I went to see the dentist yesterday. I had chipped a tooth and it needed to be repaired. The waiting time for an appointment was about two weeks, but I wasn't in pain so that was OK. When I arrived at the dentist's office, there were four or five cars parked in the little parking lot at the side of the building, and a big Mercedes was parked out front on the sidewalk.
I parked my little Peugeot behind the Mercedes on the sidewalk (don't you love France?) and went in, figuring the waiting room was going to be full of people. I was wrong — there was absolutely nobody there. I don't know who all those cars belonged to.
My dentist is Monsieur Christian Bigot (I'm not making that up). He is in joint practice with his wife (I assume — maybe it's his sister), whose name is Madame Christiane Bigot. Again, I'm not kidding. Christian and Christiane. Their practice is called Le Cabinet Dentaire des Docteurs Bigot — The Dental Office of the Bigot Doctors.
The waiting room at the dentist's is much like the waiting room at our doctor's office. It's a plain little room with a vinyl tile floor that is furnished in late salon de jardin style. In other words, the chairs in the room are vinyl patio furniture. There's a little low table with a couple of stacks of magazines on it; most of the ones I saw yesterday were Paris Match, but then I didn't have to wait more than five minutes so I didn't get a chance to dig in and find the car magazines (AutoJournal and the like) or the two-year-old newsmagazines (L'Express, Le Point, etc.).
Dr. Bigot (pronounce that [bee-GO]) came to the waiting room, as he always does, and invited me into his office next door. He shook my hand and greeted me with bonjour and a smile. Once we were inside, I sat down in a chair (didn't notice what kind it was) in front of his desk and he looked me up on his computer. He asked me what the reason for my visit was. I told him.
OK, let's take a look, he said. Less than half an hour later, the damage I had done to my tooth was repaired. I didn't feel a thing, with the exception of the initial sting of the needle as he gave me a shot of novocaine. It turned out that some enamel had chipped off my tooth next to an old filling. To repair it, Dr. Bigot ended up removing the old ciment and replacing it with a new, larger one.
He told me to be careful and avoid biting down on anything hard in the future. Vos dents sont usées — your teeth are worn down — he said. I guess I use them too much. I told him that friends had warned me not to get old, but I hadn't listened to their advice.
Once the tooth was repaired, he went back to his desk and looked something else up on the computer. I returned to my seat in front of the desk. After he studied the computer screen for a minute, I handed him my new French medical insurance card. Ah, vous avez une carte Vitale maintenant, he remarked. He took the card out to his receptionist and she ran it through a card reader and punched some numbers into her computer.
A minute or two later, she brought the card back in and handed it to Dr. Bigot. He in turn handed it to me and said the charge for the visit would be €46.29. I asked him whether he knew how much my insurance was paying. Was it 50%? He said he didn't really know, that it depends on what plan I am on. I told him I don't know that. He said the coverage is usually more like 70%. I wrote him a check, since he doesn't take ATM or credit cards.
I'll find out how much was covered in a few days when the Social Security office sends me a statement of my benefits. They seem to send statements fairly frequently, but not very regularly. I can't figure out what triggers them.
I had been waiting to go see the dentist for two weeks, then. And I had been waiting for three weeks for my latest currency exchange operation to be completed. I ordered a certain amount of money in euros on May 8. To buy them, I sent an American check to a financial-services company that has offices in London, New York, and San Francisco (among other cities in the anglophone world).
The London office has to send my check to New York City, where it is cleared through the bank in North Carolina where I have an account. The check cleared on May 15, according to my on-line banking site. I called London on about May 17 and was told that the euros would be sent out electronically to my bank in France on Tuesday, May 22.
Last week I just waited, figuring the money would show up on my French account any day. By Friday, I lost patience and called London again. It was nearly 6:00 p.m. in England, and when the woman answered the phone on the other end I could distinctly hear that there was a party going on behind her. She took my call though, and put me on hold for a couple of minutes to find out why my payment hadn't gone out.
When she came back on the line, she said the payment order to my bank in France had somehow never been entered into their system. The payment had not yet been processed. I was unhappy but polite. I asked her to please do everything possible to expedite the transaction. Since Monday was a holiday in England, she said, it was unlikely the money would go out before Tuesday, May 29.
On that day, I called England again. Once more, I was told the payment had not yet gone out but would go out very soon. They said it might take as long as four days for my bank in France to credit my account, however. I asked them why a week had gone by since the date they had initially said they would send my French bank the money. They didn't know. They would look into it.
When I got back from the dentist's and a shopping excursion to SuperU at noon yesterday, Walt said he had checked on-line and, sure enough, the money from England had been posted to our account. So in this case the French bank worked much more quickly and efficiently than the international financial-services company. Score: England 0, France 1.
I also ordered myself a new computer last week, a Dell (dude). The computer I'm using now is one that I bought in California in about 2001. I've upgraded it along the way — wireless networking, new hard disks, a new monitor — but it has done its time. It made the trip to France without a hitch, and it has given me good service.
The new computer will have twice as much disk space (lots of photos!) and six times (yes, 6x) as much memory. It will have USB 2.0. And it will be French in many ways — French-language software and documentation, a French keyboard, and a French power supply and plug. Did you know that the French keyboard has a different layout compared to the U.S. keyboard?
I ordered the computer over the Internet. Because we incorporated ourselves to buy our house here (long story), we qualify as a small business and I can order computers from Dell that are configured for small-business use and sold at good prices. I don't need a monitor or a lot of other features that are included in the typical home-user computer packages. So my new computer cost just 300 euros.
Well, that's 300 euros before taxes and shipping. The tax (VAT, which means value-added tax and is TVA in French) is about 75 euros, and shipping costs a similar amount. So altogether the computer will cost 450 euros. In U.S. dollars, that about $600 these days, and I'm paying for it with an American credit card.
So there's what happens nowadays when you order something that you think costs 300 euros. It ends up costing 600 U.S. dollars.
Since I placed my order last Friday, May 25, I've been checking Dell's order-tracking web site at least twice a day to see if the computer has shipped. Nothing. Votre commande n'a pas été retrouvée ; attendez encore 24 heures — your order is not showing up; try again in 24 hours.
Learning patience again. And again. I guess I'll never really learn.
Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, Callie woke me up at 4:30 or so. I figured she needed to go outside, so I went ahead and got up. I took her out. She did need to go outside. Then I got ready and went to the dentist's, etc.
In the afternoon, I was pretty tired, so I took a nap. At about 4:30, the phone rang. It woke me up, but I didn't answer it. Walt didn't answer it either; he never does. It's not because the person calling will probably be speaking French — he wouldn't answer the phone in San Francisco either. He is phone-averse.
Two minutes later, the phone rang again. I figured I'd better answer it if it was so important the the person called back so soon. It was a Dell customer service representative.
I'm calling about your computer order, she said in French. Oui, I answered. Can you confirm the delivery address for me, she asked. I said oui again and recited our address. I think I passed that test. Then she asked me, I think, if I actually had the credit card I had used when I placed the order. Half groggy, I said well of course I have it.
I started to tell her to hold the line while I went to get the card, thinking I would need to read out the card number for her. But before I could say anything, she said good, your computer will be shipped out ASAP. Then she said merci and hung up.
Now what was that all about? Did she hear my American accent and figure it wasn't surprising that I had used an American credit card to pay for the computer? Was my word that I actually possessed the card in question good enough for her? I'll never know.
The computer order shows up in the Dell tracking system this morning and Dell assures me that it will be delivered to my address in Saint-Aignan by next Tuesday.
Hope this wasn't too boring. If you've read this far, you are a faithful reader for sure.
Notice how everything happens at once. Dentist, financial transaction, and computer order, initiated at various points over the past three weeks or more, all come to a head in the space of a few hours on the same day. Time needs fixing. When you want it to go slow, it goes fast. And when you want it to go fast, it goes slow. Sigh...