since we hardly ever need to go to into the bank, now that everything is done electronically and with ATM cards, it didn't seem to matter that our bank was not in our town but 10 miles away.
The one thing you can't do electronically is get a new checkbook. For that, you have to go to the bank in person. I'm not sure what triggers the generation of a new checkbook, by the way. It's not a function of the number of blank checks you have in your old checkbook, because we have plenty left. We write a check only now and then, since everything is drafted or paid for with a debit card.
Anyway, there was a notice on our April bank statement that the bank was holding a new checkbook for us. So yesterday I finally went to get it. One time in the past we waited so long to go pick up the new checks that the bank had already disposed of them — sent them back to the main office in Chartres, maybe. We had to wait and then go over again later. So now we know to go get the new checks when we see the notice that they are ready for pickup.
There are two customer service windows at the Crédit Agricole agency in Montrichard, but yesterday only one was staffed. There are no tellers — the place doesn't look much like a bank inside at all. I got in line. There were at least eight people ahead of me, waiting patiently and chatting among themselves. Most of them were older than I am. There is a big retirement community in Montrichard.
I waited ten minutes at least. The man at the service desk, at that point, was still working with the customer who was at the desk when I arrived. At that rate, I figured I'd be there for two hours or more. So I quit huffing and puffing and shifting my weight from one leg to the other and just left. I figured I'd go check out the new Netto hard-discount grocery store on the outskirts of Montrichard, which recently opened for business and keeps sending us advertising flyers in the mail.
After shopping at Netto, which turns out to be a nice, spacious store with good merchandise and good prices, I decided to go back to the bank and try again. I found a parking space not too far away. When I walked into the bank lobby, there were only three people in line. The first one took a while, and then second was up at the desk and out of the lobby in a flash. That was a good sign.
The young woman right ahead of me was carrying a sheaf of papers and kept thumbing through them and mumbling to herself as we stood there waiting. I know what she was doing — she was rehearsing what she was going to say to the bank clerk when she got up to the desk. I do that all the time. She was really stressed out.
It had something to do with a disputed charge of 600 euros on a real estate transaction. The woman asked to see Madame So-and-So. The bank clerk said, no, she's busy, but let me see if I can help you. I'm sure I rolled my eyes at that point, but maybe nobody was watching me. The clerk then spent an inordinately long time looking through all her papers and then staring at his computer screen. they conferred quietly.
Every minute or so, the woman would mumble something to him and make sweeping hand gestures. I really wanted to hear what was going on, but I couldn't get any closer without feeling like an intruder. I just kept huffing and puffing, hoping somebody would notice how unhappy I was with the whole situation. No such luck.
"Oh, I see, the notary who handled your transaction is supposed to reimburse you the 600 euros," he told the customer.
"No," she said, raising her voice a little, "the notary told me that the bank owes me the money. He says it's not his problem." Silence. More thumbing through papers and staring vacantly into the computer screen. More huffing and puffing on my part.
Finally, the clerk picked up the phone and called somebody higher up. No progress. He put down the phone and then told the customer again that the 600 euros was a notary's fee or deposit and that she should go get the reimbursement from him. But the customer wouldn't budge.
The woman behind me, with an infant in a stroller, kept bumping my ankles and heels with its wheels. She was impatient too. Did I mention that I was in the beginning stages of an allergy attack, which continues this morning? My nose was stopped up, and still is, and my eyes were burning and itching. I sneezed many times.
Finally, the clerk told the woman with the papers to go have a seat near the back of the lobby and somebody would be with her in a few minutes. Finally, I was going to get my new checkbook. I stepped up to the desk, explained what I wanted, and showed the man our current checkbook. He looked me up in the computer and found me — but he was clearly distracted and preoccupied.
He suddenly excused himself, jumped up, and walked quickly toward the back of the bank. I saw him stop in one office and the another. Then he disappeared completely. All I could do was stand there and wait. A good bit of time went by. It seemed like half an hour, but you know how that is. It probably was less than 10 minutes. At least the woman with the stroller had quit bumping my heels with the wheels.
Then the clerk came back, all smiles. He looked in a file drawer behind him, checked me out on the computer one more time, and presented me with the checkbook. I signed for it. The unhappy woman with the sheaf of papers and the 600-euro problem was still sitting there, thumbing through her papers and muttering to herself. It had taken me two hours to get the checks — not counting driving time.
I told Walt I would never fall for the "just stop at the Crédit Agricole and pick up the new checkbook" ploy again. Especially not on a Tuesday.
And did I mention that, after their four-day weekend, the builder's crew doing the construction work in the attic never turned up again. Not Monday. Not Tuesday. We are now waiting to see if anybody might turn up this morning. You'd think somebody might call and let us know what's going on.